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Can we do better than Savage?

How football shows are getting it wrong – and how they can put it right this season

First, a test. What immediately springs to mind if you hear or read the name of Alan Shearer?

Is it 1) the much-feared, brave-hearted, prolific Premier League and England centre forward whose goals almost ended ‘30 years of hurt’ at Euro 96?

Or 2) the tiresome, repetitive pundit who is paid extravagantly to sit on the Match of the Day sofa and ruminate on the league he once graced and the ‘years of hurt’ that continue to stack up?

I really wish it was 1) but it’s 2), isn’t it?

Let me just say this: I have no reason to believe that Shearer is not a decent guy. For all I know, he could be a bastion of benevolence, some magnificent hybrid of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. But, to me, he sums up all that is wrong with modern football punditry.

The clichés? The lack of insight masked with sincerity? The lazy generalisations passed off as profound observations? The fact his reputation on the pitch apparently excuses his moribund mutterings off it? Shearer ticks all those boxes.

Match of the Day is one of the few remaining ‘appointment to view’ programmes on Britain’s TV schedules – it’s a show punters will arrange their evening around. And yet I know plenty of folk who now record it on Sky+ in order to enjoy the action while skipping the post-match analysis.

Who can blame them when the standard of TV punditry has sunk so low? Here’s Shearer, sporting his trademark sincere expression, explaining how West Brom manager Roy Hodgson engineered a 3-2 victory at Sunderland last season that helped them move clear of the relegation zone: “Well, he’s used all of his experience, he’s got them well-organised and they are getting results.”

Just read that back a few times. What does it mean? You can hazard a guess, sure, but what exactly is Shearer telling us? What is so special about Hodgson’s “experience”? How is it helping him get results? What does “well-organised” actually mean? Are Albion holding their positions in midfield, are they simply more aware of their defensive duties… or is it something else?

It’s the kind of empty rhetoric of which a politician would be proud and it sits neatly alongside other classics from the Shearer canon such as “they look nervy” or its twin brother, “they look focused”. Filling the void of technical insight with cod-psychological guesswork is simply not good enough.

Here’s Exhibit B. Marseilles winger Hatem Ben Arfa, a recent loan signing for Newcastle, spanks a shot into the top corner to secure three unexpected points at Everton in September 2010.

Cut to Shearer: “No one really knows a lot about him.” Really? Ben Arfa may not be a household name but, like Karim Benzema, he has long been considered one of the rising stars of French football. He has played 23 times in the Champions League – three more than Shearer, incidentally. But the point is this: even if “no one really knows a lot about him”, a man paid to analyse the Premier League and its players should be capable of the most basic research.

But that seems to be frowned upon on Match of the Day. Remember the Slovakia-New Zealand World Cup match in 2010? Lee Dixon had the temerity to pick out a player to watch – Marek Hamšík – only to be ribbed by Alan Hansen, a man who has been on that sofa so long he might as well be a cushion. The message from Hansen was clear: preparation is beneath me and it should be beneath you too. Once again, that’s just not good enough.

‘An utter buffoon’

Frankly, if I wasn’t weak, reluctant to fiddle with wires, worried about waking the kids and strapped for cash, I would have thrown the telly out of the window long ago. But is it just me? Is everyone else clapping enthusiastically at the input of Shearer et al while I sit in the corner tutting and growling like the bastard son of Albert Steptoe and Nora Batty? A quick show of hands from The Sport Collective (because we all live together, of course) convinced me otherwise. The vitriol spurted from every pore:

“I can’t stand Steve Claridge. He is an utter moron who just says things as if they’re fact, when it’s just his brainless opinion.”

“Frankly, Jamie Redknapp isn’t intelligent or articulate enough for that job. It’s all clichés.”

“Alan Shearer is dull, dour and not remotely insightful. When he was a player, we were always told what a great laugh he was in real life. Still waiting, Alan.”

“Too many football pundits are present or very recent former players who have too many loyalties to really give a balanced view – I’m talking about Jamie Redknapp, Danny Murphy, Alan Shearer, Steve McManaman and the like.”

“Ray Wilkins is just a nice guy who wants everyone to be nominated for Footballer of the Year and no one relegated.”

“Alan Shearer [there he is again] often does little more than describe exactly what the pictures quite clearly show, often repeating what the commentator or host has just said, all dressed up in the cloak of expert analysis.”

“Phil Thompson is an utter buffoon. And that’s from a big Liverpool fan.”

There’s a lot of anger out there. For what it’s worth, I’d throw Robbie Savage into the mix as well, a man who has done for 5 Live’s football coverage what Scrappy-Doo did for The Scooby-Doo Show – his appearances turn an entertaining, comforting production into something that makes you want to swing your fists into a wall.

