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John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at pundits and commentators and pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly.
This week, it's the first in a two-part World Cup pundit preview, starting with the behemoth that is the BBC. The corporation will be using all these men as pundits: Thierry Henry, Rio Ferdinand, Clarence Seedorf, Juninho, Brad Friedel, Tony Pulis, Neil Lennon, Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer, Chris Waddle, Martin Keown, Kevin Kilbane, Mark Lawrenson, Danny Mills, Danny Murphy, Phil Neville, Robbie Savage, Pat Nevin, Jason Roberts, John Hartson and quite possibly Dream Team's Karl Fletcher as well...
Expect the plain blue or white open-necked shirt to be much on display - basically an exorbitantly expensive version of the type of shirt you'd buy at a service station. The sort which gives the wearer the look of a photocopier salesman from Retford having post-conference drinks at a Posthouse hotel bar.
Anyone wearing any other colour will be mocked by Alan Shearer as though they were Beau Brummel. Black pants will also be the order of the day, often far too closely cut black pants, at that.
Savage will err towards what would be considered in football culture as the outrageous avant-garde of fashion, but which the rest of us would consider merely normal clothes, only worn tighter. Silly Billy Philly will continue to dress like a geography teacher at a Bury comprehensive in 1982. Pat Nevin will continue to look like a lesbian sports administrator. Smallest-sized clothes will go to the little fella, Juninho, who, if sat next to Brad Friedel will surely look like a glove puppet.
We hope Rio wears a massive pair of headphones throughout and that Pulis turns up in a baseball cap and trackies looking like someone's especially competitive father. Hartson will win the prize for most well-filled clothing but we suspect that Seedorf will triumph in the "cool without trying too hard" fashion stakes.
Hair cuts will be either short, neat or absent. We expect and indeed hope the humidity plays havoc with Savage's hair. It is also noticeable that, despite the 2014 edict that every man between the age of 20 and 50 must have a beard, none of the pundits favour the hirsute chin unless Terry decides to sport his luscious under-chin affair. We therefore hope Lawro grows a fine retro-tache for the occasion and makes like it's 1985.
The earning of big money by basically dossing around while watching football with your mates.
Expect Gary Lineker to channel the nation's emotional response to whatever England have or have not done.
Inflating England's players quality before they play, and then subsequently trying to pretend they never said them things when Roy's Boys get the D from whatever more talented bunch of Foreign Types ends their tournament.
Self-flagellation. All non-English pundits will be invited to tell us why England are rubbish and why all foreigners are brilliant.
Strengths and Weaknesses
With a lot of live programmes to broadcast, pundits should get time to stretch out and show us their chops. Obviously some have no chops to show us, however some - and we're thinking of Lineker here - are far better in this environment than in the 'read-the-autocue-and grin' mode. Live TV also means we get to hear what is or isn't passing through their minds, which means there's also the chance of a classic on a par with Hansen saying that apartheid was 'a deeply flawed system'.
Live TV exposes those who are not well-prepared or have had their brain taken out. We hope that this time around no pundit showing insight will be rounded on by the likes of Hansen and Shearer in the way Lee Dixon was at the last WC when he was gauche enough to have heard of Slovakian star player Marek Ham¿ík, as if being vaguely aware of the existence of a bloke who plays in Serie A was tantamount to being some sort of girly swot.
There are some glaring weaknesses though. Firstly, where are the non-ex player pundits? This dependence on the old pro means that more erudite, educated and cultural voices are missing. We fondly recall the vivid inclusion of Danny Baker one evening during South Africa 2010, in which the Candyman delivered a few pithy and amusing observations about England. Shearer looked on with a mixture of mistrust and wonderment as though he was the most exotic of creatures - a man with a brain and a perspective. When Baker persuasively, if with tongue somewhat in cheek, suggested that the out-of-sorts French might make the quarter finals, Shearer 'quipped' "have you been drinking?" A Not A Football Man had somehow got into the hallowed halls of groupthink and Wor Al knew that he must be driven out without delay.
