Simon Tyers finds himself frustrated and bored by the level of punditry offered during live football matches

There’s an argument that we don’t need pundits on live football any more. Ultimately it’s all their own fault. Alan Hansen and Andy Gray laid the groundwork with their arrows and circles on replays over a decade ago. Since then the tactics industry has boomed in newspaper columns and books to the extent that there’s no longer any reason to have players’ attributes pointed out to us. Allied to that, at some point in the 1990s the people called upon to act as pundits changed from managers, coaches and wily old captaincy material to any old ageing pro who’s available.

Should a keen producer stumble across a worthwhile analyst it’s likely to be more by luck than judgement, and you can guarantee they’ll be used at every opportunity, regardless of their relevance, for at least a decade. In that sense the matchday studio now seems like a permanent audition site, with Jamie Redknapp as a benevolent Dannii Minogue and Andy Townsend an overly keen Louis Walsh. With a World Cup only months away, ITV have been stealthily attempting to strengthen their hand through their Champions League output.

During Chelsea v Internazionale, Marcel Desailly seemed determined to crank out as many observations as possible, as if to make up for the shorter time allotted to him between adverts. It’s equally likely that he was attempting to ensure that he completed a thought process before Townsend intervened. As Ally McCoist can attest from previous years, Townsend rarely needs a second opportunity to jump in when a thought is left even briefly hanging. Contrast that with Jamie Redknapp’s tendency to interrupt whenever it suits him – Ruud Gullit duly sounded fed up by the end of Manchester United v Chelsea.

Commenting on Arsenal v Barcelona a fortnight later, Edgar Davids tended to trail off halfway through a thought. But Townsend chose to leave Davids to his own devices rather than pick up the discussion threads he was leaving lying around, even if by the end he was operating below a level the microphones could pick up. Meanwhile, Michael Owen, wearing a suit someone might have borrowed from their dad for a junior admin job interview, stuttered through Manchester United v Liverpool with an almost gallant refusal to describe anyone in anything other than the most obvious terms.

If veteran players are to become the future of football broadcasting, there were hints before the second leg of Chelsea v Internazionale that they might be less trouble all round. Coming out of a lengthy interview with José Mourinho, Richard Keys marvelled at how the Inter manager had “taken control” of the whole game as an event. Unfortunately for Keys, he directed this thought at Graeme Souness, who snarled back: “I’m sitting here wondering if there’s a game of football tonight.” Keys, reacting as though every line of enquiry in his script had been torn up, cut to another part of the interview and tried the safer ground of Jamie Redknapp, only to be met with: “I agree with Graeme, I think we should start talking about the football match.”

Sitting between the two, Ruud Gullit seemed bemused that Keys was intent on peddling his pet theories. He may have nipped out to make an urgent call to his personal manager during the next break. “I think Graeme’s just about to leave us,” Keys feebly offered over a pre-game shot of Mourinho taking his seat, but his plans for an evening’s obsessing about what José’s return meant had already been ruined by then.

A Performing Rights Society agreement with broadcasters enables all major channels to use any music covered by publishers signed up to the PRS. Kasabian might currently be plotting exactly which part of Belize to anchor their new yacht now that a snatch of one of their songs is used on every live Sky Sports game and in break bumpers on Sky Sports News this season. This somehow got lost on the producer for Manchester United v Chelsea, who opted for a cover of the Rocky theme very loosely rearranged in the style of one of the old Top of the Pops albums. Instead of evoking a tooth and nail brawl for ultimate superiority, it implied that this was a cheap imitation of a real rivalry. Either that or that Sky owe a recording studio money.

From WSC 279 May 2010

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