First Touch

Football Punditry: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

By Derek Ross

Amidst all the kerfuffle relating to financial fair play and the government’s threat to impose a financial regulator upon the Premier League, it got me thinking that as a life-long supporter of the beautiful game there is one area that is crying out for strict regulation. I am talking about football punditry.

In fact, the state of this profession, I use the term loosely, has become so terribly bad that most of us have completely failed to notice this labyrinthine entanglement of circumlocutory verbiage, obliterating any semblance of lucidity, and drowning the discourse in a miasma of pedantic verbosity.

With every weekend and midweek fixture comes the permanent fixture of the studio guests, those whose past careers unfortunately hasn’t prevented them morphing into over-paid, and superfluous ultracrepidarians. Their performances are so poor that if they were football clubs you wouldn’t bet on any of them to avoid relegation.

football punditry logo

We Know Who We Are

We all know who they are. Roy Keane, a multi-Premier League winner, captain and, arguably, the ultimate water carrier supreme at Manchester United. Roy is always Roy, telling it how it is with his ever-ready cachet of clichés and readiness to go in two-footed on anyone who doesn’t need to run thirty miles each half to prove they’re a class player. Roy doesn’t do analysis. He does demolition.

Then there’s ex-Manchester City defender Michah Richards who spends almost half of his time convulsed with rib-cracking laughter at things which aren’t remotely funny. He obviously cannot believe his luck that he gets paid for doing it. There are many others of course who have become part of the punditry furniture but have long since past the point where a trade-in should be a legal requirement.

I still regularly wake up in the middle of the night after dreaming that I’m stuck in a lift with Alan Shearer, a man who exudes an aura of soporific mundanity. Indeed, Gary Lineker, another whose very presence serves as a sedative, is so fed up with his plum BBC gig on Match of the Day that he has imagined himself as a political philosopher who cannot keep his views to himself but has somehow managed to keep his job. 

Sky Sports treats us even more to the delights of world spitting champion Jamie Carragher who is never more comfortable than when he is spouting complete nonsense in front of a video screen, alongside a robotic, Jamie Redknapp whose conversation is akin to a tranquilising elixir.

Female Pundits Are Little Better

Naturally, in the new world of diversity hiring, it has become de jure to always have a female pundit in attendance to echo the prevailing nonsense masquerading as serious analysis and to inform the viewer exactly what is going on in the minds of Jurgen Klopp, Gareth Southgate and impossibly, Ian Wright!  Now don’t get me wrong.

I have no problem with female football pundits. It’s just that none of them are any good and all of them have obviously undergone a charisma by-pass. Alongside their male counterparts they dish up the weekly stale pastiche of the usual stock phrases around ‘a great touch for a big guy.’ ‘it’s a typical cup tie,’ ‘now would be a good time to score.’ ‘He has genuine pace.’ or ‘he knows where the goal is.’ 

Amid it all is the presenter who feeds open goals to our experts lest they are forced into any serious thinking.  Do the viewers who tune into these ridiculous pantomimes really believe they are being imparted with some superior footballing knowledge which only these actors possess? 

An Absense Of Subjectivity

However, the biggest absence in the studio is, and has always been, subjectivity. It is almost impossible for any of these pundits to be so because their comments are based upon their personal views of the players and teams for which they are being paid to analyse.

As a result, they are loathe to criticise their former footballing mates or managers too harshly, so their so-called insights become little more than bar room debates minus the alcohol, though you’d never guess. Sadly, things are not much better on the radio where you can tune in to the footballing sagacity of Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton who is making a darn good living from repeating his catchphrase, ‘you’re better than that.’ 

TalkSport, though the sport part should be changed to something beginning with S, provides a whole plethora of presenters in the form of ex-players characterised by an unrelenting adherence to prosaic banality. Not one of them has anything to say but it never stops them saying it.

Each evening one can listen in to the intellects of Billericay legend Jamie O’Hara and former Spurs loanee Jason Cundy who talk about almost everything but football.

the Real Issues Are Never Discussed

Unfortunately, on all these programmes and more, the real issues relating to sports washing, fit and proper ownership tests, financial mismanagement, and funding of the lower leagues or the wider game in general are rarely if ever discussed. And the simple reason is because these so-called experts of the game do not possess the requisite knowledge to discuss them.

I wouldn’t be ex Crystal Palace owner,  Simon Jordan’s biggest fan, but I am yet to come across anyone with as much insightful knowledge on these issues as Jordan.  These are the topics that get serious football supporters engaged. Not Roy Keane slagging off, arguably,  the deadliest goal-scorer in Europe for cheap headlines. But I cannot escape this article without mentioning another.

His name is Richard Keys, probably the worst presenter of any sports programme in anyone’s lifetime. A man infected with pseudo gravitas and football opinions that carry less weight than a champion jockey, and a man who laboured under the impression that misogyny was a career until he was pointed towards the desert and informed otherwise.  He is so utterly terrible in everything he says that he might already be a cult. I’m not sure I spelt that last word correctly. 

Anyway, for football punditry to advance and become more relevant to its viewers it needs to be expanded to being far more informative and discursive, and less of a nice, wise-cracking little earner for wannabe comedians and ex-players who are obviously not students of the game. In this particular world of sport there is a pressing urgency for new signings!

Derek Ross is an occasional contributor for First Touch. He also writes for Soccer 360 and The Top Flight   

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