If Michael Owen thought the naysayers and the lingering negativity that seems to surround his name these days would disappear anytime soon, he’s probably likely to feel somewhat disappointed.
The ex-Liverpool man’s recent announcement regarding his retirement at the end of the season has produced a whole cascade of polarizing evaluations over what has been a career full of ups and downs. But it’s not what’s happened in Owen’s past that seems to be causing moans of discontent upon the wider footballing public, more what’s about to lie in his immediate future.
Because for all the talk of coaching badges and the formation of a management company, it’s a career in punditry that seems to be beckoning for Owen when he hangs up his boots at the end of a season. But far from embracing the former-England striker’s reported deal with the BBC, fans have felt far from enthused at the prospect of seeing Owen joining the Match of the Day line-up.
Indeed, the notion of the Stoke City striker and his dullest tones joining Gary Lineker and the boys on the MOTD sofa has been enough to see the amateur television critics amongst the wider footballing public throw their toys out the pram. But regardless of whether Owen proves a punditry revelation or whether he simply sends us all to sleep, do we simply worry too much about the quality of ex-pros and pundits in the broadcasting domain?
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On the face of it, Owen’s appointment to a BBC punditry team already maligned for it’s bland and uninspiring set-up, resembles something of a parody of the long standing calls to try and breathe new life into English football’s flagship television programme.
After nearly two decades of Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson on the sofa, regardless of the questionable quality they bring as pundits, a change in personnel has surely been long overdue now. But it’s when you look at those who have been drafted in since the vaulted Liverpool pair first come to the fore, that you get a good idea as to why the Beeb are yet to find a full-time successor.
Because we’ve been down the route of wheeling out a prestigious, ex-England striker before and the mortifying mediocrity of Alan Shearer’s turn as a pundit is living evidence as to why the public just aren’t buying into the possibility of Owen joining the BBC’s seethingly dull stable of pundits.
To quote legendary Italian manager, Arrigo Sacchi, “you don’t have to have been a horse, to be a jockey.”
Where as Sacchi was of course rightly suggesting that a football manager doesn’t necessarily have to had played the game professionally in order to become a successful manager, the same surely must apply to ex-players tying to lecture us on how the game is played. Playing football and teaching it are two completely different things and Owen’s 40 goals for his country give him no requisite ability to tell us the mechanics of the game in both an entertaining and engaging manner.
Yet while Owen might not exude the charisma of a Gary Neville furiously gesticulating at his iPad or the menacing glare of a Roy Keane looking ready to maim Adrian Chiles, you can’t but feel that the BBC can’t really win here.
Given the fact the British taxpayer fronts the wages of all involved with the Match of the Day team, the scrutiny that comes with such funding is always likely to be unrelenting. Be it Owen, Neville or Diego Maradona, no one who sits on that sofa every weekend is going to be bulletproof and as a public broadcaster, pundits working for the BBC will always be in for a hell of a lot more heat than those plying their trade for their rivals.
But it’s in that duty as a public broadcaster that we perhaps find why there will always be an Owen working as a pundit, as opposed to a Gary Neville.
Let’s be under no illusions here, the BBC’s remit to serve the wider public as opposed to Sky Sports’ pallet of specialist sports junkies doesn’t excuse the hideous failings in their football coverage and however you frame it, Match of the Day is in dire need of new blood, as much as anything else.
But while their coverage tends to incite the ire of so many footballing puritans, it must also beg the question – what are people exactly expecting from Match of the Day?
Considering the most traditional and everlasting bulk of the critique aimed at the show is that the highlights don’t go on for long enough, there’s only so much space to expand the scope of punditry that currently exists. Could they give us an upgrade on a barely interested Hansen muttering diabolical following every other game? Undoubtedly so, yes, but for those expecting some form of Monday Night Football like technological innovation, it’s just not going to happen.
Match of the Day doesn’t need a Gary Neville masterclass on the historical context of diving, nor does it need a Michael Cox thesis on the tactical discipline of the false nine. All of the above is there to be watched and read on the digital domain at the click of the button if you want it, but just because it’s there, it doesn’t mean it’s right for Match of the Day.
Michael Owen joining the BBC punditry team isn’t an inspiring choice, nor is it one that’s likely to give us much of an upgrade on what we’ve already got. But ultimately, it isn’t the end of the world and although Match of the Day needs to do far more to reinvent itself, until we take it for what it is, we’ll probably never be satisfied.
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