When I’m watching football I’m always trying to learn something new about the game. I want to understand the game better, I want to broaden my knowledge and have things explained to me. Basically I want to know why things happen, what the reasons are for events in the game, what causes the error, what led to the goal, why are some teams effective and others struggle.
The relationship between the viewer and the media within football is a poor one. The biggest culprits for this are Match Of The Day. The quality of punditry is appalling, it’s utterly abysmal, they say almost nothing of interest or value. So often the so called analysis is packed full of cliches, when talking about the clips that they’ve selected, all to often they simply commentate over them, reiterating what was said on commentary but offering no meaning, understanding or explanation.
What you want from punditry is clarity. You want to know what happened, why it happened and how it could have happened differently had players done things more effectively. Rarely on the BBC do you get this, rarely do they actually offer an opinion beyond the most basic of levels. “He’s a good player Gary” the pundit will assert. Why is he a good player I wonder? Obviously I have my own opinion on players, there probably isn’t a player that has started a game in the Premier League this season that I don’t have an opinion on, but when I’m watching a pundit, I want to know their opinion and their reasons for it.
This was typified by Mark Lawrenson when asked if he felt Grant Holt should play for England “NO” he responds. No reasons given. Alan Hansen follows up with a similar blunt riposte and host Gary Lineker is forced to move on. I have no problem with the answer, but the lack of reasons is pathetic. Are they self-evident? Well no, because on the face of it, the second highest English goal scorer in the league is surely worthy of consideration for the England team. When the same question was put to Matt Le Tissier on Soccer Saturday he also said no, the difference was he did it with some respect. He also offered reasons, such as Holt’s particular attributes, were perhaps not suited to International football, I don’t agree, but at least he offered his opinion.
This is typical of the Lawrenson, Hansen attitude. Smug and incredibly arrogant, week after week they sit in the chairs offering next to nothing when it comes to insight or opinion, occasionally Hansen might point out someone has had a shocker, a revelation someone with no knowledge of the game could spot simply by watching. Sometimes they struggle to even remember the names of the players. Between them they had a lot of success as players, they have 13 league winners medals but you wouldn’t know that from their punditry.
The reason I think that so often on Match Of the Day they steer clear of talking about Norwich is because Norwich are so hard to explain. No big names, no star players, if anything the one player that could be considered a “star” is largely scoffed at by the football elite. And yet Norwich have confounded expectations and sit 10th. Norwich don’t adhere to any easy cliches and often explaining the tactical nuances of where they’ve found success this season is probably beyond those who adorn the Match Of the Day pundit’s seats.
If either Hansen or Lawrenson were journalists and had to produce a column from what they say on Match Of the Day neither of them would be in a job long. They trade on name and previous success alone but offer nothing new. Hansen has frequently painted himself as being out of touch with modern football, both in terms of his inability to deal with race issues and depression in the modern game.
It’s a familiar trait with Liverpool old boys, where a sense of arrogance and self-righteousness always seems to come over when dealing with the media. Nowhere is it more evident than in Kenny Dalglish’s post match interviews. Himself, Hansen and Lawrenson all enjoyed huge success during their careers and are left with an enormous amount of arrogance. There is something about the Liverpool way that breeds self-righteousness.
During the Suarez saga the opinion of Liverpool Football Club often seemed to be that they were in the right if for no other reason than because they were Liverpool Football Club. Kenny Dalglish’s post match interviews since then paint a picture of a man under pressure. Irritable, evasive and clearly resenting the media coverage his team gets.
‘King’ Kenny’s approach to the media isn’t going to do him any favours. He doesn’t get to dictate the questions and if the reporter presses him for an answer it’s because that’s the reporter’s job. Following the game against Blackburn I read some tweets saying “how dare Andy Burton question Dalglish like this?”. Perhaps because it’s his job to do so. Or because people watching what to know what Dalglish is thinking, or how he saw the game, what his view was, not entirely unreasonable.
Kenny clearly didn’t want to speak to Andy Burton, but the reporter was perfectly polite, it was Dalglish whose manner was inappropriate, bordering on unprofessional. If you genuinely think that it’s the reporter who is at fault here then I can only assume you are a hopelessly deluded Liverpool fan. It’s easy to see why the insult of living in the past could be levelled at the club’s fans.
In stark contrast Gary Neville has been a revelation since taking over from the disgraced Andy Gray on Sky Sports. On Monday Night Football we get an hour of Neville’s Premier League experience first hand as he picks over games with a fine tooth comb highlighting the reasons for goals in key phases of play from the weekend’s games.
Neville’s ability to pick apart games and explain why things happen is impressive and he’s also got a good turn of phrase. His use of modern technology to do so adds another string to his bow. Can you imagine Hansen trying to tackle the same technology? Sky are up to date with their use of statistics which are becoming more and prevalent in the modern game and all of this leads Neville to back up his opinion with more than his winners medals.
There are managers who swear by key statistics, I read a piece recently talking about how Craig Bellamy broke the record for the number of high intensity sprints in a game, during the league cup semi-final against v Manchester City. Sam Allardyce has suggested that the team that comes out on top in this category almost always wins the game. This kind of statistical analysis wasn’t around during the days of Hansen or Lawrenson so it’s no surprise that Match Of the Day’s pundits lag behind their sky counter-parts in this area.
Match Of the Day desperately needs innovation. The format is sound but the style is old and tired. Football on TV has created a lazy culture of punditry, where former footballers sit on the fence and protect their own. Pundits rarely justify their opinions and frequently get away with chatting complete rubbish. Thankfully Neville is helping to change this, because he’s honest and he doesn’t hold back.
The old school of pundits need to realise that sitting back idly, offering a few bits of praise or criticism is no longer enough. Thanks to Opta and apps like Four Four Two’s stats-zone, thanks to twitter, thanks to Sky and Neville, the football audience is now more educated than ever. Football loves to think that it’s special and that people who never played the game professionally don’t understand it, that’s why pundits are all ex pros. Personally I don’t believe that and I think football on television would benefit hugely from a different perspective.