Sunday 17 December 2017

Focus on controversy results in bad punditry

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Joe Molloy

Pep Guardiola scoffed at the 'Match of the Day' reporter on Saturday. His eyes narrowed. "Your first question is about the referee? You're the BBC, you're supposed to be prestigious, you don't ask about the football first?"

It was a touch harsh perhaps. Seconds earlier, Guardiola was on screen straining to watch a replay of Kyle Walker's push on Raheem Sterling, a point rightly made in response by the interviewer. But it was also a snapshot of current punditry priorities. Lowest common denominator talking points have won the day. The war is over and the war has been lost. Take BT Sport after that same game, 90 minutes dense in brilliance, clangers and tactical nuance. Straight at the whistle, Jake Humphrey went to Howard Webb in his dark bunker for analysis of the Walker push.

Harry Redknapp, Steven Gerrard and Richard Dunne looked on. In deliberate and grave tones, Webb confirmed that Walker did indeed push Sterling and concluded the officials must not have seen it. As revelations go, it lacked some punch. Football men have long accused non-football types of hiding behind statistics. Bad punditry hides behind "controversial incidents". The RTE panel at its best was a rare and wonderful exception. Refereeing decisions were part of the show, but they weren't the centrepiece, they were never the priority. Instead there was a focus on the wider trends of the game, obvious and less obvious. The panel had its failings, but at least a ridiculously harsh opinion of a young Cristiano Ronaldo was worthy of debate.

As viewing figures continue to fall, down 22pc on the 2010/11 season, television punditry has fallen into a trap, which smacks of insecurity. Here's the catch. Refereeing mistakes generate anger from affected fans. Affected fans make noise. On both television and radio, it is often the case that interesting and informative content is quietly appreciated; without sparking a big text or tweet reaction.

But producers love reaction. Presenters love reaction. Noise is good. People are listening. The intelligent, neutral majority therefore make do with Ann and Barry punditry. The added irony is that none of us need Alan Shearer to tell us 'there was contact'. We can see.

Foul play is the one area of the game which requires no great professional guidance. I wondered during the game why a triangle of Kane, Alli and Eriksen struggled against just Yaya Toure? I wondered why Spurs were suddenly so susceptible to runners in behind. I'm still wondering.

Irish Independent

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