But why is there so much antipathy towards the likes of Savage and the sofa-warmers of TV punditry, whether it’s the BBC, ITV, Sky or beyond? To understand that, you must ask this: what is a pundit for?

Style over substance

To my mind, a pundit is there to tell the public things they don’t know or can’t see for themselves. They have got to be the ‘technical advisors’ of the programme, the people who identify and explain what the man in the street cannot.

For a recent example, take the North London derby at White Hart Lane in April. Rafael van der Vaart scored Tottenham’s first equaliser in a pulsating 3-3 draw with a shot that beat Wojciech Szczęsny at his near post. Now everyone in the ground plus those watching on TV could see that Szczęsny might have done better while Abou Diaby was guilty of failing to track his man.

But there were two other significant errors: first, Laurent Koscielny followed Roman Pavlyuchenko when the Russian dropped deep, leaving space behind him for Van der Vaart to exploit. And Johan Djourou, having seen Koscielny advance, should have filled the area his defensive partner had vacated. No pundit I watched or read mentioned either of those two mistakes – and yet, without them, Van der Vaart would have not had the chance to embarrass Szczęsny at his near post.

Some shows don’t have the means to highlight these tactical matters – the video technology exists but the equipment is costly. But the big boys do, so why not use it better? The depressing answer is that not enough TV pundits have the wherewithal to pick apart football matches and educate their viewers.

If there is a general lack of tactical awareness among TV pundits, the problem is exacerbated by producers who don’t understand football and are just happy to hire ‘faces’. Shearer must know all about attacking play because he was a great England striker, wasn’t he? If only it were that simple. In reality, a player will only truly grasp tactics once they have taken their coaching badges. Until then, they might know exactly how to do their job in the context of their team, but they won’t see the bigger picture because they are unlikely to scrutinise their sport as a whole.

In his heyday, Shearer could probably thump a header past you while simultaneously placing a bet and downing a pint, but that doesn’t make him a student of the game. And yet there is an almighty assumption in English studios that there is no better pundit than the man who’s been there and done it on the pitch. As a result, the viewers are fed style over substance and look enviously to countries such as Italy, where there is a greater thirst for tactical insight and a willingness to deliver it. Serie A has its troubles but punditry is not among them.

And let’s be clear: English football fans are not a bunch of Neanderthals who couldn’t give a toss about tactics. They go online in their droves and hoover up insightful blogs and articles. There is a market for tactical books such as Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid and websites such as Michael Cox’s Zonal Marking.

But here’s the quandary facing those same football enthusiasts: you can get your fix of intelligent debate online or in print, but if you want to see the matches live on TV – or even watch the highlights – you have to stomach pundits who insult your intelligence with their witless witterings.

I’d bet the house that Shearer and Savage would take Wilson and Cox to the cleaners on the pitch. But I’d certainly want Wilson and Cox to tell me how they did it once the boots are away and the chalkboards are out. Neither man, to the best of my knowledge, has won a major trophy. But football fans gravitate towards their work – as they do established and respected journalists such as Paul Hayward and Martin Samuel – because they want to learn about the game they love.

So when cerebral commentary exists online and in print, why are we force-fed low-grade punditry on TV? The fixation with familiar faces – regardless of their knowledge – is one reason but another explanation lies in the haphazard manner in which pundits digest their football on any given Saturday.

The best way to comprehend football is to sit in a stand with the whole pitch laid before you and immerse yourself for 90 minutes. You can see who is on the ball, the movement of others and the space they create. It’s the bigger picture. Saturdays are very different for Messrs Shearer and Hansen. They may be surrounded by monitors on which the story of the Premier League day is unfolding, but they cannot give their full attention to a single fixture. Instead, they’ll half-watch anything up to eight games, monitoring the key moments and talking points but little more.

That’s usually OK for the first two or three games on Match of the Day but, long before the end of the show,  the likes of Shearer have lapsed into lazy generalisations about teams they haven’t actually watched carefully. It’s easy enough to say that “Bolton hit Kevin Davies early and picked up the pieces” or “Manchester United passed it well and, in the end, Blackpool couldn’t contain them” but it’s essential to explain why – and you can’t if you haven’t seen more than the goals and near-misses. What’s worse, those lazy generalisations will be regurgitated in pubs up and down the country from fans who don’t have the time or inclination to dig a little deeper.

Standard-bearers

Enough of the doom and gloom. There are, of course, some excellent football pundits out there, including a fair smattering on TV. For instance, here’s The Sport Collective’s James Gill on the relative merits of Jamie Redknapp and Gordon Strachan:

“I don’t need Redknapp to tell me that ‘Rooney is quality’ – my mum knows that. What I want is an insight on something I don’t already know and Strachan gives me that in spades. He spots things I wouldn’t see and offers anecdotes on people that us mere mortals have no way of knowing – his comments on Eric Cantona lacking social skills at a Leeds FA Cup tie earlier this season were fascinating. He ticks every box.”

