By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
SCOTT MINTO is living the dream. To be the presenter of Sky Sports’ coverage of Spanish football at a time when Barcelona have come within touching distance of perfection, their rivalry with Real Madrid has reached new heights and the national team rules Europe and the world is as good as it gets.
Minto has a great job – he is reluctant to call it work – and it is the reward for his dedication when, after 17 years as lively left-back for Charlton, Chelsea, Benfica, West Ham and Rotherham, the sands of time caught up with him.
“I was injured as lot during my last year at Rotherham and at 35 I knew it was time to quit,” Minto told footballwriters.co.uk. He contacted Pete Stevens of Radio London – the pair had worked together covering games – and asked if there was a chance of work on a more permanent basis.
Minto was living in Sheffield and was assigned to cover London clubs playing in the north for the station. Eager to learn as much as he could about his potential new career he took up the offer from Lawrie Madden, who played over 300 games for Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday before becoming part of the Daily Telegraph’s football coverage.
“Lawrie told me about a journalism course for players and ex-players. While things were going well on the radio I didn’t want to be sitting around doing nothing. As a player I was a lazy sod, come home, feet up and watch TV. I wanted to stay in football, but not management so the two-year course was ideal.”
The studies were intense and left little time for being a couch potato – “how those players who were still active found time to do it I don’t know.”
In the meantime Minto had started to work for Chelsea TV and Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday. His first live game was Burnley v West Bromwich where he took his position “up with the gods” at Turf Moor. “I could hardly see the numbers on the stripes. In fact, I was so high I could hardly see the Burnley numbers. The first time Jeff Stelling came to me after a goal I was tongue-tied. ‘Yes it’s a goal from a free-kick, I mean goal-kick, no corner…’ Driving home I thought to myself it wasn’t meant to be.”
But Sky Sports saw potential in Minto and persevered with him. .” In 2008 Minto graduated from Staffordshire University with a degree in Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting. The course taught him, among other things, how to write match reports and to assess what the best story-line was. Minto was given work by the London Evening Standard until budget cuts forced belt-tightening.
“Rather than speak to someone and they put it into my words I wanted to write it myself. I was completely different to how I was as a player. I didn’t need to work on my mind then, but when I retired and the physical work ended I found I was happy to put pressure on myself mentally. I’m glad I did the course and I am where I am now because of this.”
Minto’s big break came in September 2011 when Sky Sports decided not to renew the contract of Mark Bolton who had presented their Spanish football coverage. Producers at Sky’s headquarters in Isleworth had watched Minto presenting shows on Chelsea TV and Al Jazeera and were impressed with his calm authority.
With a young daughter plus twins on the way – all three are still under the age of three – Minto knew accepting the job meant the demands on his time would be immense. He also knew it was an offer he could not refuse.
While he is fluent in Spanish – he has a Colombian wife – his language skills were not a consideration. He said: “Though it helps being able to talk to Rafa Benitez, Albert Ferrer, Marcelino, Gaizka Mendieta and other Spanish guests in their language off air, the shows are all in English.”
Minto has grown into his role, at ease with live coverage where, as a presenter talks to the camera, the producer can be chatting to him via his earpiece. “They may be saying ‘keep going, we can’t go to that replay yet’ or ‘hurry up we have to go to a break.’
“I was talking to a famous presenter recently and he told me the first time he did a live show he said on air ‘yes I know, I know’ as the producer spoke to him.”
La Liga games on Saturday and Sunday show the best of Spanish football with Revista de la Liga on Tuesday a look-back at the weekend’s action alongside Guillem Balague, Graham Hunter and Terry Gibson [Minto is pictured with Mendieta and Balague, courtesy of Sky Sports].
“In some ways Revista can be more manic than a live game because there is so much to cram in. I’ll chat to producer Mark Payne the day before about the schedule. I am passionate about Spanish football and I hope that comes across.
“I think Spain have the best two teams, certainly the best two players, arguably the best five players in the world. But when it comes to the organisation it can be shocking. Often we have only two weeks’ notice about when a game will be played. Our pundits say such things are so much more professional in England.”
Games involving Barcelona and Real Madrid rarely disappoint and the clasico head-to-heads between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were like Hollywood productions. “I watched every second of every clasico, even before I was offered the job. For me, the most glamorous club game in world football has always been Barcelona versus Real Madrid. They seem to play each other more than they used to, but I absolutely love it…I loved watching the games and now presenting them.
“The matches are never dull. It’s the same even if they play Granada or Deportivo…there is always something to talk about.”
Minto’s passion did not extend to the extreme of his brother-in-law. “He is a massive Barcelona fan and they’ve just had a baby boy. He texted me last Tuesday to say they want to call him Lionel.”
That night Minto saw Barcelona’s brilliant, breathtaking 4-0 victory over AC Milan on a boat with the London-based Barca fan club. He watched the game again at home, savouring every moment. “I needed to confirm what I thought at the time and that was it was one of the best performances in the history of football. I have nothing but admiration for players and teams under immense pressure not just producing the goods, but then some. In Barcelona’s case some people were almost writing them off to the point those critics wanted them to lose so they would be proved right.
“It was one of the few occasions where Barcelona were the underdogs to go through, yet the way they started and continued was Barca at their absolute best.”
A Barcelona versus Real Madrid Champions League final is still a possibility as the clubs were kept apart in the draw for the quarter-finals. For Minto and millions of others, Wembley would be host for the ultimate clasico.