We all love a good moan at the TV whenever we’ve sat down to watch the football. Our resentment isn’t just aimed at players, either; in fact, depending on our mood and how our teams are doing, almost anyone could find themselves in the firing line. Not even members of the media are exempt, but a lot of the time it’s not just mere frustration that makes us take out our anger on them. In fact, football fans are slowly starting to realise that a lot of pundits and commentators simply aren’t up to the job they are paid to do.
Why is this, though? Why is it that the standards of pundits is decreasing drastically? I believe it’s because too many past players are being allowed a shot at the job ahead of better qualified candidates.
We all know that being an ex-professional footballer usually guarantees you a route back into the game after retirement, and this is regularly seen when ex players are appointed as managers with no previous experience in the hot seat. The same is happening with commentary jobs.
Look at Steve McManaman, Jermaine Jenas and Martin Keown acting as co-commentators for BT Sport. All are ex-footballers, and yet it is clear to see that they are absolutely clueless when it comes to talk knowledgeably about the game. McManaman was ridiculed upon the return of the Bundesliga for talking about ‘form’ when there hadn’t been a game in months.
Jenas is another who seems to pick random words from the air around him and blindly pieces them together to form what he believes is an expert-sounding sentence. During Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Norwich a few days ago, he claimed United should have started with a full-strength squad. Surely he has the common sense to realise that wouldn’t have been sensible with so many games squeezed into in a short period after emerging from lockdown?
Keown is the worst of a dreadfully bad bunch. He often sounds as though he’s dosed off during a game when he comes back to life with an abomination of a statement that sounds as though it’s come from a dodgy Twitter account. I remember one example from a Manchester United game over a year ago; United had been passing the ball around for passing’s sake for around about three straight minutes, making no inroads towards goal whatsoever. They finally mustered a woeful shot well wide of the target, and Keown felt it was wise to say that “they just can’t keep the ball”. It’s embarrassing stuff, and yet he gets away with it.
The same goes for the Sky Sports team. The commentators here are significantly better, and overall their pundits are pretty good (Gary Neville is one of the very best). Their ‘Soccer Saturday’ team, however, leave a lot to be desired.
Paul Merson is particularly woeful. He used to be the main writer for the weekly ‘Premier League Predictions’, which are released the day before each significant matchday. Now, we all remember the times where Stoke City were a horrible opponent to play at their own ground; they built up a reputation based on that. However, they were relegated in the 2017/18 season after winning just seven games all season.
Despite it being clear that Stoke were an extremely poor side this season (results included a 7-2 loss to Manchester City), Merson continued to back them every time they played at home. “Stoke just don’t lose at home,” he would say. “I just can’t see Stoke losing this one at home,” he would repeat week after week. Well, they did lose quite a lot- hence their relegation.
Maybe these ridiculous statements led to Charlie Nicholas replacing him as chief writer for the weekly predictions. However, he doesn’t offer much more. In the days before the first Premier League game back after lockdown (Aston Villa vs Sheffield United), he was pondering whether a lack of fans would impact Villa’s chances.
His exact words were; “Will no fans be a burden to them? I don’t think it will. I love the atmosphere at Villa, but their away record was better than their home record”.
Not only is the grammar here poor, but it’s a ridiculously false statement. Before this game took place, Villa had won 17 of their 25 points at home. They’d won just eight points away from home all season, and yet Charlie Nicholas, a Sky Sports pundit, gets away with saying their away record was better?
It’s a dreadful advert for journalism, and the media in general, to give these inadequate pundits and commentators such a huge platform to underperform. It’s not simply the fact that we as football fans can disagree with them- that’s what football is all about. It’s the fact that they are either getting simple facts dreadfully wrong, or are saying things that make absolutely no sense.
If television companies like Sky and BT are going to continue hiring ex-footballers as pundits and commentators, they have to do better than this. There is, of course, a mix of good and bad across the board, but there shouldn’t be a mix at all. Quality pundits should be leading the way, and yet we’re left struggling to concentrate on games because of absurd statements buzzing around our ears.
Make it better, guys. Or just hire me instead.