WHY FOOTBALL PUNDITRY HAS HIT ROCK BOTTOM
HARSHAVARDHAN GHADGE | 11th August 2021
Now almost 15 years after his retirement, in the happening heart of London, Roy Keane, adorning his glorious beard, lounges inside a plush studio, surrounded by green screens and multiple TV displays, set up to broadcast the Premier League action for the former United skipper and his colleagues to ponder upon.
A group of ex-footballers with 15 minutes of uninterrupted screen time to judge the half that’s gone by. These men hold the power to change a layman’s perspective. Experts, geniuses, people who’ve really been there and done that.
The fine line between critcism and agendas get breached, time and again
What is upsetting and terrifying in equal measure is the often shallow and obtuse views that are streamed to impressionable minds all over the world.
One of the most watched clips on the Internet showcased Keane running at the United players with a pitchfork in his hand, metaphorically of course.
Why, you ask?
All because the reds of Manchester and Merseyside hugged it out in the tunnel. A cardinal sin, if there was any.
“You’re going to war. Hugging and kissing? Don’t even look at them. You’re going to battle against them.”
What the 30 second clip of him ranting on lacks is context. In that tunnel, there were national team-mates and friends who grew up together, who found themselves just on the other side of a rivalry.
Unfortunately, however, none of that mattered to the former Champions League winner who seemed hell bent on painting that as the reason for United’s atrocious display on the pitch.
It goes without saying that the underlying implication being that greeting rivals before the game is a sign of a mentality; a weaker mentality, that has no place in football.
Can we not finally walk away with grace from such painfully stereotypical gender norms? Football is a microscope of society as a whole and the more we walk down the tunnel that puts footballers in a box, the further we regress.
“I think he’s a classic case of someone who’s got himself in his own armchair.”
“Unless you’ve got the hunger and desire to train properly and all this off-the-field stuff that I see him getting himself involved in where he thinks he’s a made model of some sorts…to be fair, he should look at himself in the mirror and ask himself why he’s lost that hunger.”
After Spurs’ defeat to Liverpool in October 2019, here’s Graeme Souness and Roy Keane making two outrageous statements about a 23-year old Dele Alli’s performance.
Regardless of his display and his dip in form, what right does one have to go on a platform watched by millions across the globe and make blatant assumptions about his work ethic and his lifestyle off the pitch?
To be critical of his performances is warranted but to make snide remarks about a lad who was extremely young in the game and in life as a whole is especially disrespectful considering the pundits have played the highest level of English football.
They know what comes with that life and distasteful takes based on mere opinion is incredibly dangerous as not only could it potentially affect Alli but it makes an actual human being a piñata that the world can go at with no end in sight.
As figures with gargantuan platforms and influence, what price does a hint of balance and compassion come at? If such irresponsibility doesn’t come at a risk, why aren’t match-going fans given tailored suits and cues to speak to an audience that will always relate to them first and European Cup winners later?
The revolution wasn’t televised but the takeover of fan media is undeniable.
After all, not so long ago, the ex-Irish international was on the opposite side of the punditry fence.
“I wouldn’t trust them to walk my dog. There are ex-players and ex-referees being given air-time who I wouldn’t listen to in a pub.”
You were supposed to destroy the sith, not join them. Obi-Wan was always right, but I digress.
Keeping sheer entertainment aside, with the evolution of data analytics and the injection of technology in the game, an average football fan deserves more than just an outburst of emotion or shallow analysis.
Not everything’s a numbers game but if outlandish statements and banter is the unique selling point, fan media has taken over and how.
And this is even before YouTube started to boss proceedings. Broadcasters in the UK experimented on a new dynamic, dubbed as ‘Fan Zone’, which was a first taste into how a major percentage of fans of the beautiful game would go on to consume football-centric content.
The idea was to sprinkle a little partisan flavor to live football coverage by replacing the two regular professional commentators with fans, one from each team, clad in jerseys and equipped without any broadcasting training.
“Ooh… GO ON THEN… COMEEEE ON!” was the script in a nutshell from either fan but it made for a relatable and authentic product, even if monotony caught up to it real quick.
Despite the show dying a quiet death, the essence of the concept didn’t. As the Internet brought in with itself the golden egg called global reach, it also equipped fans to become analysts on their own and shoot their views, unfiltered and packing a punch, straight to the world.
Be it ‘AFTV’ or ‘The United Stand’, not only do these YouTube channels rack in huge numbers but give real fans a major platform to say as they please, considering these voices have always gone unheard to the masses.
Fan TVs and the involvement of the average football supporter in the game has skyrocketed since, and in a way, this has marked one of the most fundamental shifts in sports broadcasting over the last decade.
Such outlets provided a window into how much the win, loss or draw of the working class football fan’s beloved team can affect him/her, how the ‘common Joe’ channeled these emotions and how different sets of demographics assess the one sport that unites us all.
In the 2000s, a figure like ‘Troopz’ would never have been the face of US-based YouTube juggernaut, ‘Barstool TV’.
In 2021, a fan, just like you and me can lend his voice to FIFA 20 because it only makes sense for a man that has kicked a ball and scraped his knees while playing cage football to be an announcer for the-then brand-new Volta football mode.
