English football pundits are diabolical
There has been a fair amount of fuss lately over television football punditry. First, Alan Hansen suggested Theo Walcott lacked a footballing brain. Then, Jamie Redknapp labelled Fernando Torres’ performance as ‘diabolical’. And over the weekend, former Newcastle United player and manager, Alan Shearer, confidently stated that “No one really knows a great deal of him” in relation to Newcastle’s French international Hatem Ben Arfa.
The Shearer example is perhaps the most damning example of the state of football punditry in England. Messrs Hansen and Redknapp may be right or wrong, well-informed or ill-informed, but at least they were stating an opinion. Shearer, in contrast, was delighting in his lack of knowledge, about his ‘own’ club’s player no less.
This summer’s World Cup saw pundits time and again revel and joke about their lack of knowledge of the tournament’s lesser teams. That was diabolical. Their analysis, or lack thereof, showed a dearth of footballing brains amongst the pundits too.
This is particularly disappointing to see from the BBC. ITV has rarely produced good football telly in recent years, while Sky will always be over-hyped nonsense, at least when in comes to its Premier League coverage.
The BBC, however, as a public service broadcaster, should do better. At the very least, it should employ pundits who know about the subject they are talking about. Failing that, they should at least be capable of undertaking some basic research. Has anyone introduced Shearer to the wonders of Wikipedia?
Imagine how wonderful it would be to have a job where you were paid to watch and read about football, in order to speak with some degree of authority on the subject. The likes of Shearer can’t even be bothered to do that. Does he even like football?
We can always hark back to the golden age of football punditry, where the likes of Brian Clough and Malcolm Allison exchanged barbs. However, it seems unlikely that any channel would now risk anything beyond the current lowest-common-denominator, boy-done-good, golf-club-style chatter.
But, to play Fantasy Television Executive for a second, there are options out there. Martin O’Neill has been a fine pundit in the past, and is at a loose end right now. Roy Keane has never been afraid to speak his mind. I’d pay good money to see Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher sat together on the Match of the Day sofa. But why limit ourselves to players, ex-players and managers? There are plenty of well-informed, opinionated journalists out there.
But maybe the TV execs would rather something bland and uncontroversial. Perhaps the spectre of Alex Ferguson’s boycott of the BBC hangs over each and every football show?
Or perhaps this is a symptom (or a cause?) of the wider malaise in English football. Ignorance (tactical, cultural) is not only tolerated, it is often actively encouraged. Intelligence and curiosity are looked upon with suspicion, amusement or ridicule.
Pundits are influential. Millions listen to what they have to say, each and every week. They could be a hugely positive voice in the game. As it stands, they just offer noise.
Totally agree. MOTD seems to be going through a particularly shaky start to the beginning of the season and from the noise on twitter at least, it would seem as if fans are getting fed up with the patronising and ill informed nonsense that is being spouted.
Mind you, it’s not just since the start of the season. The World Cup analysis in particular was very poor – it was almost as if pundits delighted in seeing who could make the most outrageously stupid statements. There was a great article in The Scotsman during the tournament deriding the level of punditry. It’s well worth a look. http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/sport/Tom-English-39The-level-of.6364084.jp
Thanks for that link – a really good summary of the poor World Cup coverage.
My particular favourite moment was prior to the Argentina/Greece game, where the BBC pundits namechecked Messi a number of times, but nobody else, then predicted a walkover for Argentina. “6-0 by half-time” was one prediction, I think. This was, of course, ignoring (or not even knowing about) the organisation and defensive nature of the Greece team. I’d expect pundits to know about a team that won a Eurpean Championship not too long ago. At half-time, with the score 0-0, the pre-match waffle was unsurprisingly glossed over…
Ah so that’s what’s been troubling me about MotD for some time now but I had not managed to articulate for myself. There was a similar stagnation about twenty years ago when the Jimmy Hill era was winding down. Ironically the new brooms who came in to sweep punditry clean at that time included Lineker and ‘Jocky’ Hansen. I was going to say that perhaps their playing days are too far behind them now for them to make a truly insightful contribution to modern football punditry but Shearer only quit the game a few seasons back and he’s the worst of the lot. Perhaps it’s the punditry equivalent of a star player who knows theirs is the first name on the team-sheet every week – they are allowing complacency to creep into their work. The only one I continue to listen to with any interezst is Mark Lawrenson, less for his insight than for that half second pause from the main commentator when he drops in one of his delightfully dreadful puns. The nearest we have to the Clough/Allison clashes these days is the oh so apparent lack of love between most Final Score contributors and Garth Crooks. I think I’d want to smack his smug face if I were locked into a studio with him for several hours too.
I remember Jimmy Hill turning into a parody of himself, and Hansen being something of a breath of fresh air. In fact, their exchanges before Hill left were pretty good, if my memory hasn’t deceived me. It is a shame now that Shearer is in the seat, rather than someone with knowledge and opinions to shake it up.
Lawrenson does seem to have been given the court jester role. I don’t mind the odd pun here and there, but I think he overdoes it. That half-second is priceless, though.
I haven’t watched Final Score for some time, but certainly agree that Garth Crooks is a pain, especially with some of his convoluted questioning. He seems to have been with the BBC forever, though.
Guess it must be cyclical as Hansen has now turned into a parody of himself.
BBC has definitely got tired and there seems to be an appetite among fans for a change to the current formula. Whether that should entail a change to the ex-players only approach- how would a journo like Marcotti get on? – is open to debate. That debate seems to be raging so hopefully BBC will be take note.
Mind you, ex-players need not be dull and formulaic as a quick look at RTE’s line up of Giles, Dunphy and Brady/Souness demonstrates (if you’ve never had a chance to catch them, check Youtube for some great clips). It’s interesting to note that Souness often seems more comfortable in those surrounds than he does on Sky’s euro coverage (although I supopse it’s strange that he appears vaguely coherent as a pundit when his managerial record leaves a lot to be desired) so maybe there is something that constrains pundits over here.
I think a journalist could offer a different perspective, and certainly help fill some of the knowledge gaps. I’d assume they would be more likely to be critical, and to challenge presumptions. I think someone like Marcotti could be great.
RTE seems always be held up as an example of how to do punditry, and rightly so from the clips I’ve seen – I should check out more!
I do wonder how far pundits are directed. Are they given pointers on what not to say, or areas not to cover? Perhaps the host’s line of questioning has more of an effect than we realise? Orchestrating a studio full of non-broadcasters can’t be easy…