Bravo, Strachan. Other favourites of The Sport Collective include Clarence Seedorf (“engaging, knowledgeable, the only good thing about the BBC’s World Cup coverage”), the RTÉ panellists Johnny Giles and Eamon Dunphy (“they openly court controversy… their debates are much more stimulating”), David Pleat (“he can explain the technical movements players have made”) and even the former Sky behemoth Andy Gray (“at least he made it sound exciting”).

I’m a big fan of Pleat, who adds gravitas and tactical insight to TV commentaries or 5 Live, where he pops up increasingly these days. Dixon, schooled by perhaps the most intensive defensive coach of recent times, George Graham, is probably the most clued-up of the Match of the Day brigade. And Pat Nevin, another 5 Live regular, offers the cerebral insight that Savage patently does not.

So there is genuine hope. There are standard-bearers: pundits who study the game, dig for relevant information and provide their viewers or listeners with a quality product. Which begs the question: how on earth does someone like Shearer get away with opting out of the same rigorous approach to his job?

Of course, it’s all very well to dwell on the problem, have a pop at the pundits you don’t like and then walk away. But that serves no purpose if you don’t suggest a solution as well. We know what we don’t want, but how do we get what we do want? For what it’s worth, here’s my programme for action, a simple set of proposals that can raise the standard of punditry – especially on TV – and make the football-watching experience educational as well as entertaining.

1. Learn from other sports

Every sport has its shoddy pundits but football would do well to watch, learn and execute the methods that make rival shows sing. Once again, The Sport Collective has been on hand to dish up examples of where other sports get it right while football gets it wrong:

“In cricket, the likes of Mike Atherton and Richie Benaud are magnificent analysts of the game. They talk about the thought process, the individual attributes of a batsman or bowler and they go in-depth. The likes of Nasser Hussain are not afraid to criticise former teammates. Listening to the likes of Aggers [Jonathan Agnew] is like going to some raconteur’s house for afternoon tea. You almost feel like part of the family.”

“Formula One punditry seems streets ahead of football. It might be down to the intricate nature of the sport but both Martin Brundle and David Coulthard give an in-depth knowledge of the sport and nuggets no one else would know while still getting across the message of a complex sport that the layman can understand.”

“Steve Davis is an excellent snooker pundit, his natural intelligence affording him the ability to understand what the viewer wants to know. He and Willie Thorne, in particular, are very good at describing the technical qualities a player has just displayed to make a shot, while Davis – because he went through the mill at the top for so many years – can give a fascinating insight into how you handle the pressure in what is a very psychological sport.”

“Tennis players are often oddballs with incredible memories for points played and players’ weak points, so they often make good pundits. Therefore, the better ones – John McEnroe, Virginia Wade, Michael Stich and Mats Wilander – are very good at dissecting the action and also articulate enough to get their views across on technical matters.”

Why do other sports regularly outflank football when it comes to punditry? I don’t want to be offensive or guilty of making sweeping statements, but it’s worth noting that footballers are generally less educated than, say, a former England cricket captain such as Atherton. There are eloquent football pundits – some of them are mentioned above – but most former pros would hardly claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Add that general lack of articulacy to the studios’ insistence on famous faces and you have a recipe for mediocrity.

Savage is a case in point. His defenders describe him as “a character” who entertains his listeners and viewers. Even if you agree with that, it’s hard to deny that the balance between analysis and entertainment shifts too far towards the latter when Savage is on air. Cricket, F1, snooker and tennis – to name but four – do not fall into that trap. Nor should football.

2. Promote diligence and honesty

First things first. If you can’t be bothered to do research, you shouldn’t be on a frontline football show. The examples above – Shearer’s breathtaking ignorance about Ben Arfa, Hansen’s mocking response to Dixon – should have set alarm bells ringing at the BBC. Did anyone pick them up on it? Or are Shearer and Hansen so established that they are beyond reproach? If a pundit’s job really is to tell the punter what they could not know, hold them to it because the bleeding obvious will not do. And if the likes of Shearer fail that test, bring in someone who won’t.

While we’re at it, how about some honesty? Back in the Seventies and Eighties, no more than three fixtures would be featured on ITV’s The Big Match because they were the only ones graced by television cameras. The late, great Brian Moore and regular guest Jimmy Hill could focus on those games because they couldn’t see the others. If Hill had spent the final part of the show pretending he knew what had happened in the day’s other fixtures, Moore would have laughed him off the set.

So why do pundits pretend now? The Match of the Day team cannot skim-watch half-a-dozen games that kick off and end at practically the same time without filling the gaps in their knowledge with assumptions and generalisations. Get them to focus on one or two games each – preferably with different kick-off times. For the other matches, pull in reporters who were there, saw the full 90 minutes, spoke to the managers and players and are far better placed to talk coherently about what actually happened.

