We're salivating at the thought of the Champions League returning this week, so here are five games to look forward to. How will Liverpool cope against Real Madrid?
Twenty questions on twenty goalkeepers, one for each of the teams in the Premier League. Maybe not as easy as it sounds...
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 Lee 'Lee Dixon' Dixon...
Goes for neat but strictly neutral clothing. We imagine you cannot bring to mind the sort of thing Lee wears because it is designed to be forgettable, or rather, non-distracting from the man himself. Not fashionable, not unfashionable, but definitely clothes. His haircut has remained largely unchanged, it would seem, for at least 20 years. It also conforms to the same principles of functional anonymity.
Worth bearing in mind Lee is now 49 and we think he's looking good on it. Certainly very trim and lean. Must be all the cycling.
Skinned full-backs. Centre halves who abuse full-backs and keepers who don't communicate well, primarily with full-backs.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The intellectual giant of the old Arsenal back four, he emerged on the BBC as a straight-talking, quite serious analyst who, when given time, could cast a shaft of light into the darkness that is football to us mere non ex-professionals. Relies on knowing stuff rather than a wacky personality, being sullen, or self-reverentially witty. Has the sort of plain, honest, reliable and strong northern voice that people trust when they ring up a call centre.
His major weakness is that he works on ITV and therefore has almost literally no time to say or do anything. This is because, mystifyingly, despite being chronically short of time, they often employ three pundits per game and all must have a say. Thus Lee gets in one or maybe two points at most before kick off. One at half time and then, depending on how much post-game time they have, a little more when it's all over. Hard to feel his talents are not extremely under-employed. Looks with critical appraisal, perhaps suspicion, at Roy Keane. We don't know, but we like to imagine he is quietly unimpressed with Keane's work.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
He seems the sort of man who would knuckle down and do some work even if you did put him in a tactics truck. This can't be said of every or indeed most of the punditocracy.
We once saw him dissect how hard it was to change your default instincts as a defensive full-back in a four to being an attacking wing-back in a five. It was brilliant because he talked from real world knowledge and not mere theory but did so in a way which put you in the role of the player. The psychology of it wasn't something you could possibly know having not played the game. We are keen to see more of this sort of thing.
Leg squeezer geezer?
Has not shown any aptitude in this field to date. It's almost as if he's an adult.
When you've been raised in football and played alongside the wild-eyed peculiarity that is Tony Adams, you have surely been inoculated against continuing the art form of banter into your post-playing career. Clearly, Dixon is a little more sophisticated in his approach to life than many of his colleagues and we like to think he is firmly in the camp of the anti-kit bag crappers.
Like most more intelligent pundits, he knows enough to know to avoid clichés if at all possible, or at least, qualifies them when doing so. This is probably Lee's great art form; being accessible to those watching slack-jawed, surrounded by empty cans of Stella, but not alienating the wispy-bearded, achingly pretentious hipster either. Few can walk that line as well.
Why does he get gigs?
For a while he was probably the BBC's best pundit. Admittedly in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but even allowing for that, we think we all had high hopes for him to rise to the top as a proper analyst who could illuminate and entertain. He is unpretentious, can talk human, has a good brain and doesn't rely on a comedy haircut to enforce his personality. He also appears to be a good team player and a man who is not afraid to do some research. Sadly, all of these qualities are being lost to us in all but brief glimpses on ITV. But we really like him, and hope he'll find a bigger, better role in the future and we suspect we are not alone in that.
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 life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football, here.