For those enduring Premier League withdrawal, the cure is right around the corner. Fixture 1 is Friday at Old Trafford, and greeting us from the gantry will again be the ginger-topped, golden-toned Arlo White.
It’s been nearly seven years since White signed-off from his Sounders broadcasting post, and this is his sixth season as EPL play-by-play voice for the NBC Sports Group. In this two-part Q&A, we first get his view of the English season ahead. The second part turns toward America, where he once again spent his summer holiday and plans to return again, next time to mark a significant anniversary.
Your summer was short, after adding on that World Cup stint. What was that like?
It was great to go back to BBC (Radio) 5 Live, which is where I originally came from to Seattle. A lot of my buddies were still there. In fact, some of my contemporaries then are now running the place. I didn’t get to Russia, unfortunately, but did some games off tube, which was a great experience. It was a new challenge and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Calling matches from a broadcast center or studio – such as FOX did for some of the World Cup – how does that affect what you do as a broadcaster, as opposed to being live on the gantry?
You can’t see anything outside of the feeds. You commentate off the same pictures the audience is seeing. It’s frustrating. You can’t get your own sense of the atmosphere or substitutes warming up, or a sense of how agitated the manager is. There’s no substitute for being at games because you can spot a lot of stuff going on off the ball, which adds to the broadcast. It’s the way a lot of broadcasters have gone, through budgetary restrictions, but hopefully it’s not a situation I would have to do full-time. But it’s a good experience every now and again, so that it doesn’t faze you when you get those opportunities.
Now that VAR has been used at the World Cup level, do you think EPL powers are re-thinking their vote last spring to hold off?
No, but I think it’s coming. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it introduced for next season, 2019/20. There were a few controversial incidents, but it largely proved to be a positive in the World Cup. Some people are still adamant that it not be brought in. I think it will help if used correctly. This is the second season for it in MLS, and it appears to be settling down. Unfortunately, in England, in the trials last season, there were some horror shows. Decisions would take far too long. There was confusion. I think the Premier League chairman and the owners got cold feet. But it’s something that’s coming. They will continue to trial it and hone it in cup competitions this season. They’ve got great referees, they’ve got the resources, so it seems there’s no reason they can’t implement it from next season onward.
Is preseason ever indicative of how things pan out in the Premier League?
You can get some clues, undoubtedly. Liverpool have been thrashing everybody in front of them: Napoli, 5-nil. They beat Torino, 3-1. They are really putting teams to the sword in the preseason, including Manchester United, 4-1, in The Big House. Things appear to be going very smoothly for them, and I would expect that to be transferred into the regular season. They performed brilliantly in the transfer market, took care of business relatively early and they look super strong and the most likely challengers to Manchester City, who — judging by the Community Shield performance — are already purring.
We sat down with Pep Guardiola yesterday for 20 minutes and it was absolutely fascinating. So, I expect them to hit the ground running and be every bit as strong as they were toward the end of last season, with the addition of Riyad Mahrez and (Benjamin) Mendy, who was injured most of last season.
The flipside are Manchester United. They’ve had a horrid preseason. Lots of players missing, lots of players with World Cup duty deep into the tournament. They still don’t seem to be getting it right in the transfer market since Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill left. So, between Mourinho and Ed Woodward, they’ve made a meal of it. As we speak, Jose Mourinho hasn’t got what he wants, and he was lukewarm in his praise for Paul Pogba’s performance at the World Cup. If preseason is to be a guide, Manchester United might be in for a slightly rough start to the season.
Are any changes coming in EPL or NBC Sports coverage?
No big changes. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is the ethos. We’ve got a fantastic opening weekend. I was with Rebecca (Lowe), the Robbies (Earle and Mustoe) and Kyle (Martino) today. Graeme (Le Saux) and Lee (Dixon) are joining up (Thursday) and we’re doing everything as we did last year, on-site for the opening weekend. But with the added bonus of a 3-hour, transfer deadline/preview show live (Thursday) from Old Trafford.
The transfer window shuts at 9 a.m. Pacific. It’s the first time the Premier League has decided to slam the window shut a day before the start of the season. I think it’s a fantastic decision. It’s a very brave decision. The rest of Europe haven’t followed suit, so Real Madrid and Barcelona could still agitate players from their clubs and get them to go join them by the end of August, and the Premier League club would not be able to replace that player. So, it is a brave move, and that should be fun if there are some late deals. I know Manchester United and Mourinho are desperate to get some players in, and he’s not shy telling anybody about it.
You have another stadium coming online at Spurs. Will that be a big occasion?
The Spurs stadium is going to be terrific. Obviously, the Seattle Seahawks are going to be playing there October 14th (versus Oakland), assuming it’s finished. Spurs will play a home game at Wembley beforehand because the stadium wasn’t quite ready. Liverpool at the new White Hart Lane (Sept. 15) is going to be a special occasion. There are just enough seats in there to make it slightly bigger than Arsenal. We’ll see if Spurs can mount a challenge, but as of right now they still haven’t signed a player during the transfer window.
Are there some personalities who, when you engage them on these on-pitch, post-match interviews, that you can’t help but admire or find yourself smiling?
One springs to mind immediately: Jürgen Klopp. I think I saw my broadcast life flash before my eyes when we had him. They had just beaten Manchester City, 4-3, in what was an unbelievably exciting, enthralling, compelling, all-action football match, and he was buzzing when he arrived at the pitch-side desk. He dropped an F-bomb right on-air! I subsequently found out it wasn’t as big of a crime on cable as it would’ve been over the air on NBC, but it was regrettable.
But that is Jürgen, and he has the sort of personality that can get away with these sort of things. He is infectious – his enthusiasm, his charisma. It’s like he’s got a shield around him. He really is larger than life. You can see how he gets performances and commands such respect from his football teams. There’s a buzz about Anfield. So, Jürgen Klopp is absolutely brilliant, and if he could be a guest every week – without the F-bombs – it would be a joy.
Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission. Part 2 of his interview can be found here.