By Michael Lewis
This will be Derek Rae’s eighth World Cup as a commentator as he will work for Fox Sports in Russia this summer.
With so much history of the greatest show on earth behind him, Rae was asked about his perspective on various aspects of the competition, past and present.
On his favorites in Russia:
“I think you’ve got to start with the defending champions. I say that as somebody who works in Germany, although I am based in Boston nowadays; I return to Germany every few weeks to broadcast the world feed commentaries for the Bundesliga — I still think Germany represents the gold standard. You never know what’s going to happen in the course of a tournament, but I think it’s still logical for me to make Germany the favorite.
“But there are other teams that can do it. Spain, [is] certainly an improved over the side that ran its course a bit in 2014, but I would expect them to bounce right back. And I expect Brazil to bounce back from the awful experience and the way they did at home against Germany. I remember being on Copacabana Beach that night. There was a big party going on to some other work. I just remember the party going flat. an hour or so after that game, there was no one left on that beach. But I think the beaches in Brazil will be a bit more packed and people will be in much more of a jovial mood. I think Brazil is back to being real challengers.
“And you always got Argentina with Lionel Messi. France are up and coming with a lot of young players. Whether they are ready to win the World Cup I’m not quite sure. England, I think they’re better under Gareth Southgate, but I wouldn’t put them in the category of a team that would likely win the World Cup.
On home continent advantage helping European teams in Russia:
“It’s funny, part of me always felt, certainly in recent years that ought to change a bit because where all these players earn a living and where they live these days. There is undoubtedly that factor, that there is a home continent advantage and there always has been. It will be a better World Cup for Europe, UEFA, as a confederation, this time. I think the teams who are going there are going to represent UEFA well. It wouldn’t totally shock me if three of the four semifinalists were European countries.”
On which team or teams would be a dark horse:
“That’s always a very difficult one to answer, but it’s a correct one to answer of course, but there’s the chance we will fall flat on our faces with the prediction; that we come up with a country that ends up with a country that does absolutely nothing. I’m there are a few countries that are good and have a chance of doing what Costa Rica did [in 2014], but I think they’re in the same group. I’m thinking of a team like Morocco, who are more than decent, but they are in the wrong group. I’ll give you the name of Senegal. I’ve watched a lot of their games. I think there’s a tremendous amount of talent in that team. They are not the most talked about African team but of course we all remember what they did in 2002. I think the players all want to emulate what those forbearers did in 2002/ There is a high level there in the Senegalese team. They’re in a difficult group but not an impossible group. That’s why I am going to give you that name. I could see a way for Senegal to get out of that. They are with Colombia, Japan and Poland. I see that being a little bit a difficult one to predict, possibly all four going down to the bitter end. So, Senegal is a team that I am keeping a very close eye on.”
On whether Lionel Messi needs to win a World Cup to put a stamp on his career:
“I’ve heard this argument go back and forth and I’m sort of in the latter category when it comes to this discussion. I go back to the players I consider the greats. And the one who really moved me — and we’re all a product of when we grew up or of our generation — the one who moved me was Johan Cruyff, who certainly came very close and many people say deserved to win the World Cup in 1974 but never actually did. That doesn’t diminish what a special player he was. I think he’s right up there for me, with Pele and Maradona, in terms of players in the sixties, seventies and eighties. With Messi, it would be fitting. He’s a player you certainly might say should be a World Cup winner. But you are at the mercy of your teammates. One player isn’t going to win the World Cup alone. I don’t think has ever happened. I just enjoy Messi and delight in his footballing wonders like everyone else. And if it happens for him, fantastic. The same with Cristiano Ronaldo, He got his reward in the form of the European Championship the last time, but I don’t think he needed that for us to put the crown on his head. I think we are privileged to watch two of the best ever playing essentially at the same time and in Messi’s case, his legacy will live on no matter what Argentina does.”
On World Cup history:
“No World Cup exists in a vacuum. It’s always is a continuation of what has gone on before. And so I think we all have to be aware of the history. We have to refresh our memories on what the stories were. Some of them were subtle. Some of my colleagues who will be reading about these stories, not necessarily for the first time, but who didn’t live them at the time. The thing with the World Cup, the flame aspect of it keeps burning. That is why it’s such an honor and privilege to broadcast the World Cup. It is just the latest chapter of this incredible story that will go on and on forever.”
On how TV coverage has changed during the years:
“My memory of ’74 was that it was ubiquitous. Of course, I was living in the UK. It was the summer and the BBC and ITV had the rights and they split the rights between them. You really couldn’t get away from that. My mother and father had to shew me away from TV early in the morning to go to school because they would show the matches from the previous day, even though I had seen them the previous day. They would show them again. For an American at the time, it would be a different experience. I’ve heard the stories from colleagues like Seamus Malin over the years about going to the theaters and watching the games, probably all times of the day, probably early in the morning, and very early in the morning if you were on the west coast.
“It has grown. It has taken over lives in a way that wasn’t the case. It was small scale back in 1974, only 16 teams and it gathers steam all the time. The TV coverage has evolved to the point where you have more detailed coverage of all of the key incidents. Back in ’74 you didn’t necessarily have that. You couldn’t see things that are available to you now. One thing that did start around that time that did continue in the U.S. and everywhere was the concept of the panel on television. I don’t have any knowledge of anything before the ’74 World Cup. It really was a game that was shown. It was in seventies. It was the idea of having analysts dissecting what we’ve just seen had come into being. ITV and BBC in the UK were trailblazers to that. In the us it was probably already had been done, but this was taken to art form. It’s now an essential part of the coverage. Fox Sports will be doing that as well this summer with its team of pundits.
“When you look at it that way, you think too about the number of cameras that are involved. I am quite friendly with some of the guys who are going to be producing the world’s feed from the various stadia in Russia. If you were to walk into one of those trucks, you would think you were walking into some sort of space set. It’s come a long way from the early days of and old truck that was falling to bits at the seams and people are cramped in there. It’s now state of the art and it has to be because people in all corners of the world demand that and want to see all these things. And of course, with have VAR, the first World Cup with VAR, is part of that expansion of ideas.”
On how the video assistant referee will affect games:
“I’ll come out and say first of all, I am a fan of the VAR. I changed on this over the last 10 or 15 years. Once I would have said, over my dead body, we have an outside influence. We should be looking at TV screens. It struck me day, there was something inherently unfair about a fan who contacted me, who clipped something from the TV feed that I was commentating on, an incident he had clipped. Two minutes later, he had sent it to me and had given him opinion on this particular incident. I thought it’s somewhat unfair about a fan in the stands being able to do that when the referee does not have that advantage. And the referee often sees things from a poorer vantage point than anyone on television.
“I have seen it in the Bundesliga and I know that they have been very thorough. They’ve had a whole year of dry runs before it ever went on line, so to speak. It’s not been without controversy. I accept that as well, but I think that it does ultimately make the game fairer. I’m not going to say it’s going to make everything perfect. It won’t, it can’t do that. But I think it will on balance, will make it fairer. People make a big deal of how long it takes, but it doesn’t take a particularly long. In most games there’s a sizable stoppage for an injury. And we don’t, for obvious reasons, don’t make a big fuss about that. I think the challenge will be officials who have not used it before and getting up to speed with the process. That won’t be a problem for the U.S. officials who are working at it or the German officials or Italians officials, they are very used to it. But getting everybody else to speed will be the challenge. I think in the long run, we’ll be glad to have it at this World Cup.”
To read about Derek Rae’s involvement with Fox for the 2018 World Cup, visit: