Bland or Controversial? What makes a good pundit?

Adebayor worked for the BBC at the 2010 World Cup

Brian Barwick, the former head of television sport at the BBC and the man responsible for bringing Alan Hansen to our screens, explained that: “With a pundit you are looking 10 years down the line. There is a honeymoon period when viewers recognise them from their playing days. But that ends. Then you’re going to be marked purely on your performance as an analyst.”

The art of good punditry is simply being a good analyst whether you’re bland, controversial or sit on a couch wearing a trilby. Dull pundits are often forgiven if they at least talk sense, whereas loud pundits are not excused for their lack of insight.

Week after week, Alan Shearer, who despite an exceptional scoring record from his playing days, was a boring footballer with a boring celebration and has translated his insipidness on the pitch to the Match of the Day studio over the last two seasons. However, his biggest problem isn’t that he fails to connect with his audience because he’s monotonous and ordinary, it is his evident lack of understanding and consistent inability to convey anything interesting that makes him a bad pundit.

Tony Cascarino, who since his playing retirement has forged a successful career as a television and radio pundit as well as a regular newspaper columnist, admitted that certain frivolous attitudes towards punditry, and pundits who adopt a care-free posture, irritate him. “A manager in the Premiership was talking to me recently and he said, “If I lose my job I think I’ll do what you do.” That’s the attitude. They think it’s easy but it’s not.”

“It’s not true that all ex-footballers could do it. I’ve been in dressing rooms with players who had no knowledge of football. Unbelievable. No knowledge of the game they’re in!” Although Cascarino makes a valid point, the number of ex-footballers who demonstrate such a paucity of football knowledge, Steve McManaman notwithstanding, is both shocking and surprising. “Garth Crooks is awful. Awful. What does Crooks bring to that show [Final Score]? He doesn’t bring anything!”

In the last few years, several former players and temporarily unemployed managers have attempted to make the switch from dugout bench to studio sofa with varying results, but as Barwick explained earlier, it’s the pundits with a deep comprehension of the game who last longest. Throughout a League season, it is important for highlights broadcasts to house a regular panel of analysts who remain within the confines of their job description, rather than unsuccessfully and embarrassingly stray in to the realms of humour.

That said, there are certain platforms where inept pundits flourish and should be encouraged to provide light entertainment to supplement the intense examination imparted by competent analysts. During a World Cup or other international tournaments, the studio cast plays an important role in determining ratings success and viewing pleasure. Seeing as there are usually up to three games broadcast each day, with an additional highlights show transmitted later every evening, it is vital for a television channel to add flavour and comedy to at least one of the three or four daily shows.

Often this is achieved by employing one or more current cultured footballers to give their opinions during certain games. The BBC hired Emmanuel Adebayor and Clarence Seedorf to give their views during last summer’s World Cup to great effect, and the Togolese striker became an instant hit when his phone rang during coverage of Japan v Cameroon, providing the audience with at least one laugh, which is more than his colleague at the time, Shearer, has accomplished overall. Whilst Adebayor delivered indirect humour in his unique machine-gun way, Seedorf exhibited a consistent level of wisdom both when responding to questions and throughout his recurring articles on the BBC’s website.

History has proved, despite a few exceptions, that the best pundits in terms of popularity and career longevity retain a specific set of characteristics, with a decent level of knowledge being the most important. The issue is rarely whether or not an analyst is likeable, because viewers already have preconceived opinions regarding familiar ex-footballers, which are either altered or enhanced depending on the pundit’s ability to impart insight, despite a bland or provocative style.

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