Slowly becoming a dying art in English football

After watching Match of the Day 2 the other week, something struck me, something troubling – just why were the pundits so bad? On the sofa we had Alan Shearer, a person incapable of threading together a single coherent sentence and Robbie Savage, an excitable male hairdresser simply using his footballing pulpit as an excuse to partake in little more than that most dreaded of football dressing room clichés – ‘banter’. This was most certainly the C-team that had been sent out, which makes me wonder, just why is the standard of punditry on our big shiny boxes so poor?

On RTE, Irish viewers are regularly served up a mixture of lively debate, unfounded opinions and controversial judgements. On the whole, then, the exact opposite of what we have been treated to over here in England for quite some time. Graeme Souness, a regular on RTE, stated earlier in the week that he’d never be invited back on Sky if he actually said what he thought half the time and that the boundary lines between RTE and Sky are huge.

The main problem appears to be the reluctance of former players to speak out against players they may have played against, or have shared a dressing room with in the past. Alan Shearer, the king of the mundane pundits if ever there was one, often pipes up with pearls of wisdom such as ‘he’ll be disappointed that he’s let a goal in there’ and ‘it’s hit the woodwork, but he couldn’t have struck that any better’. What? I’m sorry, but, what? What does that even mean? What have I gained from listening to that?

Shearer is now the bane of my existence. I let out a huge exasperated sigh whenever I see him on the Match of the Day sofa. He’s a pointless individual that lacks the rudimentary knowledge to actually say anything worthy or of note. His presence ensures it’s going to be an arduous watch. The thought of simply sitting there with the programme on mute has often crossed my mind.

He sums up the unprepared state of mind that most pundits go on Match of the Day with these days. He seems to think punditry is basically talking us through with what happens on the screen. The whole point of having an ex-pro in your employ is that they have garnered a degree of expertise over the years; knowledge passed down to them from both their coaches and managers, which in theory should be reflected in their ability to dissect incidents in minute detail. In short, their main role is to tell us what we can’t see on the screen as laymen’s of the footballing fraternity.

This is clearly a concept well beyond Shearer’s capabilities. Rarely do we see him talking us through patterns of play or highlighting a player’s movements. The shocking thing, though, is that he is far from being alone in that respect, he’s simply the worst of a rotten bunch.

Can anyone forget the now famed example of his, ahem, ‘knowledge’ at work, after Hatem Ben Arfa’s impressive debut for his beloved Newcastle? Shearer confidently opined in reference to Ben Arfa that ‘no one really knows a great deal about him’.

This is Hatem Ben Arfa. A player that has been capped 8 times by France and has played for the country at every level right up to the senior side. A player that has played Champions League football on a regular basis for Lyon. A player that cost his next club Marseille £11m. If I know that, Alan, then why don’t you?

Even just a cursory glance at his Wikipedia page would have increased his knowledge of Ben Arfa tenfold. It was an astounding display of both arrogance and ignorance in one fail swoop – quite the feat.

My main gripe though, is the sheer laziness of it all. After all, we can assume, they are paid handsomely by the BBC for their so called ‘expertise’. This is now their full-time job. They are paid to talk about football, yet appear to know nothing about it and simply cannot be bothered do even the bare minimum amount of research that such a prestigious position should require.

Over at ITV we have Andy Townsend, a man more interested in making friends it would seem than actually saying anything worth listening to. With Gareth Southgate, you get the feeling he knows what he’s talking about and would like to expand on it in more detail, but simply can’t due to time constraints – after all, Corrie is on afterwards and ITV have got to squeeze in another advert beforehand.

The lack of preparation from the pundits may be galling, but the assumption that this sub-standard fare is both palatable and insightful is close to insulting. When did we start demanding so little from our experts?

Switch over to Sky for their cricket coverage and it’s quite simply fantastic. The contrasts are stark. They don’t appeal to the lowest common denominator. If you don’t understand what they’re talking about, then tough, you’ll have to listen and learn. They impart wisdom; your knowledge of the game grows. Sadly, with concerns to football coverage, right across the board, it’s absolutely rubbish.

Gary Neville has made an excellent start at Sky so far. The change has been refreshing. While he may not quite stick the boot in as far as he should do on occasion, quite possibly through fear of upsetting someone, he at least isn’t afraid to criticise.

Replacing Andy Gray with a younger face was a wise move. Gray had long since stopped trying and had merely turned into a pantomime caricature of his younger self.

Jamie Redknapp or ‘top,top’ as most refer to him as now is a nice enough fellow. He dresses smartly and he obviously takes the job seriously enough, but he can often be found talking in circles, contradicting himself and then running out of breath and collapsing in a heap. Must have something to do with the incredibly tight trousers he wears. Whenever Souness is put next to him, besides looking scared stiff, Redknapp just looks woefully out of his depth.

On Match of the Day, Lee Dixon is decent on occasion, but appears to have fallen into a malaise recently. Mark Lawrenson is way past his sell-by-date and Alan Hansen, when he can be bothered at least, can still offer up a few kernels of constructive critique. However, during the World Cup, his disdain with which he treated the so called ‘lesser’ fixtures bordered on a dereliction of duty. He was there for the final, free booze and a nice tan, nothing more than that.

Match of the Day should be held to a higher standard. It used to be the pinnacle of televised punditry. Looking around the studio at last weekend’s offering, those days have never seemed quite so far away.

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