Posted: Thursday July 20, 2006 8:38PM; Updated: Friday July 21, 2006 10:42AM
Bruce Arena has never had a problem speaking his mind. But how would his outspokenness play in the broadcast booth?
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If we learned anything about former U.S. men's national soccer team coach Bruce Arena over the years, it was that he's a man who never misses a chance to speak his mind. Such a trait can be unnerving for Arena's players and adversaries, but it could make him a star in broadcasting.
ESPN senior coordinating producer Tim Scanlan told SI.com this week that he would strongly consider using Arena on his network's coverage of the 2010 World Cup. Scanlan said he initially broached the subject of broadcasting with Arena in January. "I asked him if it was something he would ever consider, because he always had opinions -- and he definitely would give me opinions on our commentators," said Scanlan, who ran ESPN's World Cup efforts in Germany. "I said, 'Let me put you in the seat. Would you consider doing it?' He said, 'Yeah, I would be interested at some point. I would not say no.'"
With Arena's name recognition and connections to the World Cup, Scanlan thinks the current Red Bulls sporting director and coach could work as either a game or studio analyst. "I really want to put Bruce in a game telecast to see how he would do there," Scanlan said.
While Arena is an intriguing thought come 2010, there's still a redux to be done on last month's coverage. Scanlan returned this week from a post-World Cup vacation in London and Paris, where along with the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower he drank in ZinédineZidane's live interview on French television. ("Similar to an ESPN Sunday Night Conversation," Scanlan said.)
Much of the conversation during the World Cup among soccer's chattering class revolved around the selection of Dave O'Brien as ABC's and ESPN's lead soccer broadcaster. The announcer, known for his fine work on baseball, was eviscerated by the sport's diehards. On BigSoccer.com, arguably the nerve center of soccer in America, one thread had the title "Pick your favorite insane thing said by the announcers so far." Then there was the college English teacher in Fort Wayne, Ind., who started an online petition protesting the decision to have a "baseball announcer in the World Cup broadcasts." The petition drew more than 5,000 signatures. "When [Fox Sports'] Joe Buck was named the lead NFL announcer and suddenly he was going to call the Super Bowl, he had not called a whole lot of NFL to my knowledge prior to that," Scanlan said. "Here he was calling the World Series and the Super Bowl and you didn't see the outcry. Maybe because the sports fan in our country look at announcers who call the 'stick-and-ball sports' in a different light. For this sport the passionate fan might have the perception that unless they hear an accent that is a little different, it can't be right."
While O'Brien is unlikely to ever reach the heights of British announcers Martin Tyler or Alan Parry -- especially given that ESPN offers an avalanche of backstory and graphics to appeal to the casual soccer fan -- he improved as the tournament moved on. The same cannot be said of his partner Marcelo Balboa, who would be relegated to Serie C if he were an Italian soccer team. I asked Scanlan if he was committed to O'Brien and Balboa as the No. 1 team headed forward. "We're going to review everything," Scanlan said. "Dave O'Brien signed a long-term deal, and given the success of the ratings...."
Scanlan, who readily admits he's O'Brien's biggest champion, stopped and paused.
Then he continued his thought. "Dave and I said this is [a] one-year agreement on Major League Soccer. He took a lot of slings and arrows. He read the reports. He saw the clippings every day. We talked every day. I told him I was proud of him for going though this, and if you watched all of his games, you would have detected a slight change: less talking and more strategic storytelling.... Anytime you introduce something new, the first reaction is negative. As Dave starts to call MLS games, I think he will win over people."
Later in our conversation Scanlan said he was committed to O'Brien for 2010. He was not as emphatic on Balboa, though he did say that O'Brien and Balboa improved as a team. "Marcelo we will review," Scanlan said. "Marcelo has been with ESPN as our national-team voice. For every big event you always look back and watch tape. We'll look at JohnHarkes' performance. We'll look at Eric Wynalda in the studio."