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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. This week it's the turn of one-time BBC titan, Alan Hansen...
Legendary. His withering, one word assessments "pace" ... "power"... "diabolical"... "abysmal" have become so well-known as to form the basis of an instantly recognisable impression that even Rory Bremner can get over the line, albeit possibly with a hilarious conceit that Alan is saying these things in a satirically-imagined role as the Prime Minister. The repetition of them (since Hansen began in 1992) must run into the tens of thousands: two decades of growling the same few words week after week in exchange for millions of pounds. Possibly part of some post-modern art project? Is Alan actually in the KLF? Has always favoured the plain, often black shirt. Prone to a golf club lambswool V neck. Patterned clothing is for fops.
The political and social history of South Africa 1948-1994. Not really, silly. Although of course Hansen's World Cup 2010 assessment of Apartheid ("That system was obviously fundamentally flawed...but now they've got the World Cup") remains one of the (unintentionally) funniest moments of sports broadcasting of our lifetime. No, Alan likes defending. Or, rather, he likes bad defending. You know the drill.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Earlier in his career, was acute and illuminating, even rather edgy in comparison to the woolly jumper bumblers of the Coleman era. In his pomp he was the very definition of brooding and passive-aggressive. As such he was genuinely original but it's hard to escape the feeling that the game has moved on since, and of course his phasing out at the BBC bears that out. Still, on the upside: has a great, recognisable voice, speaks with real authority, doesn't waste words. Assessment that "you'll never win anything with kids" remains one of sport's most storied punditry howlers. Was also pilloried for referring to "coloured" footballers, but it seems to us that this was a generational linguistic blunder rather than anything else.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
When minded to, does actually have that not inconsiderable gift of being able to explain why things have happened on the pitch. We once remember him dissecting a badly organized defence with an almost military precision; potentially boring, he made it thrilling. Does not give the impression of having wasted too much time on research. One World Cup 2010 moment endures in the memory: a Slovakia preview, in which Lee Dixon was enough of a girly swot to earmark Marek Hamsik as one to watch; Hansen sneered "someone's give you him", as if production of this arcane knowledge was pretty poor form and could only have come from some behind-the-scenes droid. Hamsik was the captain of Slovakia.
Leg squeezer geezer?
Likes footballers, especially keen on encouraging Alan Shearer to enthuse about how much he would have enjoyed such-and-such a cross etc. Can't imagine he especially cares for the opinions of non-footballers, indeed, we are fairly sure we once heard him say the words 'medals on the table' as a kind of alpha male assertion strategy, and of course, Alan has a lot of medals. Being Scottish precludes any touching of other men on the leg or anywhere else, except with a fist.
We imagine he'd actually be a really good laugh: bright, sparky, cutting. Very competitive at golf.
As mentioned above, has developed a unique style all of his own. "If there's one thing defenders hate, that's pace." The problem with being a long-serving pundit is that you end up being a self-parody, or at least, become a well-worn practitioner in a genre you all but created for yourself. Thus, much of what we think of as football cliché is only cliché because of Alan's frequent use. So in that sense he is both an originator and a recycler.
Why does he get gigs?
Originality in punditry is rare and its reputation and consequent ripple effect is profound and long-lasting. Hansen has, for years, benefited from being one of the best at the start of the huge media expansion of football coverage. He became synonymous with TV football and though his powers slowly dimmed, the suspicion is this is due to weak production and that he could actually do much better work if properly motivated and guided.
Appearances will be curtailed now, but the revelation that he was getting £40,000 a show was, not that this is any way his fault, a bit of a low-point for the public perception of the BBC's sports department. According to the Daily Mail, he's still getting one million a year this year, and has not appeared on every MOTD.
Also worth bearing in mind that sometimes, just sometimes, he is still bloody good.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about a football fan, set in Middlesbrough, are here.