Tuesday 12 December 2017

Phil Neville's apology feeds into the blandness of Henry

Footballer Thierry Henry (L) has been a high-profile addition to the Sky Sports line-up
Footballer Thierry Henry (L) has been a high-profile addition to the Sky Sports line-up
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

The majority of people who watch or indeed write about football have never played it at a professional level, so when somebody who has offers an insight into a player's mindset, it should be welcomed and encouraged. Unless, that is, if Generation Outrage have their way.

After Tomas Rosicky's look-one-way-and-pass-the-other moment against Brighton, Phil Neville insinuated that the Arsenal player was showing disrespect to his opponents and, if it was perpetrated against him, he would seek retribution.

"If that was a training session and somebody did that I'd be first over there and I'd probably look to two-foot him or take him out of the game," Neville said on 'Match of the Day 2'. "If somebody did that in training to me, winding me up, I would be straight in there. I'd smash them."

Twitter, as it does, immediately went into meltdown, while the BBC received complaints about Neville's comments.

Rosicky's piece of skill was flashy but also functional and, as such, wouldn't have deserved such a violent reaction - unlike a player taking the mickey by doing keepy-uppies or somebody calling a nutmeg moments before putting the ball through an opponent's legs.

Reaction

All of those require huge levels of skill but, if you're going to express disdain for your opponents, it can't be a shock if they don't take too kindly. To paraphrase Vincent Vega talking about how a husband might respond to another man massaging his wife's feet, you might not expect the reaction you get, but you have to expect a reaction.

The unfortunate person taking those complaints about Neville should have listened and then either banned the complainant from watching football or suggested they watch the upcoming world snooker championships, although perhaps their sensitive eyes and ears risked being offended if somebody hit the cue ball a little too hard.

Instead, the BBC caved in and released a statement apologising for the fact that a pundit spoke his mind and, effectively, assured viewers that if any of their analysts even thought about saying something insightful which could be deemed controversial, they would immediately revert to banalities such as a goalscorer "wanting it more", doing "ever so well" or reckoning a goalkeeper would be "disappointed with that". This is how you end up paying Robbie Savage.

"This comment was not meant to offend in any way, but on reflection, Phil acknowledges that the language he used was unfortunate," read the spineless BBC statement .

"That said, Mark Chapman did immediately challenge him and the tone of the discussion was light-hearted enough to suggest that the panel were not condoning any kind of violence or setting an example to a younger audience. BBC Sport will, however, remind the team to take extra care during discussions during our live programmes."

We have been here before in terms of "setting an example to a younger audience" when Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland in 2009 sparked waves of concern from the Liveline brigade about how they could explain to their children that this wasn't the right thing to do.

The obvious answer was that Henry was a footballer and not a parent of such an easily-led child. Over five years later, and it seems that such concerns were baseless and there isn't a spate of U-12s to U-16s games in which players believe there is no rule against handling the ball.

Henry, however, appears to have taken the notion of being inoffensive very seriously, given how dull his debut weeks in punditry have been.

In a Sky show extolling the undoubted brilliance of Henry as a player, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger noted Henry's attention to detail as one of the things that set him apart from other players.

Both remarked how he could give value to even the most insignificant detail of a match while also having the ability to explain his own breathtaking moments of skill in the context of an opponent's movement or body position.

All of which would suggest that he could give a wonderful insight to the viewer into the mindset of a truly world-class player, a category in which neither of his flagship Sky Sports contemporaries, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, ever found themselves.

On Saturday night, however, alongside Jamie Redknapp, Henry - like a French Alan Shearer - lurched into the worst habit of somebody who is paid to be an expert, which is telling the viewer exactly what they can see for themselves.

"Remy was involved in keeping the ball of his team. . . good ball. . . it gets played wide. . . he gets into the box as a striker should. . . what an assist from Hazard," was Henry's take on the first goal, giving as much insight as you would have got had the TV been on mute.

