Premium: "El Chiringuito" Is the Year's Breakout Global Sports Show
Josep Pedrerol's Frenetic Ensemble Show is Undeniably Fun and Ridiculous. But Is It Setting Back Journalism and Catering to the Powerful? I Visited Madrid to Find Out.
MADRID — Whoever came up with the adage “nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.” never watched El Chiringuito, the rollicking nightly soccer debate show that’s part First Take, part Men In Blazers, part Dan Le Batard Show, part telenovela—and fast becoming a cult hit not just in Spain but in countries around the world.
It’s 2:58 a.m. on a Thursday in a TV studio on the north edge of the Spanish capital, and I’m speaking offstage to show regular Edu Aguirre after a breathtaking three-hour episode when Josep Pedrerol, the star and host of El Chiringuito, stops by.
“Today’s show,” he says with a smile, “has been special.”
Just two minutes before El Chiringuito’s midnight start came word that Barcelona had fired manager Ronald Koeman. Part of the show’s appeal is that it’s completely unscripted, and the next 180 minutes contained signature moments of adrenaline-fueled zaniness. With flashing lights, a true-crime-style soundtrack and the word CRISIS filling the screen, Pedrerol led off with the news. Reporter José Álvarez came on live from Barcelona and analyzed video of Barça president Joan Laporta leaving club headquarters in a car as if it were the Zapruder film.
Jota Jordi, a well-connected Barça supporter, left the set to take a source’s call outside, and a portion of the screen showed the entirety of the conversation above the caption IMPORTANT CALL TO JOTA JORDI. Panelist Quim Domènech reported the news (EXCLUSIVA!) that the club had decided to hire former player Xavi. The sportswriter and rabid Real Madrid fan Tomás Roncero made a triumphant entrance, the dramatic background music almost never stopped, and a lot of people argued in the most theatrical of ways as a cameraman got superclose to their faces.
It was a tour de force, and Edu Aguirre can’t help but marvel at it in the moments afterward. A Real Madrid expert, Aguirre looks a little like Cristiano Ronaldo, with whom he happens to be friends (“I talk to him almost every day”), and he knows that Barcelona firing Koeman just before the broadcast couldn’t have been timed any better for El Chiringuito.
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“Today you’ve seen a very Made-in-Chiringuito day,” he tells me in Spanish. “Meaning that everything changes two minutes before the show starts. Because it was supposed to be about Real Madrid drawing and Barça losing tonight. But everything changed. We talked to people from Barcelona, we talked on Skype with people who have information about Barcelona, and the episode starts from scratch. That’s what El Chiringuito is: the information can change in a minute.”
Pedrerol pumps his fist. The clock just struck 3 a.m., and they’ll do it all again for three hours the next night.
El Chiringuito (“the Beach Bar”) has been on TV since 2014, but its global breakout came in 2021. On April 19, not long before the European Super League idea imploded, Super League architect Florentino Pérez, the Real Madrid president, chose to make his public case on El Chiringuito. It was hardly award-winning journalism—the show posted dubious statistics claiming the Super League had majority support among fans in Europe’s top five soccer nations—but it was still a major interview get and a window into the connection between Pérez and Pedrerol (who says he has known the Real Madrid president for two decades).
Two weeks later, Pedrerol went globally viral with a hilariously over-the-top diatribe against Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard for being photographed laughing with his former Chelsea teammates after being eliminated by them in the UEFA Champions League.
And in August, as rumors flew that Real Madrid would buy PSG’s Kylian Mbappé, Pedrerol took his transfer deadline “Tick-tock” countdown to such absurd extremes that the show created a special Mbappé clock. It almost didn’t matter that the deal never got done.
Not everyone loves El Chiringuito (more on that later), but for me the show is fun and ridiculous and more than a little, well, American. The same people who enjoyed seeing Stephen A. Smith screaming about the Euros last summer (AIN’T NO WAY!) are the ones who would get a kick out of El Chiringuito. What’s more, the gleefully low production values of Men in Blazers are also embraced by El Chiringuito, which has three hours to fill every night and doesn’t have the rights to show La Liga or Champions League highlights.
Fans of the show don’t really care about that. I have GIFs on my laptop of Pedrerol rubbing his hands together before his Hazard takedown and of the excitable Argentine panelist Jorge D’Alessandro imploring Hazard and all other players to “AMA EL FÚTBOL” (love soccer).
I follow the official show account on Twitter, as well as the unofficial English Twitter feed with subtitles, which featured a classic close-up rant from panelist and Barcelona supporter Cristóbal Soria after the club tweeted farewell to Lionel Messi in August:
It hit me not long ago, though, that I had never seen an actual three-hour episode of El Chiringuito, just social media clips, and that I wanted to learn more about the people who put the show together (including the masterful sound engineer and camera operator). So I decided to make a visit to Madrid.
In 2010, back when José Mourinho was at the height of his coaching powers, I interviewed him during his first season at Real Madrid. At one point I asked him: What’s different about the way the media covers the sport in the countries where you’ve coached? In Italy, he said, there was page after pink page of tactical game analysis. In England, he went on, you had to be aware of tabloid lurkers. And in Spain, where the culture is to eat dinner late, you had the popular midnight radio shows that often landed some of the biggest interviews in La Liga.
“It’s an easy stick to beat them with, but they’re entirely in the pocket of [Real Madrid president] Florentino Pérez. The show is beholden to power in a quite significant way.” — a Spain-based journalist
El Chiringuito has sprung from that midnight radio culture. Pedrerol, who started as a radio broadcaster in the 1980s, hosted an ensemble radio show called Punto Pelota from 2008 to ’13 that featured some of the current Chiringuito panelists, like Tomás Roncero. When El Chiringuito kicked off in 2014, Roncero recalls, “I told Pedrerol: ‘This is going to be a radio show, but with TV cameras.’”
“I don’t think they’re serious journalists [criticizing El Chiringuito. I think they’re boring journalists … A journalist has to have a good relationship with Florentino, with Laporta [of Barcelona], with [Atlético Madrid president Enrique] Cerezo and with everyone, right? That’s what I try. I have a good relationship with Florentino, it’s true, yes.” — Josep Pedrerol
Pedrerol, who’s 56, has longish graying hair and is almost always dressed in a sport coat, open-necked collared shirt and jeans. For a host who says he likes to switch from panelist to panelist as if he has a remote control and doesn’t want to be bored, Pedrerol has a deep voice and deliberative speaking style that give him gravitas. Sometimes he’ll even let a statement marinate by staying silent on camera for periods unheard of in U.S. television.
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