3. End the ‘old pals’ act’

Shearer may be one of the finest strikers England has ever produced. Redknapp may be handsome (so I’m told). Savage may be irreverent (again, so I’m told). But they have been hired because of their names, faces and reputations on the pitch – not because of their eloquence and tactical nous off it.

The success of José Mourinho and Arsène Wenger demonstrates that you don’t need to be a top-level player to become a top-class coach. The same goes for punditry. The theory that you need a hatful of international caps to be an authority on the game was debunked long ago, so let’s freshen up the TV panels with lesser known, better judges of football.

We’ve all got our favourite football writers and bloggers. I’ve mentioned Wilson, Cox, Hayward and Samuel but there are so many who bring more to the table than Shearer, Redknapp and Savage. Two decades of Hansen has drained him as much as it has drained us, so it’s high time for a change in personnel. And if we must have ‘football people’, draft in a few coaches. At least they should know about tactics.

4. Pressure from presenters

“They’ve got to get in their faces.” It’s one of Shearer’s stock phrases and arguably his most vague. It’s usually directed at lesser sides, apparently incapable of stringing two passes together, whose only hope of success is to snarl and snap at more cultured opponents. Yet Shearer’s crude instruction could easily be designed for the man opposite him in the Match of the Day studio – Gary Lineker.

He’s no Des Lynam – in fact, he’s no Jeff Stelling either – but there’s no doubt that Lineker has worked extremely hard to transform himself from the callow, stilted presenter who first sat in front of the cameras to the smooth operator who now fronts the Beeb’s football coverage. And yet Lineker and his ilk could do much more. Presenters should be more pushy, more punishing, and challenge their guests to make the leap from saying what is happening to saying why it is happening.

Remember Shearer’s comments about Hodgson at the top of this article? If only his exchange with Lineker had gone something like this:

Lineker: “So, Alan, how would you sum up Roy Hodgson’s impact on the West Brom squad since he arrived at The Hawthorns?”

Shearer: “Well, Gary, he’s used all of his experience, he’s got them well-organised and they are getting results.”

Lineker: “Would you care to elaborate on that?”

Shearer: “Well, Gary, like I say, he’s got them well-drilled and they are picking up points.”

Lineker: “Yes, Alan, but how? What has he changed at Albion?”

Shearer: “Er…”

Lineker: “OK, we’ve got to move on to the next game but, frankly, that’s poor from you.”

It would sort the wheat from the chaff, would it not? There’s more chance of me ending up on the Match of the Day sofa than Lineker putting Shearer on the spot like that but you sense he has it in him. Every now and then, Lineker crosses the line from presenter to pundit to make a wry observation, usually on a hapless striker. And we need the likes of him to be more assertive, to put pressure on pundits to make them perform. If the pundits rise to the challenge, keep them. If they wilt, make them walk.

5. Demand more from producers

It’s all very well questioning the standard of punditry but football shows will not necessarily improve unless producers raise their game too.

Put yourself in their shoes. All a producer or a director wants is a programme that runs smoothly from their point of view. There’s a fair chance they won’t know about the tactical side of football so they won’t notice if someone like Shearer is talking sense or not. As long as the show unfolds without a hiccup, as long as the cameras are in the right position, as long as the backdrop is straight and provided the presenter doesn’t swear, they are happy.

We need more from them too. Do producers tell pundits what is expected of them before they go on air? Or are they left to their own devices under the assumption that the so-called experts have done their research and know their stuff? One pundit told me how he was implored to cut down on his tactical analysis and “make it sound like you are enjoying the game”. If that is not an isolated incident, it’s another cause for concern that needs addressing.

6. Speak out yourself

Here’s the problem. Match of the Day’s ratings are sky high, the viewing figures for live football on Sky are extremely healthy and ITV is not doing badly either. Is that down to a high standard of punditry? Of course not. It’s because those channels have the rights to show live matches or highlights and they have a captive audience. In this case, high ratings are not a ringing endorsement of the product. It’s a reflection of the stark choice facing supporters who can’t get a ticket to see their team in the flesh. Watch it on TV – poor pundits and all – or miss the game.

The powers that be will point to those ratings and declare that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but we deserve better. So if we want to raise the standard of punditry, it’s time to speak out, write in and phone in. Let’s stop settling for half-baked analysis and botch-job punditry and demand more. If we don’t, Savage will keep on picking up Sony awards despite his obvious limitations.

We’re all responsible – the public, producers, presenters and, of course, the pundits themselves. But, ultimately, we need shows like Match of the Day to take a stand as well. If it can shake off its ‘old pals’ act’ and stop hiding behind the security blanket of rights and ratings, the viewers can get what they deserve – thoughtful, eloquent analysis of the sport they love, and not just great action. New media outlets provide those qualities in spades – now it’s time for old media to catch up.

