In the second part of our interview with Jon Driscoll, he elaborates on what made him fall in love with Spanish football and how he got involved in commentating.
From supporting Middlesbrough himself, how did Jon end up getting into Spainish football when there was a big trend of people gravitating toward Italian football during the 90’s in England?
“Funnily enough, I worked on Italian football. I used to work on the Italian world feed. I used to go out to Italy and do that, I was also doing radio with 5 Live at the time so I was juggling BBC radio stuff and the Italian world feed. Basically, I sent Sky a demo tape … a VHS in those days. The producer at the time, called Nigel Beane – a lovely fella. He basically rang me and asked me if I wanted to do Real Betis vs Valencia. In all honesty, I was a bit of a casual watcher because obviously I had to watch all the Italian and the English football so I was a bit of a Real Madrid and Barcelona only games watcher. I wasn’t particle familiar who played for Betis, I must admit so it was a quick learning curve to get up to speed with it. It was brilliant fun. I quickly came to appreciate the football, the players, the stories and all that goes with it. Basically, I had to get my head down and familiarise myself with every team.”
Getting familiar with a whole host of new players in a short period must have been difficult at the start. Over the last number of years however, that has been a recurring theme with the likes of Grenada getting in 20 players, not getting to known them until January when they have probably all changed again?
“Its quite extraordinary and I work hard at keeping across it. I must admit, there are certain games where I haven’t done Deportivo for six weeks, you look at their team and theres a completely different line up. There’s really been nothing like that Grenada team for a while though – that was ridiculous.”
Surely the equal distribution of money across the league is alleviating this issue? With teams having more money to keep their players, teams like Eibar are balancing out.
“The equal distribution of tv money has led to the growth of smaller clubs. There are pros and cons to that though. I’m a bit of a traditionalist in that I like to see the big clubs in the top league; I would like it if Real Zaragoza and Sporting Gijon. Clubs with a good strong fan base in the top division. But then if you say, who do you want to go down, the answer is no-one. Eibar is a great story, Leganes is a great story also. There does come a point where you wonder how many small clubs do we want in La Liga. If the tv money is outweighing your matchday revenue, then there is a danger that there will be a load of small but very well run clubs in La Liga. Which will reduce the tv money.
The tv does want to follow the big clubs with the full stadia. I think this is the biggest challenge La Liga faces; making sure its stadia are full and that its fans want to go to games and are able to go to games. As an English man, we have this big thing of following the team away and having big away support. I think they will really benefit from that but this has never been a big thing in Spain as far as I know. They just need to make sure they get people in. It has rained so much this year, particularly in the Basque region – it is not a great tv spectacle. When it’s raining, there is no stand. You do one of those games in the Basque region, where it seems to rain all winter long and think the stadium is empty but they’ve all gone to hid behind the one bit of protection available and it just doesn’t make great tv. They need to focus on getting people into the grounds and not just allow clubs be ‘tv-clubs’ where it is a well run club by getting a good coach and spending a small bit of money and keeping their place, which seems harsh criticism.”
Obviously Jon is looking at this ‘issue’ from a spectacle point of view and through the lens of the broadcasters. The example of the Villamarin packed with over 40,000 every night this past season is a stark comparison compared to having 250 Atletico Madrid supporters in the Bernabeu two years ago for El Derbi. Why is this the case?
“The clubs don’t try hard enough. The clubs could have 10,000 Atletico supporters in the Bernabeu if they wanted. Getafe play Real Madrid and the stadium isn’t full but if the club sold Real Madrid only tickets and said you can have one side of the stadium, people would go. It is definitely something that is achievable, there is no reason why people wouldn’t go to away games. It’s a lot different asking Deportivo fans to go to Malaga but they’re not even trying. There’s not enough emphasis on making it a positive match day experience for the fans – its still behind the Bundesliga and the Premier League.”
Spanish football in general seems to be well ahead of the English game however. After going through the possibilities of three additional Spain squads and taking into account that Germany were able to send their ‘B’ squad to the Confederations Cup – what is it that they’re doing and England are doing that Jack Wilshere is the biggest name missing?
“I have a lot of sympathy for the English FA because they put a lot of effort into developing their coaching network. The plans are all there, they try to have the number of coaches, the cost of which is probably too high, but then its not necessarily cheap in Spain. There is definitely a culture of more people learning their football in Spain. I do think the base level of players coming through is stronger, or at least has been stronger. From an English point of view, because we did well at u-17 and u-20 does show there is a generation of technical players under the surface. The next step is that they need to be playing in the Premier League. Which is hard because of the culture of whenever things get tough with a Premier League club, they go and buy a new player who is usually foreign. It is very difficult to get established because of this. Whereas in Spain, even with the big clubs, they have a better culture of bringing players through. Not only Spain’s A, B or C squad, they are all. Their ‘C’ squad would make a reasonable World Cup team, on the other hand, England are struggling to make a 23 man squad of technically adept players which is the biggest difference. The strength in depth is because of the strong coaching network which is the main difference.”
Culture is word you mentioned a few times there Jon, do you still think there is a culture of ‘get it in the mixer’ in England which restricts the technical development of these players?
“There is definitely a culture within England to emphasise physicality over intelligence. At an English game, there could be three passes in a row and the crowd would react thinking it was very nice. The intelligent forward ball wasn’t there however and then when things start going against teams, they don’t have the patience to play this way. Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier were playing together in centre midfield against Lithuania and didn’t play a forward ball in the first half, even against below standard opposition. In fairness to Gareth Southgate, he changed things at half time. There is still an over-focus on the physical however and even when an effort is made to concentrate on the intelligence, physicality is often reverted back to. This over focus is in the underage game in England also where there is a focus on the bigger boys rather than the technically and intelligent ones.”
You mentioned before why someone like Djene would never move to a Premier League club, is this over-focus on the physicality the reason behind it?
“Scouts are given criteria for certain players and centre backs being over 6”1’ is one of those. Ricardo Carvalho, who is around 5′ 10″ would never play in the Premier League now. Djene is around 5′ 10″ and will never be considered because of this either – even though he’s a top quality centre back. I think he would be a fantastic addition to Barcelona. He intercepts the ball most of the time and is incredibly quick which would support the way Barcelona play.”
On mentioning Barcelona, what are your thoughts on them and the money they are spending following the sale of Neymar last summer. Before which, it was believed they didn’t have any. Now however, they’ve spent well in excess of the Neymar deal and apparently still have enough to get Arthur and Griezmann?
“I have no idea either. As you say, they apparently have €65 million to spend when last season they were struggling. I think they are over paying for Arthur and have also done so with Coutinho. There are a number of players of an equal quality as Coutinho but they went out and spend huge sum of money on him. If Barcelona played their cards right they could have gotten him for a much cheaper price than they did. Same issue with Dembele, he is a raw talent and looks very good, but again he was overpriced. It harks back to the Galacticos period at Real Madrid with Barcelona now seemingly getting a star studded team together.”
Plans for the World Cup this summer Jon and are you heading over to it?
“Yeah, I’m spending a week or so with a few mates in Moscow and I’m going to a few games that are including neither Spain nor England. After that, we will have to wait and see what happens with Eleven Sports and go from there.”