The act of dubbing someone ‘the next Gary Neville’ would be regarded as giving someone a hard act to follow. In my eyes, the former Red Devil was an impressive defender, and at his best when playing in tandem with Golden Balls himself, David Beckham. His relentless passion coupled with a palpable understanding of the game, allowed him to preside over the right flank for both club and country, but no player can go on forever.
Once his playing days came to an end, Neville emerged as the new face of Sky Sports and immediately began transforming a reputation that had previously, in the eyes of many football fans, been purely based on his career as a player.
The fascinating insight he exposed within tactical movement and player mentality exposed a wealth of unconscious knowledge that has further fuelled my affection for the sport. It has also magnified my resentment for the Catchphrase-style ‘say what you see’ punditry that is as infuriating as it is uninformative.
Thus, I have decided to select five candidates that could one day provide the same exciting brand of expert analysis.
Roberto Mancini’s dependable defensive barricade conducts interviews with the same poise and composure as when he’s dispossessing the opposition. He speaks with confidence and a rare purity, meaning you’re unlikely to be force-fed the familiar batch of tiresome clichés.
Kompany’s greatest asset stems from the fact that despite his unwavering allegiance, he never oozes bias or prejudice. He also refuses to be dragged down any awkward cul-de-sacs by the unsavoury tactics of messrs Shreeves and Clarke, which allows him to keep his foot on the ball rather than in his mouth.
During a recent guest spot on Match of the Day, Alan Hansen appeared to shrivel up in the face of a far more intellectual presence. The bumbling Scot repeatedly tripped over his words, especially when he asked whether the Manchester City dressing room knew the United score at half-time, blissfully unaware that they weren’t playing until the evening.
The Belgian talisman didn’t find much salvation with his other colleague, Harry Redknapp, who repeatedly threw plaudits his way in an apparent attempt to sign him, despite the fact he wasn’t employed at the time. Sadly, at just 26 years of age, Kompany will likely spend the next decade attracting praise on the pitch rather than in the studio.
Do we dare dream that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Could Phil Neville also possess a knack for punditry, capable of dazzling an audience on a bleak Monday night?
The 35-year-old’s impact on a consistently improving Everton side appears to be waning and with his contract due to expire this season, perhaps he too will decide to bow out at the top. He certainly shares his brother’s high standard of professionalism, boasting a dogged resilience and tenacity that has seen him acquire a cult-hero status at Goodison Park.
Neville is a regular spectator at Premier League grounds around the country, often snapped by a rogue camera while his accompanying family look increasingly bored. This indicates that he also harbours the same obsession for tactical analysis, although he may need some vocal coaching considering he sounds like a muttering synchronised swimmer being drowned out by a low-flying heavy bomber.
Owen may have recently declared he still has ‘two or three years left at the top’, but the number of clubs willing to put up with his residency on the treatment table decreases by the day. The latest revelation that a hamstring injury was aggravated by the cold, despite being in the gym at the time, evoked more laughter than pity.
Away from Stoke City, Owen conjured his finest performance of the season when he appeared on Sky Sports, sporting facial hair that probably had Raleigh Chopper thrashing out a sponsorship proposal. His startling appearance certainly made me pay attention but I found myself uninspired by his mundane analysis and refusal to offer out deserved criticism.
Owen will be reluctant to dispose of his ‘squeaky clean’ persona but I can’t see him succeeding as a pundit unless he does so. However, perhaps the former England striker sees himself as Gary Lineker’s successor, assuming his throne as the housewife favourite and cheesy-line aficionado.
If there was one undeniable positive from the television series Being: Liverpool, it was the devotion that Jamie Carragher shares with the Anfield club. He may be enduring a part-time role on the pitch at present but his influence on the training field and in the dressing room is still reassuringly evident.
Carragher embodies Liverpool in the same way Neville did with United and it’s this deep-rooted affection that arguably helped develop his football brain. From the footage I saw, Carragher was often monitoring training sessions with the same attention to detail as Brendan Rodgers. He was also captured offering advice to the increasing number of youngsters in the first-team squad, highlighting a deep understanding of the mentality of the game’s future stars.
Carragher has always been refreshingly sharp in interviews, offering witty retorts to those questions that border on the inappropriate or the obvious. While this would be a unique and welcomed personality for a pundit, it is likely the result of suffering one too many mundane interviews. I imagine he’ll slip seamlessly into the coaching set-up on Merseyside rather into than the world of broadcasting.
With such an onus placed on serious, deadpan analysis nowadays perhaps it would be refreshing to unleash Jimmy Bullard on the unsuspecting world of punditry.
With a bubbling enthusiasm and comical delivery of every word that falls out his mouth, the beautiful game might just revel in his presence, especially given the constant stream of negative publicity in recent months. Having recently retired from playing professionally, this could be the perfect opportunity for one of the major broadcasters to swoop for his services. The archaic panel on Soccer Saturday is crying out for a reshuffle.
However, while many players struggle with the lure of drink, drugs or gambling, Bullard suffers with the daunting prospect of boredom.
‘It’s boredom, not the booze that’s always been my big problem. I get bang into trouble when I’m bored. I didn’t combat the boredom, but I got over it.’ (Daily Mail)
Perhaps an evening with Gareth Southgate or Mark Lawrenson isn’t the best idea…
Who do you think would make a good pundit?