Pundits are Good for the Game Even if Ex-Players’ Censure Can Feel Out of Line

Pundits are Good for the Game Even if Ex-Players’ Censure Can Feel Out of Line

Wednesday, 7 March, 2018 - 08:00
From a current player’s perspective, Gary Neville’s trenchant criticism of Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final seemed almost like the unspoken rule of protection had been broken. Photograph: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images
London - Liam Rosenior

“Three … two … one … and we’re live on air.” It’s a phrase I have heard more and more over the last few months because of my first steps into the world of sports broadcasting and punditry.

I must admit that as a player I didn’t have an appreciation of the hard work by the floor staff, the producers and directors constantly instructing you through your earpiece, and the presenters with their impressive array of knowledge and awareness to stay within time constraints, and nor did I have an understanding of actually how difficult it is to be in front of lights and a camera while a vast audience evaluates your every word as you try to be as interesting and informative as possible, while knowing that any slip-up cannot be re-recorded.

With the ever-growing popularity of the Premier League all over the world and the increasingly competitive battle for TV rights and viewing figures, the art of punditry is becoming an increasing part of our sport with millions of fans expecting not only great games but informative, insightful analysis during and after matches because of the money they are paying to watch.

After Manchester City’s 3-0 win against Arsenal in last Sunday’s Carabao Cup final much of the furore wasn’t about City’s dominant performance or a bad day at the office for the Gunners, it concerned the in-game analysis of Gary Neville and his damning appraisal of the performance of Arsène Wenger’s team. As Neville stated afterwards there has now become an “analysis of analysis”, which is the perfect way to sum up what happened.

From a current player’s perspective, before I had any kind of understanding of the difficulty of being a live TV pundit, I would have taken the position that what Neville said during the game and the manner in which he said it were a step too far from someone who has been in the very same position that those Arsenal players found themselves in on Sunday afternoon. Being outclassed in a final is hurtful enough, but then having your name picked out as someone lacking effort and desire during the match is not what you would expect from a fellow, if former, pro. It’s almost like the unspoken rule of protection had been broken.

However, being fortunate enough to have had first-hand experience of being in Neville’s shoes, I understand that he’s being paid to give his expert opinion and call football matches as he sees them, live without the luxury of time to think, something that every fee-paying member of the public is more than entitled to hear and dissect in their own way. The fact is that Neville is no longer a player and, because he is now being paid to be a TV pundit, he is at liberty to say what he thinks and accept the repercussions of his words in his new occupation.

Since he has started working for Sky, Neville has raised the bar in terms of tactical analysis of football – not only commenting on what is happening on the field of play but why it is happening and the outcomes of every individual and team performance in the Premier League, which is now being appraised in a much more intelligent, in-depth and objective manner to the general public.

This can only be good for our game, even if for players such as me it means that any defensive mistake is critically analysed in front of millions of people on a Monday night. But surely objectively critiquing tactics, player performance and a coach’s decisions in an impartial manner creates an increased pressure on players and coaches, and in turn an acceptance of responsibility and accountability for our actions on the field of play.

With the increased profile of pundits such as Neville, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard on our TV screens with their extensive knowledge and experience of football at the highest level, they educate not only supporters but younger players listening to every word while continually raising standards – in terms of objectively and impartially analysing matches, giving their insight without resorting to making scapegoats of players and making them easy targets for abuse in the stadiums and sensationalist phone-in radio stations, not to mention social media.

We have repeatedly seen assertions from players and managers who complain that it’s easy to talk about football away from the game in the comfort of a TV studio, out of the hotseat and away from the pressures at sharp end, and I understand that viewpoint, but in my experience it is not as easy as some make it look!

I believe that if TV punditry is performed correctly, with the homework, impartiality, professionalism and diligence that Neville exemplifies in his broadcasting, it can bring a huge benefit to our game, increasing the football knowledge of supporters at home who are a lot more intelligent than many of our previous media have catered for. And as players and coaches in an era when we are being analysed more than ever we must remember that the analysts must be analysed and challenged too because that is the nature of the game.

The Guardian Sport

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