Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Andy Gray saga should bring all punditry into question

The best response I’ve heard to the Andy Gray sacking was from a friend of mine last night, “couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke”.

Personally, I think sacking him has let Gray off the hook. I’d have liked the ridicule to continue for him around every football ground in the country.

There is however a wider issue about football punditry which needs to be addressed. Namely, it’s rubbish!

Match of the Day viewing figures are apparently going into freefall and it is not difficult to work out why. My guess is that the viewers are increasingly seeing through the ‘analysis’ offered by Hansen, Lawrenson, Dixon and Shearer and their views are beginning to irritate.

Twenty years ago your average football pundit was from an identikit. Former player, often a bit of a lad in his time (usually helpfully described as “the thinking woman’s crumpet” by the tabloids) whose only qualification for the job was being able to say, “I know, I’m a former player”.

And who were we, the British public, to disagree. The only people who could disprove what was being said were nerds armed with back copies of the Rothmans Football Yearbook, but they had no means of responding or getting their message out.

All that has changed. There is now a mass of information available on the web, from OPTA football stat’s through to transfer spend information and, most importantly, an army of statto nerds who are willing to interpret it all. These people could tell you the exact pass completion percentage of Xabi Alonso during the 2006 season and illustrate it in the form of a Venn Diagram!

Paul Tomkins, a Liverpool fan for example, has written numerous books on football using statistics to measure the correlation between transfer spend and team performance. His greatest pleasure at the moment seems to be driving a statistical bus through most of what Alan Hansen has to say. Crucially, Tomkins also has a means of getting his message out, his own website called the Tomkins Times.

It was brought home to me recently when I was watching a discussion on Sky News about who the new Liverpool manager should be. Various names were put forward by fans, including Ralf Rangnick and Andres Villas-Boas. The presenter asked a former player in the studio what he thought of the two names mentioned and the former player replied: “I think Liverpool fans are looking for bigger names than that.”

As the discussion continued it became abundantly clear that the former player did not have a clue who either were, despite the fact that Rangnick is one of the most respected coaches in Germany having taken Hoffenheim from the third tier of the Bundesliga to the first and Villas-Boas’ Benfica are currently ten points clear at the top of the Portuguese league.

This just isn’t good enough. Football punditry is going to have to grow up and enter the real world. Former players are going to have to work harder, do some research and not rely on old, tired clichés and generalisations.

The web is changing everyone’s lives. Football punditry is not immune.


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