With little help from Ian Wright, FOX's Gus Johnson struggles in UEFA Champions League call

Sometimes the game just isn't flowing your way, and you run out of ideas on how to change it.

It was a lesson a forlorn FC Barcelona side experienced at the ruthless hands of Bayern Munich in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg, and Gus Johnson gained much the same lesson in the broadcast booth over those same 90 minutes.

After a two-month layoff, FOX Soccer used the Barça-Bayern match to resume its controversial on-the-job training of Johnson as the network's lead soccer announcer, a daunting challenge for the veteran sportscaster but one that he's handled reasonably well to date.

But this week was a harder slog for the demonstrative Johnson – and perhaps his predicament is best summed with a hackneyed old coaching phrase: Johnson wasn't really put in a position to succeed.

After pairing him with the more experienced Warren Barton in previous Champions League matches, for today's match the decision-makers elected to leave Barton in his familiar studio environment alongside Rob Stone, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride. Johnson was instead assigned retired English striker Ian Wright as his partner on the call – and the chemistry just didn't take.

Wright offers a clipped London accent and a wealth of knowledge from a career full of famous goalscoring exploits in the English Premier League, which probably adds up to a can't-miss combination in the eyes of network executives.

But his staccato delivery of repetitive talking points – how many times did Wright castigate Barcelona for their lack of width (which surely sounded more like “whiff” to any untrained American ears watching this game on FOX's more widely carried FX channel)? – left Johnson with limited room for his trademark bursts of excitement, or even the occasional bit of scene-setting.

There were also worrying signs when it came to Johnson's own preparedness, however. He got off on the wrong foot in the early going by referring to Bayern's high-pressure approach as a “full-court press,” which he should know will court scorn from soccerphiles suspicious of his basketball background.

Johnson consistently stumbled over the pronunciation of Barça star Andrés Iniesta, and his allusions to the Spanish giants' famed “tiki taka” passing style were downright malapropisms.

Unfortunately for the broadcast duo, Bayern's systematic blunting and dismembering of their hosts left little drama in the occasion, which only magnified their slips and shortcomings. The anticlimactic game's latter stages challenged Johnson and Wright to provide analysis and conversation without tuning out the action on the field – an underrated challenge that the best in the business manage subtly and adroitly.

Wednesday provided a reminder Johnson hasn't joined their ranks quite yet. And it doesn't get any easier in his upcoming assignments: an EPL match this weekend, followed by the FA Cup and Champions League finals later this month.


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