Also, we have to say, where are the women? Why are there no women at all involved here? Are women not allowed to talk about football on TV unless it's women playing? Do the BBC really think that only a male ex-pro can cast a critical eye on the male game with any meaning? It is ludicrous that no women are involved, verging on the misogynistic. Are we seriously to believe that if, say, Hope Powell was invited to give her views on a game they would lack the depth of Robbie Savage's analysis? And Hope has better hair too.
We have noticed that when covering women's football, Michael Gray is often invited along to cast a critical eye over proceedings. Fine. We like the Mikey. So it's one rule for women's football, one rule for men's football, is it? By excluding women, the BBC are kow-towing to the worst kind of default everyday sexism. It shouldn't need saying that there are plenty of articulate, well-informed women who could talk about football. The BBC know this but have gone for a 'no chicks, dude' policy, regardless, or at least that's what the pre-tournament publicity is offering. They should be ashamed but we doubt they've even thought about it. Men's football is only to be talked about by men, apparently. Good luck explaining that at your next diversity meeting, boys.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
We expect those charged with tactical analysis to do a damn good job because they've had plenty of time to research how various teams play. We look forward to Pulis dissecting the finer points of Colombian defending.
Bantersaurus Rex/Leg squeezer geezers
The world of punditry is divided into two armed camps: those who like to roister and doister and those who see it as the work of the emotionally retarded. Looking at the BBC lists suggests a welcome absence of men who would use the hashtag #bantz. Once one gets beyond the monolithic bantersaurusing of Savage and the golf club manliness of Shearer and Hansen, we're struggling to see who will be snipping the ties and putting itching powder down the shirts. We imagine Hartson in his pomp may have relieved his bowels into a kit bag (and surely it would have been a well-bulked stool) but feel life has taught him there are kinder ways to bond with one's fellow man. Given the presence of some men with an actual education - Kilbane, Nevin and Friedel - along with others such as Henry and Seedorf, who come across as bi-lingual sophisticates, we feel the chummy rubbing of thighs and the Deep Heat in the underpants crew are going to find an unreceptive audience. And for this, much thanks.
We expect there will be a fair smattering of national stereotyping which is either entertaining or teeth-grindingly annoying depending on your persuasion. However, 5Live have already aired a list of World Cup clichés so they're self-aware enough to brief all concerned not to indulge in them too much. That being said, live TV can be a stressful environment where dead air must be filled, so a few clichés are to be expected and should be tolerated too.
Why do they get gigs?
The default BBC football team were always going to get this role. Familiarity is important to the BBC, which sees nannying and generally warm-fuzzy liberalism as part of its duty - except when it comes to employing women as pundits, obviously. So there will be no revolution. Lineker is a consummate pro and a safe pair of hands. Everyone knows what the Lawro, Hansen, Shearer trio will give you. Savage will play the clown, Keown the stern PE teacher. Seedorf has been a star performer in the past as a man who has that rarest of qualities: charisma. Juninho is an interesting addition and we are hopeful he makes at least one reference to Middlesbrough and has developed the accent of an old Port Clarence docker.
A good tournament can really boost a pundit's career. It was on the back of a decent showing in 2010 that the likes of Savage got a foot on the talking-about-football-for-money ladder. This time we have high hopes for Kilbane, whose star is already in the ascendent. He's in possession of an educated working class voice - always the strongest card in the pundit deck. The same might be said for Danny Murphy. We're not sure Terry Henry is actually that interesting but he adds a nice smile to proceedings and such things are important when you've got five hours of live TV to fill. But we think it may be Jason Roberts who emerges as a star performer this time. A good talker and one who doesn't seem afraid to tackle bigger issues, hopefully if sent out into the slums of Rio he will perform better than Shearer did when quizzing South Africans about what apartheid was like.
The BBC has a lot of hours on TV and radio to fill and need a big team to do so. Love 'em or hate 'em, this is the team that will entertain and infuriate us. Even though we're genuinely disgusted at the absence of female voices, we still can't bloody wait.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new(ish) 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.
I can imagine that thought of spending a month in a sweaty studio alongside the likes of Robbie Savage, Rio Ferdinand and Mark Lawrenson is enough to put most women off...- Skoolyad