Friday, 18 February 2011

When Pundits Played....

Since the sacking of Andy Gray whether right or wrong much has been said of the humble football pundit. Who would/should replace him? Was he any good in the first place? Do we need pundits in football anyway?
   Well love them or hate them they are here to stay and have been part of the televised game since the sixties. Either in the studio or up on a windy gantry ex-pros and managers have been putting in their two penny worth in since Jack Wilshire was in short trousers.
The question that usually comes up is "What do they know about football" so in this blog I've tried to answer that very same question about a few of them.

At the good old Beeb, possibly bearing in mind that we, the Great British public pay their wages have always, well, tried not to upset anyone. Most pundits you see on MOTD these days have an opinion, but, it's just it's nearly always the same one! Alan Hansen was a breath of fresh air when he first came aboard, insightful, knowledgeable and he didn't mind telling it like it is, maybe got a little big for his boots at times but arguably the best they have. With the addition of Mark Lawrenson there was a danger of it falling into an old pals act, but a bit of banter (provided it's on camera and everyone knows it's being recorded) never hurt anyone. Personally, the adage that says just because you were a good footballer or servant to the game doesn't make you any good as a pundit could be levelled at Alan Shearer, maybe it's the voice or apparent lack of personality but he just doesn't do it for me.
There used to be a chant "If Lee Dixon can play for England so can I" and it's interesting that at the BBC they have more defenders as pundits than any other position. So do defenders then have a better understanding of the game?
On honours alone, Hansen would come out top of all the channels with 8 League Titles, 2 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 6 Charity Shields......oh and 3 European Cups.

It would appear that the BBC had first dibbs when it came to picking pundits, just like at school when the teams were being selected for a kick about in the playground, Aunty Beeb with Hansen, Lawro & Shearer stood behind them with a dismissive wave of the hand said "And you can have the rest".
But the independent channel were the first to show a live game, as far back as 1960, so you'd think they'd have this football broadcasting malarkey well and truly sorted by now. With the heady days of in studio guests such as Brian Clough and the like, as well as god forbid, Saint "n" Greavsey well and truly over. It's a shame that for all their slick presentation and graphics that they couldn't find pundits to match. Andy Townsend, yes he could play a bit and did for Norwich ,Chelsea & Rep of Ireland amongst others. But does he have the qualifications? I'm saying not and it's a shame that ITV can't find someone decent, someone with a bit of sparkle, wit, knowledge maybe? Who could lift their programmes to a higher than bland level. Where ITV come off a bit better is the "for hire" maverick pundits who will come on spout a bit of knowledge and then take their pay check. But in my opinion they need to sort their coverage and punditry out.

The not so distant cousin of ITV, ESPN have also had to play second fiddle to a bigger better noisier neighbour. If we ignore their gambit of thinking "Hey let's get a Scottish pundit in, it worked for Sky!" (step forward Craig Burley??) they have managed to get a nice mixture of pundits, picking up the scraps that were discarded by rivals they have Chris Waddle, Robbie Savage & Kevin Keegan. Going on honours Keegan would be the pick of the bunch, maybe not managerial wise though but you can't argue of his time at Liverpool, Hamburg, Southampton & Newcastle. Maybe too  soft spoken to a get a word in with the pros at Sky he seems quiet happy to meander along into retirement all misty eyed and nostalgic. Robbie Savage of course would be ESPN's Andy Gray figure, a by his own admission (check out his profile pic on Twitter) Marmite character, love him or hate him he does seem to me to have come into his own as a pundit and where as a player he was maybe not the greatest and maybe remembered for some unsavory acting in the League Cup Final against Tottenham, he has the character and self deprecating humour that is lacking elsewhere in punditum. The jury's still out for me on Waddle, he needs to relax a bit, he always was a laid back player, maybe with time he'll show off some silky linguistic skills in the commentary box as he once did footballing wise on the pitch.

The big boys, when they first started I'm sure I wasn't the only one to say "Andy Gray! What's he doing on there!" but little did we know then that he would become the pundit that all future pundits would be measured against. He had the experience as a player, the honours at Aston Villa, Wolves, Everton & Rangers a kind of "I'll have a bit of each please" selection of 2 League Cups, 1 FA Cup, a Cup Winners Cup and an English & Scottish League Title just for good measure. He became more than a pundit though, one half of a double act and an equal to the commentator. Gray also introduced the gadgets, the magic markers, tactic board, touch screen video replayer thingamajig and I guess with the money Sky had paid for the football they decided to squeeze every last little drop out of it!
Since Gray's departure Redknapp junior has been pushed more to the front and has started to become more respected in the studio from his fellow ex-pros who would often be seen giving him a withering glance whenever he opened his mouth.Maybe it's the family based adverts we see him on,the references to his Dad or the fact that the other half doesn't mind the football being on whenever his pretty boy features (so I've been told) are blazed across the screen, but is he anymore than a Sky Sports poster boy?
If anything the loss of their first choice pundit has allowed some of the bit part players take more of a centre stage now, with Souness and Hoddle both stepping into the breach when needs most. With Souness in particular for me, being a steadying level headed (maybe not so on the pitch if you've witnessed some of his tackles!) voice with the experience in the game to go with the straight talking opinions that matter when it counts.

So that's my little take on pundits, let us know your opinion as always comment below or on our page.
And as a bonus, he's not a pundit as such but almost falls into the category and I just wanted an excuse to show this again!

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