It doesn’t look good though: the new season started with a new face on the Football Focus sofa – Sony award winner Savage himself. Now what was I saying about getting the balance right between information and entertainment?

As the status quo reigns supreme, it’s hard to avoid the following conclusion: the only way to get TV executives to switch on to the problem with punditry is to switch off our TV sets and choke Shearer et al of the ratings that sustain them.

I’m ready to do that. Are you?

With thanks to: Simon Cambers, James Gill, Chris Harris, Matt Majendie, Paul Gadsby, Sami Shah, David Norton and Nick Metcalfe

If you enjoyed this, then read Rich Hook’s Premier League and NFL piece “Held to Ransom”

30 Responses to “The Problem with Punditry”

  1. 60 Degree Loft May 19, 2011

    Brave and interesting look at the Football pundits we are forced to endure. I agree with 90 percent of it. Glad I got sent the link.

    Football broadcasts could learn from cricket. We need former pros to up their game. As a former professional (all be it at Div 3 and conference level) I’m telling you, a journalist can only guess what certain situations are like. You need a Warne or Atherton to tell you what the Ashes are really like. Football is no different. Martin Samuel knows nothing about the inner workings of a dressing room or the pressure a player feels when they have to take a penalty kick in a shootout or if they score an own goal. I personally rate only a few. Nevin, Alan Smith are good. And I like Le Tissier when he’s switched on.

    Also, you know damn well Jamie Redknapp is a handsome devil. Don’t pretend someone else had to tell you! Enjoyable read.

    Reply
  2. Michael May 20, 2011

    I’m quite annoyed that my U13 PBFL cup doesn’t count as a ‘major’ trophy. Who came up with these definitions?!

    I agree with the above comment in that pros *can* provide important details based upon their first hand experience. Too often, they simply don’t, which is one of the main problems.

    The problem is the obsession with big names. Some former ex-pros give good insight from their playing days AND a knowledge and understanding of the game as a spectator. Various examples – Stewart Robson, Robbie Mustoe, Shaka Hislop – but, with the greatest of respect to them, they didn’t have the success enjoyed by the MOTD pundits. They’re the people who can save us, I think.

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  3. The GusBus May 20, 2011

    Excellent!! agree with pretty much all of it & superbly written. Surely the optimal is a mixture of pundits/opintions. As the guy above says there must be some elements that unless you have played the game at a certain level you cannot fully understand & thus explain out, however what we want is for a team of pundits to enhance our enjoyment & understanding rather than just state the obvious.

    It is the subtle touches & the things you don’t see than you want to be educated on (for surely this is the aim of a pundit!) the off the ball runs, the covering for a forward pushing teammate & more than anything a good technical explanation of a team’s tactics & how they evolve etc. As in the article, the increasing number of books on the subject shows there is an audience for it & none of these (as far as I am aware) are written by famous ex-pros

    I would love to see a weekly show, that breaks down tactics/changes etc & explains them out. Doesn’t need to be just Premier League (although prob more appealing) but I suspect there is a big audience out there for an educational program like this and exactly as above, I would make time to watch in the time I save fast forwarding the MOTD ‘analysis’

    Reply
    • Jasonissimo January 30, 2012

      As an example of a tactics show, ESPN (USA) has a show called “NFL Matchup” that breaks down (American) football games’ X’s and O’s tactics. The pundits there illustrate plays using game film (used by teams themselves, from a vantage point behind the quarterback, as opposed to television footage with its side-on view). One of the pundits is former quarterback Ron “Jaws” Jaworski, who is very adept at breaking down film for the layman. He played professionally for many years and lost his only Superbowl game. The show does not get favorable time-slots. Significantly, the show is produced by the NFL’s media arm, NFL Films.

      All this is to say, it’s doable. There is no reason why the BPL, or FA, whichever, cannot tape a similar product each week in the mold of Zonal Marking (big respect to Michael!–huge fan).

      Reply
  4. A very intelligent,extremely brave, well written and constructive article-worthy of any of the top flight newspapers!
    Rod Liddle would be proud of it!!!
    This echoes my thoughts completely but very concerned that the normal MOTD etc viewer may not really want a “too technical” summing up but at least make some changes as the regular ones are now stale except for Lee Dixon.
    You could add Stuart Robson to the “good uns”!!!
    I reckon the Great Danny Baker must cringe at some of the puerile remarks made on “606″ by Sony Radio Award Winner” on this article??!!!!!

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  5. A fantastic, well written article. Could not agree more, except maybe with the point about bringing former coaches in. Big Sam Allardyce hardly set the world on fire with his ITV punditry.

