Commentary odd couple giving French fans what they wantArticle
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VOICES OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Thomas Villechaize and François-Xavier Houlet explain how they have managed to strike up a perfect working relationship on beIN SPORTS

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Commentary odd couple giving French fans what they want

"Love lasts three years, but I hope it will last a little bit longer in our case.” These are the words of a very happy man.

His name is Thomas Villechaize and he has been presenting, alongside François-Xavier Houlet, the French matches in the VELUX EHF Champions League for beIN SPORTS. The French broadcaster's commentary team works brilliantly together, but it was not exactly a match made in heaven the day the adventure began.

On one side, you've got Thomas Villechaize, a man that had never been a live commentator before, but was thrilled to be one for handball when he was asked two seasons ago.

“Handball is always something I've loved, I was a goalkeeper myself when I was younger and Thomas Svensson was one of my youth heroes," he recalls.

“Presenting live games is something completely different to what I was used to, which was presenting talk shows. But I think my previous experiences are very useful to me right now, the ability to maybe drop an interesting story about another sport at some point or to do a comparison.”

Villechaize is always the exuberant one, who allows his emotions to show through what he says in the microphone: "I try to be as natural on TV as I am in real life. I'm spontaneous, I'm enthusiastic," he says, before admitting he faced some controversy when he started, in September 2012.

“There was a huge debate at some point, because I support French teams and I let it show on air. I try to be as objective as possible, but I sometimes just can't. Whether it's bad or good, I have to say things and people don't hesitate to have a go at me for it.”

A different look

On the other side, you've got François-Xavier Houlet, of former Vfl Gummersbach fame. At 46, he has settled now in his new costume, but presenting TV handball was something he had thought about even before the end of his career.

“Early in my career, I studied sport communications because it is an area I felt attracted to," he explains.

“I've had on and off experiences even when I was a player, then I stopped when I went to Gummersbach, before going back to it a couple of years ago.”

Having been a player, a team manager and a player agent, he has the ability to take a different look at handball, and that is why beIN SPORTS recruited him.

“I've been in many costumes throughout my career, and I've got a different look on the game. I thought it might be tough, talking about players I know, clubs I know, but it really isn't,” explains the man who also played for Créteil and Montpellier.

“I try to make things brighter for the viewer with my knowledge and for that I have to remain 100% objective.”

Engaging the viewers

The mix of the two makes for an unusual combination, but one that works.

"We're not exactly like fire and ice, but we sure bring different things to the table,” admits Thomas Villechaize.

“We got to learn each other, but our duo works very well now. I am the spontaneous one; he is more like the player he used to be, elegant, intelligent and full of wit.”

The TV channel has even decided to turn the TV experience into something which engages the fans even more. Everyone watching the game at home can ask the two guys questions via a specific hashtag on Twitter.

“This is something we wanted to do from the beginning,” explains Villechaize, who had used a similar system in the talk shows he presented before.

“We want to involve the fans, because they might see something we don't, they might know details we don't. This is what 21st century TV has to become, not just two guys commentating games, but trying to involve as many people as possible,” concludes Thomas Villechaize.

Photo credit / Kevin Domas

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor