Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Sunday evening television is a time to sit back, vegetate and take stock of the weekend ahead – unless, of course, you are a football pundit.
Then it is a time to let all your gripes and grumbles come flooding out, safe in the knowledge that a nation is hanging on your every word.
From the state-run RAI to Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset empire and beyond into the netherworld that is local television, any forgotten player or coach with an opinion and person of a certain age with a press pass can get into an on-air slagging match.
Everyone is fair game and the 'guests' are encouraged to have a go and get the ratings up so that even more time can be spent promoting useless products such as sun-loungers or marker pens.
After what was a relatively low-key Inter-Juventus encounter – hardly a foul so no red cards and no on-pitch or in the tunnel melees to talk about – the discussion had to centre on the football.
The moaning and complaining quickly focused on how the two teams at the very heart of the game’s most-heated rivalry – the Derby of Italy no less – could serve up a goalless draw.
That scoreline had last been flashed up at the San Siro back in the 1998-99 season, but although there were no goals it was an enthralling game nevertheless.
The pundits complained that these two traditional heavyweights should never cancel each other out, but it was no through a lack of effort that neither could find the net.
For Inter, Samuel Eto’o created chances out of nothing; the off-form Diego Milito was wasteful from close-range and Marco Storari’s reflexes denied Douglas Maicon’s downward header.
At the other end Vincenzo Iaquinta got all Filippo Inzaghi – drifting offside at crucial moments – while only Julio Cesar’s sharp blocks denied Fabio Quagliarella and Milos Krasic from breaking the deadlock.
The match was a goalless draw in name only despite the moans of those in the television world whose gloomy summarising made one long for the commercial breaks.
It wasn’t just the lack of goals that irked those on the cozy couches; it was the fact that Rafa Benitez had the gall to play two unseasoned youngsters in a game of such importance.
The Spaniard retained the same starting XI that had put four past Werder Bremen in the Champions League in midweek – in part due to injuries to Goran Pandev and Milito - which meant that Coutinho and Jonathan Biabiany flanked Eto’o on either wing.
Raw pace and fearless determination did not go down too well with some of those on the sidelines, who felt that the two young Inter charges should not have even been in the squad never-mind on the pitch.
The argument is that inexperienced players need to be sent out on loan to learn their graft at lesser clubs rather on the grand stages of the Italian game.
Thankfully Benitez does not come from that short-sighted school of thought and, although injury may have forced his hand over the last week at least Coutinho and Biabiany are not just there to make up the numbers.
Biabiany is 22 and has already completed his apprenticeship in the provinces at Modena and then Parma last season where he learnt the responsibility of being a first-team regular.
In fact, during the Jose Mourinho reign, the France Under-21 player whose speed would push Pato and Alvarez close over 50 metres, ended up on a co-ownership deal at Parma before being bought back in the summer for around €9 million.
You would have to say that the club must have felt confident that he was first-team material or they would have left him the relative backwater and saved the millions.
At only 18, Coutinho was snapped up by Inter two years old but could only officially play for the club this season – and has been coaxed to give his best by Benitez which has been in stark contrast to the treatment Mario Balotelli received from Mourinho.
The latter has of course moved to England but the young Brazilian has every chance of becoming a fully-fledged star in his current environment where the pressure to perform is even greater.
Sometimes appreciating life away from the cosseted surroundings of a top club can toughen up a player and give him character but it doesn’t work for everyone – just look at Sebastian Giovinco.
As for the pundits, they have it cozy every Sunday but they never seem to appreciate that – and it’s time to turn them off.
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