    One thing, I think, worthy of note however is that whoever is commentating on a match usually ends up being slaughtered on twitter. If this is not representative that the viewers want change i’m unsure what is.

    Reply
  6. Absolutely amazing article, the content of which I agree with pretty much entirely. Looking to the quality of the BBC’s F1 coverage is a very shrewd idea. They have made the excellent decision to mix together a fan (Jake Humphrey), an ex-driver (David Coulthard), and a former team owner (Eddie Jordan), and then – most importantly – allowed them to disagree with one another in front of the camera. Such constructive confrontation would do wonders for football coverage, were producers and directors to move away from the idea that the recently retired pro who doesn’t fancy management is the only option in the studio.

    If I may, I’d love to point you towards this article I originally wrote for In Bed With Maradona about how similar some present day gripes concerning tv’s relationship with football are to those from back in the 1970s:

    http://sahafromthemaddingcrowd.blogspot.com/2011/02/television-must-be-revolutionised.html

    Reply
  7. FawnyQPR May 23, 2011

    I would exclude Robbie Savage from much of the criticism, mainly because he does actually have an opinion and isn’t scared to state it. Too many of the Shearers of this world, and God there are LOADS of them, speak but actually say nothing. My bugbear with many pundits and journalists is that they do minimal research.This was clearly seen with the recent dreadful coverage which my club suffered regarding the FA investigation into the Alejandro Faurlin transfer, where most commenting/reporting had not bothered to ascertain the FACTS. I heard and read so much nonsense from people who should know better, are PAID to know better, and if they don’t know, they should FIND OUT.

    Reply
  8. Phnom Penh Hoops May 24, 2011

    Thank God at last, outing the rubbish that goes as football pundits in England!

    Any organisation that serves up Robbie Savage as an expert needs closing down. His ï’m backing Reading for the play-offs because they gave me a good send off’ shows them to be clueless. As for Steve Claridge, does anyone take him seriously?

    For the last few years whilst the BBc has covered the football league, I have avoided watching the highlights program. It is patronising rubbish i.e. Clem!!…not that I expect much to change now QPR are back in the Prem.

    Great article, hats off to the author.

    Reply
  9. Good article, especially the mention of the RTE pundits who aren’t afraid at getting into real debates and arguments with each other-see the analysis after the L’pool Arsenal CL game in 2008 when Brady tried to walk out of the studio. What’s more they seem to recognize how poor most British pundits, most memorably in the 06 World Cup when RTE were given footage of a BBC interview with Sven Goran Erikkson and after showing it Dunphy described it as “the first time he’d seen two men having sex on the BBC”.

    The mention of Seedorf is also relevant to the criticism of Shearer as during last summer his English was embarrassingly better than Wor Alan’s. In order to present any other show on the Beeb you have to pass a certain standard of competency. So how is then that a Dutch player from Suriname who not only has never lived in an English speaking country but spent the majority of his career in Italy and Spain, where the strong domestic media would mean English would rarely be used, have a higher standard of what is probably his forth language than a native speaker?

    Shearer also has one of the most annoying cliches in the sport-”I’d actually pay to see him play”-well thousands of us actually do!

    The funniest comment on the ineptitude of pundits was on the Guardian’s (excellent) podcast. One journalist was comparing a teams setup to an approach he had read in Wilson’s ‘Inverting the Pyramid’ before interrupted by another pundit who remarked that: “if this were MOTD and I were Alan Shearer this is where I’d start teasing you for reading books. Next thing you’ll be naming players who don’t play in the Premier League!”

    Reply
  10. Though maybe the remark in this article about the intelligence, or lack of, of British footballers, thinking in particular of the homophobic abuse Grahame Le Saux got for simply be posh.

    In contrast Romelu Lukaku has said he wants to avoid talk of any possible transfers until he finishes his exams, and that he is seeking to transfer to another college if he leaves Brussels.

    Reply
  11. Francis June 21, 2011

    MOTD is seemingly targetted at an 8-16 year old demographic.

    An hour clearly isn’t long enough to show the highlights and analyse 6 or 7 games.

    I’d be interested to know what limits are placed on the MOTD and other highlights shows in terms of how how much action they can show.

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  12. I’m guessing that you don’t speak much Italian If you think their level of punditry Is up to scratch.

    To sum up the mentality at least with regards to European competition, I have noted that should Italian sides lose, It’s invariably explained in pretty basic terms that their team must have had an off day whilst the opposition will alternatively be deemed to have played the game of their lives. No other explanations are ever given really. I can do without this level of insight thanks.

