Auntie’s Old Boys
Fast forward, and now, quite understandably, you are paid to talk about football, channelling your experience and imparting the wisdom acquired throughout your career.
Imagine. Gary Lineker turns to you. England have just lost, calamitously, painfully, prematurely, in the European Championships. ‘Alan,’ he asks, in the kind of low, resigned tone an England fan ought to be familiar with at moments like these- ‘what are your thoughts?’
Viewers can see the frustration and disappointment etched across both of your faces. You scratch your head knowingly. What do you say? Which experience do you relate this outcome to? What insight do you offer? Heaven knows, you’ve enough to draw upon.
‘I think’, you begin- glancing sidewards at Lawro’s half-disappointed, half-confused Labrador face- ‘that he will be… disappointed with that.’
Perhaps we need to think harder about the profundity of your words. Should we be reading between the lines? A man of your standing has more to say, we assume.
But we’d be wrong. On the scale of humanitarian issues, (mainstream) football pundits relying almost exclusively on platitude after platitude doesn’t score too highly. But it’s a puzzling one, isn’t it? Because we all know there are better options. Hell, if G-Nev can do it, if Nevin, Richardson and Molby can, why are we refused the luxury of articulate insight when it comes to football coverage?
Perhaps I’m being harsh. Maybe one argument, that cricket and rugby pundits manage their task so much more convincingly, isn’t entirely watertight. Perhaps with football being a more fluid sport, it is easier to fall into mere description of the obvious ebb and flow. Perhaps being split into parts that are fundamentally more discrete makes analysis more straightforward in other sports. Still, experienced footballers should be able to see a side of the game that escapes the rest of us.
Unfortunately, it seems a very strange dynamic has developed with Lineker and co. Alan Hansen’s taunting of Lee Dixon for daring to have heard of the Slovak captain was a case in point. We’re back in the early years of secondary school, kids, and knowing less is knowing more. Blagging is the ultimate skill (not to be confused with blogging, natch); research the preserve of try-hard geeks who will never, ever, get laid.
Admittedly, Dixon’s copybook was blotted somewhat by his botched analysis of Manchester City’s failures this season. But he attempts what Hansen used to: debate, dissent and insight. If ever there were an archetypal model of the slide into complacency, it would be Hansen’s punditry career. Once eager to inform viewers, he is now stale, bored and unchallenged. One wonders if he even likes football anymore. The same can’t be said of Robbie Savage- if there’s one thing he’s not lacking, it’s enthusiasm. Unfortunately, he has a spectacular habit of being wrong, which is never a helpful trait for an expert.
At least we have Lawro, even if only as a co-commentator. He may have the same shortcomings as his colleagues, but at least he tries to be witty. Of course, tries is the operative word here, but provoking a groan is better than a yawn. Moreover, it’s interesting to see a man at ease with the ageing process next to Alan Hansen; quite the juxtaposition.
The real promise lies in the outsiders: Clarence Seedorf, Jurgen Klinsmann, Niall Quinn and David James. James is certainly not the typical football idiot, although his suggestion of James Milner for England captain was certainly interesting. Perhaps such left-field ideas are to be welcomed, if only to avoid permanent punditry consensus. Seedorf is the star, willing to look at a game as a manager might in the dressing room. Similarly, Klinsmann, with the most experience of managing in such tournaments, should offer an antidote to the old boys.
One can only hope that the regular MOTD pundits aren’t completely astounded when one of the newer boys has something to say about Poland and Ukraine that doesn’t relate to home advantage, Shevchenko being a bit past it, and Wojciech Szczczezerny being a reasonable keeper. We’d be disappointed with that.