This past Saturday’s edition of Match of The Day featured the usual recipe of Alan Hansen lamenting the standard of defending in the Premier League. This week, the targets of his ire were Manchester City, specifically Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge.
“When you talk about organisation and communication and playing off one another and as a team, the marks out of ten are minus six. They were that bad.”
“’I just feel sorry for Wayne Bridge. He was just that bad. You tend to be critical but on this occasion I just felt sorry for him.”
Lescott conceded an early penalty to Burnley whilst Bridge’s poor positioning and lack of awareness played a significant role in Burnley’s other goals. Mark Hughes has taken exception to Hansen’s comments and feels that it was wrong of him to single out individuals on the basis of a few clips from a match. In Hansen’s defence, it is his job to highlight tactical errors, but the manner in which he laid into Bridge was probably uncalled for. His verdict was delivered in a mocking tone, and the segment felt like it was designed to humiliate the player on national television. Hughes’ anger is understandable as Bridge’s confidence will have been knocked by the criticisms, he will not need to have been told that he had played poorly. Hughes’ main point of contention however, is that pundits and analysts tend to make judgements based on a few incidents in each game, rather than viewing the whole match. His point is an interesting one and raises an important issue regarding the standard of punditry in this country.
Football pundits may not realise this, but they have tremendous power by virtue of their profession. There are many people who will take something as gospel, simply because it was said by Andy Gray or Alan Hansen. Football is a game of opinions but pundits are often the first port of call for some fans when they are forming their views on a player or team. Given that their role is of such importance, something does need to be done about the lazy punditry that is rife within the media. Programme directors must realise that they cannot just draft in random ex-professionals or players in the twilights of their careers to deliver an analysis of a game. While their experience is useful, most players are not tactical geniuses (if they were, they would all make great managers), and there is far too much recycled material. How many times do we really need to hear that Manchester United miss Cristiano Ronaldo, or that Frank Lampard isn’t suited to playing in a diamond formation? In addition, much of what is said comes with an inbuilt bias; foreign players are highlighted for diving offences despite high-profile English names also taking part; stars of the England team are also provided with extra protection in regards to their conduct and form.
At present, the punditry that is delivered is of little value to the viewer; due to time constraints, analysis of a game is usually reduced to simply repeating commentary of the goals and pointing out obvious defensive errors. There is very little in-depth tactical analysis and the discussions that follow the game are usually fairly hollow. That is not to say it is all bad, Hansen reads the defensive side of the game spectacularly well and is capable of delivering real insights. An example would be during Euro 2008, when most spectators were fawning over the heroic defending of Carles Puyol, Hansen was the only one with the presence of mind to point out the Puyol makes a lot of positional errors and that is often his physical attributes that allow him to recover situations. There needs to be more debates of this nature on football programmes, watching three men sitting on a sofa agreeing with each other, is becoming fairly tiresome.