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  13. Nice timing to publish this , as Marek Hamšík is allegedly signing for AC Milan today :)

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  14. Kevin Meadowcroft June 22, 2011

    Good article. Your point about Lee Dixon is spot on. He is the only one who does any actual work. I remember seeing a live game on the BBC recently, although I can’t remember which one and at the end of the game, which had had a dull mfirst half but a brilliant second half Dixon illustrated this point by holding up two sheets of A4, one headed ‘First Half’ with very little else and the other headed ‘Second Half’ and covered in biro. Shearer looked at him and snorted: “Since when did you start taking notes?” A perfect example of his smug, self-satisfied laziness. On the subject of Hansen, in a similar way to how a bad player can make better players play poorly Shearer has brought Hansen down to his level of laziness. Hansen isn’t thick and used to be pretty good.

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  15. Matt Adkins June 24, 2011

    Great article and interesting coming in the week Sky Sports have sacked their best football presenter, Mark Bolton, somebody who isn’t afraid of asking tough questions to pundits on their La Liga coverage. In fact Sky’s La Liga programmes are by far superior to their PL offerings and the punditry from the likes of Guillem Balague, Pako Ayesteran and Terry Gibson is top class. Compare that with the inane utterings from messrs Merson, Yorke, Redknapp et al.

    I hope Mark Bolton finds work very soon, in fact MOTD should hire him now as he wouldn’t be afraid of pushing Shearer and Hansen. Sadly it’s not very likely though.

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  16. Great article, and so true, lets hope the inane drivel we have been subjected to over the past few years soon comes to the end.

    A few months back shortly after when the Andy Gray “episode” unfolded I had the pleasure of having a beer or two with a sky sports presenter. He told me that Gary Neville was being lined up to replace Gray…

    I told him to stop winding me up..who in their right mind would hire the 2nd most boring man in football!

    Looks like he was telling the truth!

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  17. A good, well argued article. I’d be interested in what the writers think of Mark ‘Lawro’ Lawrenson and Ian Holloway as pundits?

    On the former, Lawro was one of the few names that Collymore didn’t lay into earlier on this year when he critised MOTD’s pundits. However as a journalist on the Mirror pointed out, it’s probably because Lawro does go to games up and down the country, and sees the full 90 minutes in his work for 5live. Having said that, the matey Hansen and Lawro act has worn thin but as your article states, Shearer brings very little real insight to the mix.

    The only time I can remember real analysis from Shearer was at the 2006 World Cup when he analysed the space on the pitch taken up by Beckham and his replacement Shaun Wright Philips (SWP). Using simple graphics he was able to make the point that Beckham’s movement was far more limited and as a winger, he drifted inside too often. In comparison, SWP played more in a more narrow channel but he occupied space from just outside his own penalty area, all the way up the opposition’s touchline – which is just where you want your winger to be delivering crosses from. An excellent point that was well made by Shearer – he needs more of that if he wants to elevate his punditry.

    Holloway had a lot of potential as a pundit on MOTD2 with interesting opinions and anecdotes under question from Adrian Chiles. However Holloway’s increasingly odd press conferences for Blackpool last year and excessive fawning and defence of Alex Ferguson’s rotation policy lost him a lot of admirers.

    Anyway, shouldn’t current managers and successful ones at that, be the best pundits? Imagine Wenger analysing Barca’s attacking movement, or Fergie dissecting where Arsenal go wrong. It would be fascinating to watch!

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  18. One point that I disagree with is citing Dunphy and Giles as good pundits. Wasn’t it Dunphy that said Ronaldo “was a nothing player” and brought very little to the team shortly before he scored twice in the demolition of Roma.

    It’s probably the single worst piece of punditry I have ever heard. There’s no point being interesting and opinionated if you come out with absolute cobblers like that!

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  19. Padraig Conlon June 29, 2011

    Good article, I would agree with 90% of it. However being from Ireland got to disagree with your opinion of Giles and Dunphy: “they openly court controversy… their debates are much more stimulating.” Dunphy is an irritation. He hasn’t a clue and is trying to be outrageous as part of his public profile. He also regularly kisses the backsides of his co-pundits in a manner that is shameful. The whole RTE panel is so long on the boil now that any substance they might once have possessed has been reduced to a thick meaningless sludge with Dunphy the grisly bit in it.
    It’s like listening to an elderly relative whose outdated stories you have heard ad nauseum. Nor does Dunphy even have the virtue of being unpredictable. He has his regular targets and just spits idiotic bile at them no matter what they do. He puts forward wild, sometimes contradictory opinions that have little to no basis in reality (ie Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t a “real player”)It doesn’t become interesting just because he’s angry. And as for Johnny Giles, don’t even get me started. Fond of saying “moral courage” and talking about the old days when he used to play. Openly admits often that he never watches football outside of RTE studio (Said he’d never heard of Riquelme before Arsenal/Villarreal Champions Le Semi in 2006.) Unbelievably rubbish pundit. RTE punditry isn’t interesting because of the fact that it’s so unthinking.

