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 Ian Wright. Right? Write...
Always likely to wear a fashionable collar. Garish attire of younger days has been replaced by more sober tailoring from a self-consciously fashionable gentleman's outfit retailer. Seems a very long time since he had any hair.
Hard to point to any area of expertise as regards what footballers are actually doing. Is certainly employed due to his 'passion' for England. Though in recent years, this seems to have been toned down, which makes us rather sad. The thought of an Ian Wright not giddy with out-of-all-proportion hope for England's chances is like hearing of a child who has just been told that Santa is, in fact, an out-of-work actor with a drink problem.
Strengths and weaknesses
He's a working-class geezer with a cultural hinterland and he lived a life outside of football before hitting the big time. This connects him to fans' lives more than some. Talks the Lahndahner talk and the man on the Clapham omnibus would certainly feel familiar with him. Unpretentious and while at times, gauche, he is certainly enthusiastic and we've never thought he doesn't care or that he was only doing it for the money. As for many fans, football for Wright is something felt in the heart, not thought about in the head.
This being said, his basic inability to produce a coherent sentence makes it quite hard to work out what point he is making and he is paid to illuminate, at least to some degree.
Wednesday night's England pre-game chat featured Adrian Chiles, again with that saucer-eyed 'What did ooo do in the war, daddy?' self-abasement, asking Wright, Lee Dixon and Glenn Hoddle what it felt like to be left out of a tournament squad, or to drop someone from one. (Incidentally, Hoddle - whom we wrote about recently - eschewed this chance to reveal anything about one of the most controversial episodes of his England managerial tenure: Gazza 1998).
Wright made a nice joke about how he used to hide from Hoddle in the team hotel, knowing that if the manager clapped eyes on him then he might deliver the bullet. This is where the ex-international pro should come into his own, after all: a highly specific experience and not one you or we will ever have. Clearly Wrighty still felt the pain of his international disappointments, but sadly he was just not able to articulate that. He fluffed his lines, started sentences in the middle, stopped and tried again, eventually saying: "It was a nightmare."
He definitely had something to say, some experience to impart and we wanted to hear it but under the pressure of studio time restrictions, it appeared he panicked and just could get it together to give us the anecdote. This isn't untypical. It is understandable in some regards but ultimately it's just not up to scratch. By contrast, Lee Dixon had a prepared quip about how he had handed the phone to David Seaman when his knock-back came, which worked perfectly.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
Wednesday night offered a typical insight into Wrighty's tactical critique when he said that Daniel Sturridge needed to get in the box more. Nothing much more, nothing much less. He was probably right too. So, was this a good bit of insight that only an ex-international could have given us, or just the first floor in the skyscraper of punditry towers?
We're fairly sure that he's not asked onto any football show to give any tactical insight at all, and no-one is disappointed about that.
Leg squeezer geezer?
Time was, in his game show days, that Wrighty wasn't just a leg squeezer geezer. He was a hyperactive, wriggling creature who couldn't sit still for a minute. He'd grab any bit of you and thrash his head around as though receiving some sort of electrical charge. Has a reputation as a practical joker, a term which to many of us is a euphemism for tedious bore. Expect to get handed your best suit with the arse cut out of it at any moment.
We suspect the whole of Ian's post-playing career has been based largely on his banter abilities, willingness to do literally anything on TV and generally have-a-laugh, good time rock 'n' roll tendencies. We can understand this but as a viewer it can simply be a bit wearing and insufficiently insightful. Then again, we watch BBC4 and read books about the effect of LSD on the human brain.
Wrighty has definitely seen them given and he's gone down too easily, for me. But then again, his punditry gigs on TV rarely involve the need for extended improvisations and so he doesn't expose his reliance on the well-worn phrase too often. Also the tendency for his sentences to snap and fall apart reduces the impact of any cliché. On radio he lets people talk and isn't overly keen to assert the primacy of his own ex-pro views, which is a good trait.
Why does he get gigs?
The silly kid exuberance of yore has somewhat dissipated, possibly through age or through a desire to be taken a bit more seriously. This has improved his work from what many might consider a very low starting standard. On 606 this weekend, he talked well about Sol Campbell's claims to have been overlooked as England captain because of his skin colour, essentially saying that Sol couldn't back up his statements. He repeated this on Wednesday night too. Relying on Wrighty to pontificate about complex and nuanced issues always makes us wince slightly apprehensively, but he was decent on this and brought something unique to the debate through his inside knowledge. It wasn't expertly delivered, and you had to pick through the mangled syntax to find the essence but his meaning was nonetheless clear.
We think he gets gigs because despite the somewhat babbling incoherence that litters his work, he's probably a really good fella to be around and because back in the day, he gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure with some outrageously great goals. His extreme London-ness probably goes a long way in a media landscape dominated by the capital. He's employed as a good vibes man, not as an analyst and we all need some good vibes. Wright might not know exactly what it is that he means, but he means it.
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.