When a professional footballer hangs up his boots, he has multiple options. Does he get his coaching badges? Become an after dinner speaker? Will he finally get around to writing that tell-all autobiography about his famous clashes with managers and rival players? Or perhaps consider doing football punditry? Thierry Henry did. It rebranded Gary Neville from a nasty defender to England’s most insightful pundit. Even Robbie ‘wasssssssssssup’ Savage did. It seems like football punditry is an attractive option for former players these days with the eye catching pay, but the influx of ex-pros becoming pundits has somewhat dumbed down football analysis in the UK.
The Need for Ex-Players to be Pundits must be Stopped
The inclusion of ex-pros in match analysis is understandable, considering they offer a perspective into the dressing room or how players would be feeling going into a penalty shootout. That goes out of the window when one hears Michael Owen in his bland monotone voice say phrases like “it’s amazing how goals change games” or “when the ball is that still, it’s wobbling in the air.” When you’re stating the obvious or what you’re seeing rather than offering an alternative view of a situation, you might as well be replaced by a brick.
Bland and ‘say what you see’ punditry from former players is on the whole pointless, which makes me further wonder why media corporations continue to employ former footballers who throughout their career have been drilled by public relation officers, agents and professionals to remain neutral. Trained to just say you had a good game but praise the team and talk about how you have to maintain form and so on. These sessions drain the character and intelligence out of these people, so why should they be asked for their opinion on West Brom vs Spurs if they are trained to be blunt and boring?
Take Paul Scholes for example – a man who shied away from media interviews or the public spotlight during his career who is now a leading BT Sport pundit. While there is no doubt about his football intellect, his matchday persona seems uninterested, unmotivated and saying something just for the sake of it.
Although having said that, Gary Neville (and to an extent) Jamie Carragher have both proven to be invaluable members of Sky Sport’s football coverage with their frame by frame analysis, fascinating tactical insight and bluntness. To their credit, they are the reason ex-footballers are given a way into punditry in the hope another Neville gem is discovered. What makes Gary Neville an interesting pundit is how he’s given the time to analyse and breakdown a team’s defending tactic, understand what each player are supposed to be doing, dissect formations and tactics and observing where failing players went wrong. Perhaps it’s due to his professionalism, intelligence and his experience but it shows that if you‘re going to hire former players then at least check he knows one or two things about football.
A simple suggestion to BBC or Sky is why don’t we see more football journalists on Match of the Day or on Super Sunday? These writers are the ones who have a deep understanding of England’s top division, tactical knowledge and individual observations from Claudio Yacob to Mesut Özil. Not to sound cliché, but these journalists live and breathe football; watching it every week, going to the games and having a behind the scenes access to players’ and managers’ thoughts. A journalist is trained to look for an alternative angle to a match, analyse why a team’s form is failing whereas a footballer is trained simply to repeat what just happened and dare not to offend his former employers and team-mates.
I suppose I should round this off with a message to footballer broadcasters. When your former international footballer starts adding his unoriginal opinions to a game, spews clichés and trends on Twitter for the wrong reasons, maybe that’s a sign you’re going somewhere wrong. Don’t continue to make the same mistake over and over again but instead hire pundits who are a lot more knowledgeable and passionate about football. Perhaps then, football discourse on British television could become vastly better.