This isn’t a debate of what’s better or what’s worse but there’s no denying that it’s empowering to see men and women that would never fit the bill to analyze the game on television to be able to create their platforms, speak and emote in a manner that represents the working class and have it be as raw and unfiltered as possible.
The numbers speak for themselves because the authenticity and the relatability makes for content that speaks to people, even if it isn’t the sharpest, most cutting-edge product all the time.
Being reactionary sells.
While the English bias pushes them to declare outright Premier League supremacy without any basis for the validation, pointing fingers and spewing opinions without any research seems like a rudimentary pillar of literally being paid to talk sense about the game.
“I’d worry about Varane and Maguire’s pace. I’ve seen Varane get torn apart by Chelsea last season. Teams will try and exploit their lack of pace.”
Surely, this has to be sarcastic by ex-Spurs striker, Jamie O’Hara.
Just FYI, Raphael Varane has been clocked at 34.04 km/h. The World Cup winner may have had a sketchy 2020-21 campaign and struggled without Sergio Ramos in Europe. But since when did pace become a cause for concern with the Frenchman?
To list out Manchester United’s newest crown jewel in the centre of defence is unrequired to strengthen his case. Let me correct myself. Varane’s case doesn’t need strengthening because aside from his accolades, his incredible footballing IQ and technical precision, the man has and remains a supreme athlete.
For seasoned pros to come out with statements that seem like one of the two things- lies or a shocking lack of knowledge.
Gaslighting reactionary fans who then jump on their keyboards to fight the holy war of retweets is what follows next. Manchester United fans form a collective shield that protects any Varane slander while opposition fans run with a take that’s less hot and more just not worthy of being one at all.
And of course, a certain section of these fans turn into intertwined serpents in a circle to bite their own tails. It’s a vicious
The majority of punditry is mired with obvious exclamations and predictablly pointless. Exhibit A- Robbie Fowler transformed into a Liverpool fan while on job as a pundit.
“Probably everyone, myself included, didn’t think we could do it, I hoped and wished, but we did it. I’m so proud and so delighted to be part of Liverpool.” Top insight, exemplary analysis.
A pundit is expected and ideally should be a non-partisan figure at least while broadcasting. However, it almost seems like pundits get casted to play certain roles and in that particular instant, it’s being “the Liverpool fan”.
Whether this is to make their presence more relatable and seem approachable to the average fan remains a mystery. But this significant shift means that now we have presenters with pre-existing allegiances that they will make no attempt to suppress. That’s one part of the problem.
The other is that apart from the fancied ex-footballer status, a majority of those can become the faces you’d pay to watch that choose to make outlandish statements that guarantee them a future in the industry.
A prime example being that of Greame Souness’ projection of Paul Pogba. A frequent criticism, picking him out as someone who lacks effort and desire during the match.
Yes, Pogba has sometimes been a nuisance for United but there is absolutely no way for the ex-Newcastle boss to be sure about his interest in the game. Or how much he “wants it”.
The modus-operandi is to target players, or managers without any consideration that it might have just been a bad day at the office. I’ve made this point before while referencing Alli but how is a personal opinion, based on 0 fact something that’s said on television with so whim?
Of course, it’s naïve to suggest this is a new practice. In 2015, when City locked the services of Kevin De Bruyne, following his marvelous season in Germany, the-then punditry pair of Paul Merson and Phil Thomson only chose to label him as a “Chelsea Flop” and a “Premier League reject.”
If that wasn’t disrespectful enough, they went on to say a lot more. Oh, and that’s after KDB set the record for the highest number of assists in the German top-flight at the time and became only the 5th foreign player to be voted the Bundesliga Player of The Year.
“I don’t think he could handle it and now he’s going to City for about three times what Wolfsburg paid for him. Not for me.”
“Okay, he’s had a good season in Germany. But there are only a few decent clubs there really, aren’t there? It’s not the Premier League.”
Just a throwback to Paul Merson and Phil Thompson rubbishing Kevin De Bruyne as a player.
'50 odd million? The world has gone mad. He's a good player, but is he a great player? Come on!'
'As players you can look and see things, I just don't see it. I do not see it at all.' pic.twitter.com/lTXXo7zJWE
— Pena_Cartel (@Pena_Cartel) December 21, 2019
Cut to 2021, the Belgian is a force of nature, the best midfielder on the planet and some might even argue, he’s the greatest the league has ever seen.
Sure, the Belgian has spun his magic wand and made the ‘experts’ eat their own words, but when pundits with power to influence, hurl inanities, it sticks.
And on the subject of the Sky Blues, Raheem Sterling is someone who has been under the microscopic gaze of the world, every mistake highlighted and added to the strong case built against him back in 2015 during his switch from Liverpool.
All of the unnecessary bashing led the world to completely disregard the world-class player Raz was turning to and eventually, has transformed himself into. His performance at the Euros stand witness.
Where does this end? Isn’t it about time we stop spewing reactionary, bait-worthy takes? Is it not time we put more faith into people whose opinions are more likely to be backed up by reason and experience? With the use xG and xA on the rise, there might soon be a metric termed as ‘xS’.
Expected sense a pundit’s statements make. I’m not even that angry but that’s a line for the ages and you know it.