Who is Winning football’s Punditry War?

I’m in shock. When football finally returned to our screens after what seemed like an unbearable gap (2 weeks), I logically expected the pundits that would take this magical journey with us to be knowledgeable, astute, well-spoken fellows, like what they always have been you know? Imagine my surprise then when some of them turned out to be rubbish.

If you collated articles bemoaning the level of football punditry in this country you would have enough material to last you a lifetime. So it’s not surprising that the pundits are getting it in the neck again, especially the BBC.

The BBC didn’t help itself by starting proceedings with an explosive interview between Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney (insert sarcasm hash tag here). To call it banal would be an insult to banality itself. As for the likes of Lawrenson and Hansen, it’s all been covered before, so I’ll just sum it up by sitting here whilst sighing dramatically. Lawrenson has nothing (and I mean nothing) to offer, but the annoying thing about Hansen is that you know he’s capable of more. In fact, I have vague memories of the old Hansen doing this thing called analysis once upon a time. Maybe it was a dream.

Alan Shearer has escaped the wilds of Salford Quays to commentate from the grounds, and seems to have upped his game slightly. This isn’t saying much though, and the comments such as “Lewandowski seems like a good player” continue to flow. The vain hope that he’s done some research on a man who is rather key to his nation’s chances and has won the Bundesliga for the last two seasons was probably showing ridiculous levels of optimism. But do you need to do research? Take Greece for example – punditry school tells you that there little need for knowledge about their squad. Constant references to their poor economic status will do (include as many puns as possible – Greek tragedy, bailed out, indebted to their keeper, you get the idea). As for Shearer’s analysis of Sweden and Ukraine, all he could muster after watching one game is that they won’t bother England (do we ever learn??). Need I even ask if he has checked their qualification campaign, when they scored 31 goals, or looked at the new expansive play they are trying to adopt? They were poor against Ukraine, but useless they are not. Still, he looks happy to be there, so we should be thankful for that. And as for Harry Redknapp – well, don’t get me started.

ITV have fared better, for once. They haven’t cut to adverts during a goal (yet), and the scheduled adverts probably help them as they have less time to fill around the matches. I’ve nothing against watching Joe Hart play head tennis in a swimming pool but I’d want a bit more besides that.

Jamie Carragher’s accent takes time to adjust to, resembling Steven Gerrard on fast forward, but he has plenty to offer as a pundit (plus the odd generalised footballing cliché). The style may upset the Queen’s English brigade, but at least he was willing to make some valid points, and criticise the French team when sat next to Patrick Vieira. As for Patrick, again he was better than some of the previous offerings, though on early showings I’m not sure we’re getting full value out of an astute, educated man.

For the Czech Republic v Greece, we had the unassuming Matt Smith hosting, a man that rarely stands out, but does his job, so is fine by me. The pundits were Roberto Martinez and Gordon Strachan, and they assessed the game well. Martinez is the star of the show for me, giving straight-forward logical analysis, and whilst Gordon Strachan is a man who can irritate me (and most sports journalists) more than anyone, he too had far more to offer than the grey canvas on offer over at the BBC.

Of course ITV’s coverage is always worth watching for the constant possibility that at any moment Roy Keane may “go rogue” and turn into Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Expect a police statement demanding the safe return of Adrian Chiles. As for Keane’s performances – well he is what he is. He never smiles, he seems to have a grudge on life itself, and he is not one for a joke. But at least he has something constructive to say every now and then. The same goes for Gareth Southgate, who neither excels nor bombs, but is worth his place on the team, the “water-carrier” of the ITV squad. And a better bet than Martin Keown, another pundit with little of any substance to impart.

But – there’s still the problem of Adrian Chiles. For a man who professes to love football, and be a season ticket holder to boot, he seems to have very little idea about what to say. He is sadly something of a bumbling idiot at times, always coming out with unfunny quips and stuttering last night to the point that I had to turn over as it was just too excruciating. I don’t like saying it, as he is genial and inoffensive, and I wanted him to be a roaring success when he made the move to ITV. But any man who comes out with the line, “as a child Jakub Blaszczykowski watched his father murder his mother… but he’s bounced back!” is not schooled in how to say things the right way. His “banter” with Patrick Vieira before the England v France match was a low point of the Euro 2012 coverage so far.

Key in all this is the fact that the BBC decided to stay in Salford rather than ship out to Polkraine en masse, as they used to do. It’s not surprising really, as they are criticised for every pound they spend, so counting the pennies makes sense, and in theory it shouldn’t matter where they are as long as they watched the match. But as it turns out, it does matter. The BBC panel seem detached, cold, and rather depressed at times. On the other hand, the ITV panel are stationed on a lovely bespoke wooden platform in the heart of the action, giving the impression of a group of holidaying veterans cutting the breeze. They seem to be having a better time, which is hardly surprising, and it shows. The lighting is top notch too.

As for during the match, the less said the better. Co-commentators are uniformly rubbish in my head. Main commentators aren’t much better, always looking for their Kenneth Wolstenholme moment by quoting Shakespeare or tying Gdansk in with Polish solidarity in some mangled metaphor attempt that will always fail.

So it’s advantage ITV for me so far. We’re all watching for the football, so the punditry is a sideshow. But like the weather it’s a staple topic of discussion with football fans. But when most of us can’t decide whether a draw against France is good or bad, I can’t see a few minutes of punditry helping us out much over the coming weeks. But the BBC needs to up its game after a poor month of general coverage that included a right royal slating for their Jubilee coverage. The easiest way they can do that though is to ditch the old guard, and it’s too late for that. Let’s hope then that the likes of Hansen can remember why they are being paid large amounts of money to sit in a TV studio, before they drag Lee Dixon and Gary Lineker down with them.

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