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    • Fergus June 30, 2011

      Great article, I would share most of the opinions although I have to agree with Padraig about Dunphy and Giles; they offer no tactical insights and the only reason I personally find them less tiresome than the BBCs two smug Allans is that they at least occasionally have conflicting opinions. A highly honourable mention has to go to Richie Sadlier however, he has become fairly regular on RTE and is the best football pundit I have seen on either program. He combines experience of the game as an ex-player with keen tactical insights, the man clearly knows football. Good pundits are out there, Sky’s La Liga coverage is another excellent example, but I’m afraid it may prove mighty difficult to peel Lineker et al off that sofa. I’m even more afraid that the majority of viewers may actually want to keep them there

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  20. Chelsea Blue July 28, 2011

    Cricket pundits on Sky are so good, other than Botham. Football gets it wrong on every channel pretty much. If Sky gave a Henry Winter, for arguments sake, a panel slot it might just work. An improvement on Dion Dublin and Jamie ‘we was’ Redknapp that is for sure.

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  21. Simon Shepherd July 30, 2011

    Cricket pundits are certainly better than those calling football but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
    Just listen to the Test Match Sofa boys and girls (with the sound down low on the TV), the level of insight from amateur and non-players should make even Test Match Special hang its head in shame on most days.

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  22. Great article. Though how you managed a diatribe on football punditry without mentioning the name Andy Townsend is beyond me. Probably because your head would have imploded with fury I suppose.

    I would like to partly defend Steve Claridge too, a buffoon he may be, but unlike all the other pundits, he is at least aware of the existance of football outside of the top two divisions.

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  23. Andrew Palmer August 15, 2011

    I only watch perhaps half a dozen football matches a season, and have never expected a great deal from pundits, although I always found Martin O’Neil insightful, intelligent, witty and combative. But I do know about cricket commentary, and wouldn’t take the blanket approval of its coverage without some strong reservations. Some pundits, particularly the execrable Geoffrey Boycott, are obsessed with their own achievements, are cliche-ridden, and are interested only in massaging their ego.

    Many are brilliant of course, especially Aggers, but if I read an article like this (which I much enjoyed) about the failings of cricket’s pundits, I might accept the reverse-admiration for football’s without problem.

    If you love a sport, you despair at its failings, so good on you for starting to clean up the failings of yours. Have a go at cricket’s next, would you?

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  24. Article is brilliant, sums up my feelings exactly but sadly I get the feeling we are in the minority! At one point I was even keeping a log of all the lazy cliches used on MOTD. One episode you have an A4 page full of them.

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  25. Charles Perrin August 17, 2011

    This is a timely article and it accurately reflects the monochrome nature of football pundits today. Match of the Day and Match of the Day 2 in recent years have probably taken a hit in viewer ratings because the likes of Alan Shearer and Dion Dublin fail to provide viewers with the necessary insights into game. They tell us what we already know, which to a certain extent is lazy punditry.

    Giles Smith, who is a regular columnist for The Times, espoused the theory that defenders are generally better pundits because ‘they have seen the game ahead for years while forwards have been merely preening themselves for when the action comes their way’. Gary Neville may antagonise a lot of football fans, but he was very eloquent in surmising his views on MNF for Man City’s game. He has a great understanding of tactics and is a master of using Sky Sports’ tablet.

    Football can learn a lot from punditry in other sports, in particular cricket insofar as it can tune in more into the mental side of the game. Michael Atherton is lucid when it comes to talking about a batsman’s state of mind when in a poor run of form. More effort needs to go into hiring pundits based on their punditry skills rather than merely for their personalities.

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  26. Essex Magpie August 18, 2011

    I think Gary Neville looks the part so far. I also think your writer expects an awful lot from your pundits. The idea of some silver spooned broasdsheet writer offering ‘expert’ opinion on a live game would grate with me. Your pal at Zonal Marking is probably a nice guy, but these self appointed football experts would be so dry on the box. Souness and Neville aren’t that bad -especially with Stelling by their side.

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  27. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_sanneh

    The link demonstrates the interesting contrast between the stock and trade approach to punditry adopted over here and the dedication, endeavour and quality expected in the states. Say what you want about yanks but when it comes to sports punditry, they’re in a league of their own, to the extent that – much like the F1 coverage – the analysis is almost as entertaining and interesting as the spectacle itself. Shame the producers at Match of the Day are so backward, reminds me of Sven’s selection policy with the England team – stale, and more to do with reputation than performance.

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  28. Tam Campbell February 2, 2012

    Punditry – the sound of paint drying.
    It’s so bad I have to admit missing Jimmy Hill’s insight and as you know, we Scots hate Jimmy Hill. The Ginger Midget ( Strachan)produces analysis more interesting and entertaining than the football his teams served up ever did.Finally, it’s all a matter of opinion and mine is that Pat Nevin should take up permanent residence in Pseuds Corner

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