I love the BBC. Whether it’s high-end drama, globally-recognised sitcoms or historical travelogues, Auntie makes wonderful programmes. The Beeb’s sport coverage is usually great too: you only have to look at its Olympics coverage for proof of that. But it keeps doing football wrong.
It’s clear Match of the Day’s shit has hit the fan now ITV1’s football coverage looks competent by comparison. Having poached Lee Dixon to join Roy Keane and Gareth Southgate for their Champions League coverage, the channel arguably has the best stable of pundits on the box. One caveat to this is the continued employment of toby-jug-faced presenter Adrian Chiles, but three out of four ain’t bad.
The BBC considers MOTD to be an entertainment show rather than specialist sports programming, and therefore it has no obligation to appeal to anyone with an IQ of above 80. It’s crammed with familiar faces like Alan Shearer, a man so devoid of charisma that he celebrated winning the Premier League in 1995 by creosoting his fence. Shearer is MOTD’s resident cod-psychologist; there to inform viewers just what is going on in a player’s head after a missed sitter: “He’ll be disappointed with that”, or a hat-trick: “He’ll be delighted with that”.
Then there’s Alan Hansen, once the poster-boy for dour Scottish punditry. Hansen doesn’t even bother analysing the action any more, preferring to spout a series of pointless adjectives instead: “Pace. Power. Aggression.” I hope for Mrs Hansen’s sake that her husband doesn’t take a similar approach when pillow talking in between tokes on one of his post-coital Cuban cigars.
Phrases like “great finish” do not constitute analysis. Thanks to the wonders of evolution, viewers have eyes of their own and they don’t need to be told about every “great goal” or “shocking miss” as they can see for themselves. Pundits should explain where a match has been lost or won by using their knowledge and experience, and without stating the obvious. Gary Neville is good at this, and his appointment as Sky’s chief football pundit has been a success, scoregasms et al, all in spite of the continued presence of top, top pundit Jamie Redknapp.
When Dixon jumped off the MOTD sofa to climb into bed with Keane and Southgate on ITV, the BBC responded by snapping up tabloid favourite ‘Arry Redknapp, a man of whom Rafael van der Vaart once said: “There are no long and boring speeches about tactics, like I was used to at Real Madrid. There is a clipboard in our dressing room but Harry doesn’t write anything on it.” They might as well have appointed ‘Arry’s dog Rosie instead, she’d offer at least as much insight. (Well, you’d assume so anyway, given that she has her own bank account.)
There’s no logical reason why all pundits are former players. Mark Kermode is a brilliant film critic, and he’s never directed a film of his own. Why doesn’t the BBC consider hiring football journalists in addition to the cranky old pros? Football journalists don’t just provide match reports – Jonathan Wilson provides extensive, exhaustive tactical analysis, while David Conn has spent decades scrutinising the financial and political aspects of the game, for example. The Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast is articulate, funny and cerebral, but never feels pretentious.
I’m not calling for the Beeb to turn MOTD into some sort of highbrow roundtable chin-stroking exercise with Paul Morley and Germaine Greer airlifted in to the studio to discuss the cultural significance of zonal marking. I just want intelligent and insightful analysis to go with the football itself.