Don’t football fans deserve more than this?

The news that we’ve all been waiting for last week finally broke, Match of the Day had finally replaced the departed Lee Dixon, but who was it with? Two names were seemingly plucked out of the air to answer we the people’s call, Harry Redknapp and Mick McCarthy. Oh, more of the same then.

Lee Dixon left at the end of last season after eight years with the BBC helping as an analyst and expert with their football coverage. By and large, he was a thoughtful, intelligent and insightful presence on the red sofa, offering balanced, nuanced views and most importantly of all, actually caring about what was said and what was put out there for the public to see.

It will come as no surprise then to realise that he was a frightfully undervalued member of the football ‘team’, and he was sort of like the Arsenal of the pundits, failing to crack an impenetrable top two of Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson, often left in the doldrums of MOTD2 alongside the excitable but clearly clueless Robbie Savage and he’s since joined ITV’s football coverage alongside Adrian Chiles.

Gary Neville has shown to great success over on Sky that the public do actually want in-depth tactical analysis covering the game’s events, they do want thought-provoking debate and tough questions – that’s how the knowledgeable among you will debate the game with your friends, so why do we dumb it down to such an extent when delivering it to a mass audience through the BBC?

The whole point of employing an ex-professional is that they are supposed to provide some knowledge of the game that we, as laymen with an untrained eye, cannot see. Alan Shearer for some unknown reason thinks being a pundit involves explaining exactly what’s happening on the screen in front of us as opposed to what we can’t see, while delivering the odd generic insight into a player’s emotions, such as “he’ll be disappointed with that.” Is this really what it’s come to?

The clique-ness of it all is just awful, it’s like turning up at a rotary club dinner and watching 50 year-old golf buddies partake in ‘banter’. Why does Gary Lineker enjoy doing such terrible jokes all of the time? Is that in itself part of an in-joke? Why has Alan Hansen lurched so far into self-parody there looks to be no return? Why is Mark Lawrenson so bloody depressed all of the time? You have quite a nice job as it happens, Mark, try not to sound as if you’re being forced to watch a six-hour Chinese enactment of Swan Lake, made solely through the medium of mime every week.

The sheer lack of research truly boggles the mind. They are paid to turn up and talk about football, handsomely you assume too, a job that many on the fringes of football journalism on podcasts all over the country would be infinitely more qualified to do it seems sometimes. The most famous example of which being that Alan Shearer hadn’t heard of Newcastle’s new signing at the time Hatem Ben Arfa and just assumed that nobody else had either – a player which by this point had played in the Champions League for Marseille and represented France eight times at international level. Top work all round.

Replacing Dixon, the only pundit worth listening to, with two more members of the Match of the Day rotary club beggars belief. What need are they responding to by employing these two exactly? Aside from the fact that they were both Premier League managers last season and were sacked for their troubles, what insight are they going to bring? I’m going to be honest, I don’t think I’m going to be able to take a tag-team of Lawrenson and McCarthy.

I can honestly say that I don’t know a single person that thinks that the current crop of ‘experts’ on Match of the Day give the foggiest what people think of them and it’s just all so lazy. Redknapp and McCarthy are two managers known for not indulging the tactical side of the game all that much, so what exactly are they going to contribute? Just more of the same empty platitudes for a fictional audience that apparently can’t get enough of them it would appear.

Here’s are a few example of some of Mick McCarthy’s approach to punditry during World Cup 2010 that I’ve managed to dig up from the archives: “The last thing either team want to do is lose”, “Just put it in the box, make them defend”, “Teams win games”.
Now I like Mick, as a co-commentator and as a person, he seems like quite a funny, ‘salt of the Earth’ kind of bloke and I always enjoyed his put-downs to reporters questions post-match as Wolves boss – he can be quite simplistic, but nobody really listens to commentary all that much anymore anyway unless it’s noticeably bad, so you can kind of drown it out, but man alive, don’t get him on that sofa and ask him to impart wisdom, because that’s like asking a monkey to perform heart surgery – messy, unnecessary and downright idiotic.

Redknapp, I have less time for though, and his constant ‘look at me, look at what I’m saying, I’m important, please like me’ attitude to the media and his rent-a-quote style making him an exceptionally grating person, but over an extended period like they have in the studio after each big game, aside from the usual ‘trffic, trffic player’ schtick, you’re not really going to get anything else from him and I doubt that he’s come all that cheaply either.

Inane ex-players whose only qualification was being good at football twenty years ago making inane remarks for money. There’s no opinion, nothing is substantiated by fact, it’s just the same bile trotted out by every newspapers up and down the country every other week. In the same way that former footballers don’t always make good managers, the same applies to punditry and when you compare it to Sky’s cricket coverage or the BBC’s F1 coverage, it’s embarrassing how far behind it is in terms of overall quality.

The BBC got their Olympics coverage spot on throughout, with the likes of Clare Balding and Gabby Logan superb, while Gary Lineker led the way for football essentially turning up to cover a sport five minutes before he went on air and bumbling his way through it – he didn’t really seem to care what was going on.

Match of the Day has slipped into a stale, cliched, smug and deeply patronising format and these latest two appointments to the roster of mediocrity only serve to highlight that it’s quickly getting to the point of no return. A radical overhaul is needed and a whole lot more effort. The thing is, the BBC clearly think more of the same if what we want with regards to these bland ‘experts’, the dumbing down has got to such an extent, they’ve fallen victim to it themselves by responding to a need that simply isn’t there.

If you haven’t seen the youtube clip of Lee Dixon talking, then seeing Alan Shearer interrupting and the former Arsenal full-back’s subsequent reaction, looking on in utter disbelief, shaking his head at being cut off by another brain-dead remark, then put it right at the top of the list, because nothing drives home the dearth of talent at the moment more than that.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1