The Talking Heads – thoughts on TV punditry

Match of the Day“Peter Schmeichel will be like a father figure for Kasper Schmeichel.”

This nugget is just one of many pearls of wisdom uttered from Jamie Redknapp’s lips (so many that a website has been created with the sole purpose of recording his punditry howlers). Granted, Jamie Redknapp is an easy target; but who better to illustrate the dearth in insight and perception among the array of talentless pundits currently dissecting the beautiful game.

At first I was amused by the ineptitude of the pundits. How they perpetuate persistent stereo-types of clubs and players, how they relentlessly spout tiresome clichés, how their analysis tends to consist of an interminable monologue. Now, however, I have reached a stage of enragement: three parts weariness and three parts frustration.

A pundit is, according to a hasty Google search, an expert in a particular subject or field who is frequently called upon to give their opinions to the public. If only. Not only do I dispute the expertise of the Match of the Day cast, I disagree that the word ‘opinion’ aptly describes the dirge of watered-down views aired weekly.

The chief problem with punditry is the overwhelming lack of insight. With the exception of Gary Neville, most pundits review the game as if they have never played it before. I want a pundit to tell me something that is not obvious, to provide cognizance about the intricacies of football at the top level. Alas, pundits continue to bore us with insipid statements in a soporific, inarticulate drawl. There is no cutting edge.

By the same token, I am weary of pundits making statements with conviction that, in actuality, carry very little weight. Take, for example, “Balotelli could be brilliant or terrible [at the World Cup]”, a declaration that is devoid of risk and sagacity. Such proclamations typify the scarcity of perspicacity in the field of punditry currently. As I write this, a certain former Manchester United player has stated that the clash with MK Dons could either be a “nightmare” or a “good way to get a win on the board”.

Moreover, there is a trend of pundits to disseminate and perpetuate archaic stereo-types. The best example of this is the success of the German national team this summer. Germany were outstanding in Brazil. They scored 18 goals in just seven games, they had over ten shots on target per game (!) and the number of dribbles German players completed inside the penalty area was over double the tournament average. Remarkable statistics.

Germany, who also completed over 4,000 passes during the World Cup with a pass completion percentage on a par with Spain’s, are more than a ruthless, efficient, well-oiled machine. They disgraced the hosts, outwitted Argentina and trounced Portugal; all while exhibiting a brand of football that was not only overtly attacking, but enjoyable and fluid.

Why, then, was the German national team synonymous with “efficiency” and “organisation”? Even when Joachim Low’s men humbled the Brazilians by a six goal margin, Raphael Honigstein described the victorious outfit as “calm, organised and clinical”, not fluid, attacking and mesmerising. The Week and SN Soccer kept the stereo-type alive domestically and across the pond with “[Germany] are nothing if not efficient” and “The German Machine”, respectively.

Regrettably, the Germans were not lauded for their swashbuckling performances. Instead pundits reverted to car analogies and similes about engineering.

Theo Walcott is another victim of out-dated punditry. Throughout his career Walcott has earned the unshakable label of a poor finisher and a player whose decision-making inhibits him. During Walcott’s initial seasons for Arsenal and England this was certainly true. Walcott failed to convert chances and often made the wrong decision at the crucial moments. However, as he has matured he has become increasingly competent in front of goal and his decision-making ability has, too, blossomed.

In fact, according to ‘WhoScored’, a website that uses statistical information to compile a summary of a player’s strengths, weaknesses and traits, Walcott’s strongest attributes are finishing and key passes. Additionally, the winger has a clear-cut chance conversion rate of 50% and topped the chance conversion rate charts in the Premier League in his last full season: impressive reading. Nevertheless, Walcott cannot shake his unwanted label among pundits, and it seems as though the next time Walcott misses a one-on-one the criticisms will resurface.

The problem is immediately obvious. Pundits do not show me why Liverpool conceded a third; they describe what happened. Pundits do not help me empathise with a player; they blame a player for the concession. Pundits do not shed light on what it is like to play the 3-5-2 formation; they move blue and red circles around an oversized screen with infuriating maladroitness.

In summary, punditry today is laden with clichés and stereo-types. Anaemic opinions and feeble statements, coupled with an endless disquisition on what (rather than why something) happened, amount to drab, uninteresting pre and post-match analysis of even the most enthralling of fixtures.

Just think; at what time do you get up to boil the kettle on a Saturday evening? The more organised may say before Match of the Day, the rest will invariably do it during the post-match analysis.

Rant over.

The Author

Sam Mills

2 thoughts on “The Talking Heads – thoughts on TV punditry

  1. Phew!!!!!! Couldn’t have said it better myself. As with good pundits; good writers show us why people do what they do; they don’t describe/tell us what happened. That’s what children do. Right? Children and football pundits.
    Thank you Mr Sam Mills, you are a good writer.

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