Clive Tyldesley is one of the top commentators in the country, leading ITV’s coverage of the FA Cup and the Champions League. Here, he gave up his time to talk to me about his career, football in general and his thoughts on all things Manchester City.
View From A Blue: In all your years of commentating, has there been any standout moment?
Clive Tyldesley: The obvious answer, and I know this won’t go down too well on your blog, is the 1999 Champions League final. The reason it’s the obvious answer is that Brian Moore retired in 1998 after the World Cup, and I had taken over, having returned to ITV from BBC in 1996. It was important I did well that season, as there were a few others who were gunning for the role, and here I was, a relative unknown, commentating on such huge matches.
We had an audience of nearly 20 million at the moment United pulled it back from 1-0 in the final, so in my first season as first choice, if I had messed up that night, they would never have trusted me with a game of that magnitude again. And I got the scorers right and apparently said one or two things which United fans remember. That night really cemented my place as a commentator and it meant that I went into the following season as ITV’s first choice.
The first ever TV commentary I did was City 5 – 1 United in 1989, and you could say the same about that game in terms of importance to my commentating career.
VFAB: What has been the biggest change in football you have seen since you started commentating?
CT: I don’t think the game itself has changed that much, but what I would say is that the supporters have become far more empowered vocally than in the previous 20 years. When I started commentating in the 80s, I dare say the supporters still paid the players’ wages, which isn’t the case anymore. The supporters aren’t the same in that sense, and don’t contribute to the structure of a club, so much so that the FA will merrily move the time of the FA Cup final from 3:00 to 5:15 next year irrespective of whether it’s Newcastle United and they can’t get home.
But then there is the phone-in and the World Wide Web, and they have empowered the fans like never before. In the 80s, the only way a fan could voice his/her opinion was in the letters page of the evening newspaper, but now there is a constant stream of opinion and much of it is coming from the terraces and the seats. What really annoys me is when I’m driving home from a game, listening to the radio, and some fan rings up demanding the manager be sacked, and he hasn’t even been to the game. So the phone-ins and the web have created pressure groups that have got stronger and stronger and it’s tougher now for managers and coaches.
VFAB: If you had the power, would you bring in any changes to the game?
CT: I think it’s as much the lack of reliable technology as it has been the stubbornness of FIFA, which has prevented the introduction of goal line technology up until this point, but I think that’s about to be overcome in near future. There have been a number of issues with it, regarding how far down the line you use it, how quickly does it give an answer. I think it’s a nonsense it’s not here at the minute, but I do tire of hearing managers reducing football matches to analysis of a couple of incidents, usually a refereeing decision. The game is 90 minutes and generally, the best side wins, so I don’t think managers should come out afterwards and blame defeat on one decision or another.
VFAB: How important nowadays are the likes Twitter and Facebook for you, whether in breaking news or just interacting with fans?
CT: I use Facebook as a personal tool and try to keep my friends at about 100. It’s mainly for my mates, my kids, and my kids’ mates. Twitter, on the other hand, is a funny old vehicle. I’m not comfortable with it and I don’t like the phrase followers. As a way of informing people, such as when I get the team news first and can quickly send it off to Twitter, it’s good. It’s a very good way of testing opinion, but I don’t feel the need to stick myself out there to get ritually abused. In that sense, I’m uncomfortable with it. I know some ‘celebrities’ personally who have received horrible abuse about family members. I think, overall, there is more good than bad. It serves a purpose.
VFAB: How would you rate City’s season?
CT: Achievement is measured in where you finish and how many trophies you win. At the start of the season, to finish third and to win a trophy, that would have been considered two major ticks. The victory in the cup final over Stoke, I’d say, is a potential watershed victory: it’s a breakthrough for the club. It silenced a lot of taunting and it’s probably made City fans of a certain generation, who have become partly used to their team nearly doing something but not quite, think differently. It gives a different psyche and belief to the club that next time you’re in that position, you will believe you are going to win.
There has been an image of Manchester City this season as a collection of rather disparate individuals in what appeared to be a somewhat unhappy dressing room, but I feel that has turned around a little bit thanks to the two matches at Wembley. The team has come through quite a bit together now, and I feel that Mancini in particular, having achieved his number one goal in qualifying for the Champions League, has now got a better feeling about what this means to the people who really matter; the supporters. I think he would have surprised himself by how much he enjoyed winning the FA Cup for those fans, and I think he got a lot of things right on the day – it was a really good day for him.
In some ways however, it was a shame Vincent Kompany wasn’t wearing the captain’s armband in the final. I think he understands what the club is about, whereas Tévez perhaps doesn’t, so it would have been more fitting if Kompany had lifted the cup.
VFAB: What do you make of Mario Balotelli?
CT: I’ve got completely different thoughts on him now than at 3:00pm on Saturday afternoon (before the FA Cup final). He brought a long fuse, despite Robert Huth’s purposeful attempt to test his temper, and importantly, after the game, he enjoyed the win, as opposed to his reaction in the semi final. He looks like he’s learnt his lesson, and it’s worth remembering he’s not 21 until August.
In terms of him as a footballer, he hasn’t shown me anything to suggest he’s Lionel Messi, but he’s a very good footballer and he looked a good team footballer in the final. He had vision and awareness about him, and he’s the same type of player as Wayne Rooney in the sense that he plays better when he’s happy and settled.
VFAB: Is there anyone you think City should sign?
CT: I think Mancini will go young and hungry. There isn’t really a world megastar at City. Robinho came and went, so I see the likes of Alexis Sanchez or Edinson Cavani as more likely signings because I think Mancini will see them fitting into the group better. The squad at the moment is fairly young and they’re all at a similar level in terms of recognition.
Whatever happens in the next couple of months, whoever comes in will be coming into quite a firm group. You can tinker and tweak a squad in which everyone is pulling in same direction. I know Joe Hart personally and he is a wonderful, wonderful guy; England’s goalkeeper for the next ten years. I don’t know Kompany but he seems the same type, the penny has dropped with Micah Richards, De Jong knows what it’s all about – there is a strong core there. So with that to build on, I think he’ll buy young and hungry.
VFAB: Where do you see City in a couple of year’s time?
CT: There’s no good reason why they shouldn’t be challenging for the title. With the money that has been spent, there is pressure and people will say, should City win the Premier League, then so they should. It will never be little City any more, it can’t be. You are the lottery winners moved into the street: that’s the way it is.
I wonder now, having had personal doubts about him, whether Roberto Mancini might be just the man to manage this project. He’s cool, aloof, doesn’t want to be loved. He’s pragmatic, professional and I think that that distance between him and the players is what is needed.
Many thanks to Clive who kindly gave up his time to speak to me. Let me know below your thoughts on our season, who you hope we will sign and any reaction to what Clive has said above.