The bleedin' obvious was the theme of the evening for a game which demanded better and reached its low point with Redknapp's comment that "when they brought on Gary Cahill for Loic Remy on 86 minutes, it suggested to me that Chelsea were happy with the draw."

Live television is far from easy and Henry might be making same the kind of tentative start he did at Arsenal before bursting into legendary status, but suggesting that Thibaut Courtois didn't make a mistake for City's goal because James Milner distracted him doesn't give much cause for optimism.

There is, however, a market there for people who want to understand a little bit more about the game because, as Nick Hornby put it, not all football fans are people who move their lips while reading.

The Super Bowl took place overnight and, with virtually every play, an analyst is capable of demonstrating what caused a brilliant piece of skill or bad mistake without resorting to phrases like "Tom Brady will be disappointed with that interception".

Of course, pointing the finger at somebody might risk offending viewers and getting your wrists slapped by your bosses for offering an opinion. With a deluge of complaints and outrage ready to be unleashed at a moment's notice, football will probably end up with the "experts" it deserves.

The question nobody asked

How many games have West Brom and Hull won since Shane Long left them?

THE Irish striker isn't exactly prolific and both West Brom and Hull City will feel that they got a good deal when another team offered both £7m and £12m for him in the space of two transfer windows.

However, while their bank balance is healthier, both clubs are likely to be nervously looking over their shoulders this season, and somebody with Long's battling qualities could certainly be an asset.

When Long left West Brom just over a year ago, they had 17 games remaining, of which they won only three and avoided relegation. This season, in part thanks to the arrival of Tony Pulis, they have won five of their 23 games, meaning that, since Long left, they have eight wins from 40 games.

Hull's winning percentage since Long left is even worse, with just four wins this season in 23 games, which means the total for the two clubs is just 12 wins in 63 games since the departure of the Ireland international.

Bet you should have done

Newcastle United to beat Hull City, 2/1

A new manager often gives a boost to a team and, with John Carver having been confirmed as Newcastle manager for the rest of the season this week, the players at least knew that they had better perform.

Hull have been dreadful for several months and looks certain to become embroiled in a relegation battle, making the visitors' odds of victory all the more generous.

Tweets of the week

Monday

VICTOR VALDES (@1VictorValdes)

Was a great honor to win today with the unders 21 in my first game against Liverpoool. Well Done Guys!

For a guy who has won so much in his career, it's remarkable that an U21 match for Manchester United constitutes an honour.

 

Tuesday

DAVID MEYLER (@DavidMeyler7)

Oh no Raheem . square it to Stevie!

Hull City's midfielder - and we're guessing Liverpool fans - shows his frustration at the team's League Cup exit to Chelsea

 

Wednesday

DANIEL STURRIDGE (@D_Sturridge)

Did he just throw his boot at the linesman

The Liverpool striker - like the rest of us - couldn't quite believe what he had seen as Atletico's Arda Turan showed his throwing skills in the game against Barcelona.

 

Thursday

Louis SAHA (@louissaha08)

Why players dont speak to some papers. Ex: I say manUtd is progressing and bang!!! Next day the title is going ManUtd can win the title!!!

The former Manchester United striker writes off the club's title chances and insists they are miles behind where they once were. Or something like that.

 

Friday

LUIS FIGO (@LuisFigo)

I am very happy to confirm that my six nominations were delivered to FIFA this week ahead of the deadline.!

A winger going for FIFA president. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Saturday

Gabriel Zakuaini (@Gabs50Zakuani)

What can I say! Started for my country, we are in the semi finals of #afcon2015 got ran over by the buggy when injured lol, only in Africa

The Democratic Republic of Congo player sums up the madness of the tournament.

 

Sunday

JOEY BARTON (@Joey7Barton)

The major thing I learnt while on my Twitter sabbatical

For a column that needs daily tweets, it's great to have the QPR midfielder back

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