Battle of the football pundits: the genius that is Gary Neville

by James Clancy

Neville amendedI was never his biggest fan as a player though a career that included 400 Premier League appearances, as well as winning eight Premier League titles, two Champions League crowns as well as 85 England caps is more than stellar.

For me, it is as a pundit that Neville senior has found his real calling however. When Liverpool fans are agreeing with this opinion, then there must be something to the view.

In February 2011, Neville retired from playing professional football and almost immediately became a fixture as a pundit on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, among a number of other of Sky Sports football programs.

So impressed was England manager Roy Hodgson with Neville’s performances wearing a suit, shirt and tie in front of the television cameras that The Three Lions‘ boss offered the then 37 year-old a defensive coach last May.

Very much helped by his recent playing experience, his views, insight and analysis of the game are always worth hearing. Graeme Souness performs on screen like he played and takes few prisoners. He sometimes gives the impression that he’s running out of patience with other people’s points of view, or the naivety of the questions coming his way but what he says always makes sense.

Jamie Redknapp is the eye candy of football punditry but he has grown in stature and is now unafraid to cast an alternative, sometimes castigating, opinion.

On Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ, I can’t help getting the “has been” feeling predominates. John Giles has some interesting insight, but the majority of his views now are based on a game from which he retired more than 30 years ago and the regularity with which he forgets – or simply doesn’t know – player’s names has become more the norm than the exception.

Eamon Dunphy is as ever the man for the shock effect, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that he is there for shock effect and little more.

Liam Brady’s talk meanwhile is too too loyal to current/former bosses (for example Arsene Wenger and Giovanni Trapattoni) – and often – too cranky, to consistently portray an interesting insight into the modern game. His verbal battles with Dunphy are often worth the licence fee on their own though!

For me, the current RTÉ football pundit who deserves most credit is Richie Sadlier. Having retired prematurely from professional football less than a decade ago, he provides a fascinating, educated and balanced insight into the ups and downs of the modern game.

Another honourable mention here deserves to go to the underused Damien Richardson. He is generally only employed for Airtricity League games. This observer believes that viewing figures would be considerably higher when RTÉ go head to head against the major British networks during Champions League football were the former Cork City and Shamrock Rovers’ boss asked for his opinions duringthe Irish national broadcaster’s broadcast.

As anchor, Bill O’Herlihy quite simply should never have been given a job which involves talking about football.

On the BBC, although he has very little live football on which to pontificate during the season, Alan Hansen, who began his punditry career on Match of the Day more than 20 years ago, continues to excel. The BBC, who have apparently been paying top dollar for his services, obviously continue to think so too.

Mark Lawrenson has a languid style, a ‘seen it all before’ approach but a ready wit and he remains an important part of the BBC team. Lee Dixon is either the ‘nearly’ man or a star of the future, as yet undecided but he’s bright and articulate with a good sense of humour.

Alan Shearer was never a comfortable interviewee as a player and has yet to open up as a pundit, his comments too often are too predictable.

Over on ITV Gareth Southgate brings intelligence to the job. He tends to see most points of view and always talks sensibly about the game, but if you’re longing for controversy or contention he won’t be your man.

Roy Keane said before he retired from playing that he would rather go to the dentist than be a pundit but he has succumbed to the role though. Despite only retiring from the game less than eight years ago, the Cork native seldom brings any great insight to proceedings on the pitch. As anchor, Adrian Chiles has one of the most difficult jobs in television but manages to make the temperamental former Manchester United captain smile from time to time!

Andy Townsend seems to spend more time out of vision as a co-commentator these days but, when he is seen, the former Irish captain with the London accent is usually pretty boring with opinions that tend to be cliché ridden.

On ESPN Kevin Keegan and John Barnes have had to put up with that ridiculous desk on the touchline for their matches. The position is uncomfortable for them and, more importantly, uncomfortable for the viewer. If it’s someone’s bright idea of being different, they should ditch it. If they are trying to save money, then they shouldn’t have bid for the contract in the first place if they have to penny-pinch in this way. Nonetheless, Barnes and Keegan always do a good job, with Barnes impressively worth hearing on the recent Suarez debacle.

Here are my Ratings of British/Irish TV’s football pundits:

Neville 10/10, Sadlier 9, Souness 8.5, Hansen 8, Redknapp 8, Lawrenson 7.5, Keegan 7.5, Barnes 7, Dixon 6, Giles 6.5, Dunphy 6, Southgate 6, Brady 6, Collymore 6, Shearer 6, Nevin 5, Townsend 5, Keane 4.

 

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