English football pundits are diabolical

by Steve

Alan Shearer, ex-footballer, television punditThere 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.

Image by Ben Sutherland via Flickr