He's the driver of the banter bus who's the most likely man in football to tell you the price of his watch. But is Robbie Savage actually just a vulnerable puppy in a harsh world?
In the first of a new series, John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at some of football's pundits and commentators and try to pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. First up, it's Manchester United shop steward turned Sky Sports analyst Gary Neville...
Smart suit, modern but not fashionable. Sensible clothes for a sensible man. Basically, looks as if dressed for a Manchester United away game. Club-style tie. Neat hair, not too long, not too short. Could be taken home to meet your mam without fear of a clothing faux pas.
Being bloody good at working a massive iPad. Analysis of defence can be especially illuminating.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The priceless ability to translate knowledge picked up playing at the highest level into analysis. Doesn't merely offer an opinion, he uses frame-by-frame clips to illustrate exactly how he arrived at this point of view. There's no room for sloppy thinking or unprovable notions in Gary's world of punditry. Is notably weaker in the co-comms position, where he can lapse into just describing the action. Can also go squeaky - although we rather like that.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
Definitely in the former camp, especially when it comes to the deconstruction of defending. Has done nothing less than redefine what it is to be a football pundit, by doing an apparently revolutionary thing for an ex-player pundit: serious preparation. He does a lot pre-show work and it pays off big. To be fair to his competitors, Gary is given plenty of time to stretch out and do his thing, not having to cram it all into 30-second soundbites on a non-specialist sports channel.
Leg squeezer geezer?
Is Gary part of that cabal of ex-pros for whom all non-footballers are ignorant outsiders? Most certainly not. Neville is much more democratic and less 'old boys club' than many an ex-pro in the media. His on-screen relationship with Ed Chamberlain never descends into the sneery "you wouldn't understand, you've never been a footballer". Thus he is much more inclusive than some 'medals on the table' types.
Banter. Mates. Night In. WKD. Hashtag Bants. The scourge of modern society, or just blokes having a bit of fun? The banter gene is present in almost all footballers, having spent their formative years in all-male environments where cutting a hole in someone's suit or passing a stool into their kitbag is TOPBANTZ. To his credit, Gary displays the same stoic, grown-up resolution in the TV studio that he did on the pitch, is proudly northern and as such, emotionally repressed. Unlike some ex-pros, Gurreh actually comes across like an adult.
Not impossible to hear him dropping a 'for me...' or a 'we don't want to see that' when he's involved in commentary. Much less so in the studio, and we feel that he'd rather not rely on such mannerisms and tries hard to avoid the worst excesses.
Why does he get gigs?
Because he's never short of a word, knows his stuff and is reliable. Can cohere a sentence and is obviously hard-working. Has street-level working-class credibility paired with a more educated man's articulation. It's a killer combination which sees him at the top of the tree, casting a long shadow over those who put in less effort and are simply less interesting.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Johnny's new crime novels are here.