When a professional footballer hangs up his boots, he is faced with three choices. He can take the easy life, opting to spend the rest of his days mooching around golf courses in Hertfordshire. He can take the hard life and attempt the move into management or he can don his sharpest suit, make the largest possible knot in his tie and head to the studios of Skysports, ESPN, ITV and the BBC.
You don’t have to be a particularly dazzling player to qualify for a punditry job; the likes of Shaka Hislop, John Beresford and Mark Bright prove that, but as long as you’ve got sharing a bath with 10 men on your C.V. you’re employable. There is of course a pedigree pundit, with years of pundit breeding in his genes. Anyone from the armchair analysis schools of Arsenal’s back four in the 90’s and ‘that’ Liverpool team of the 80’s appears to be welcomed with open arms, even Tony Adams enjoyed a brief, mumbling spell on the couch.
The question is, do ex-pro’s make good pundits? There are those that take to their new surroundings instantly. Martin Keown suddenly abandoned his on the field thuggery and became an earnest, softly spoken and thoughtful analyst, Chris Kamara unwittingly became a legend. Others are not so fortunate. Shearer’s initial performances on the Match of the Day sofa were so uninsightful and drab they should have just replaced him with a pot plant to brighten up the room. He hasn’t improved much. Garth Crooks actually just has an incredibly annoying manner, irrespective of his opinions and Paul Merson is actually an idiot, a real, classic, village idiot. He’s just so stupid that it’s endearing.
From our pundits we want insight, analysis and criticism. We want to know the reason why Arsenal let in 8 on the weekend, or how Dzeko scored 4. You don’t have to speak proper English or even necessarily have an opinion (although it helps), you just have to analyse things correctly and make it interesting.
Ex-pros are in the perfect position to do this. They sit on a lifetime of team-talks, tactics-boards and anecdotes, they can actually relate to the mistakes and feelings of the people involved. For this reason ex-pros are irreplaceable. No football journalist can claim that knowledge. For this reason they will always be the dominant force in punditry. Whilst some of them seem surprisingly ignorant (Shearer’s Ben Arfa comment springs to mind) or are particularly dull (Shearer again). For the most part they do the job well.
There will always be a need for people who’ve been there and done it to sit down and talk about it. I’m not sure anybody really wanted Gary Neville but he’s been in the big bath so he’s more qualified than we are.
Which ex-pros have been a breath of fresh air and who should just stick to golf? http://twitter.com/#!/philipwroe
Here’s Philippe Senderos on ESPN showing how not to do it!