Gary Lineker is now the story and we must learn to disagree with him

Will Ford
Lineker overwhelmed by BBC
Gary Lineker says Chelsea's disarray cost the Euro 2024 star.

We don’t know if you’ve noticed; we certainly have: Gary Lineker is now the story. Other than when he was forced to step back from Match of the Day duty over his criticism of the government’s asylum policy, which led fellow pundits to withdraw in solidarity while woke media outlets such as ourselves applauded the host for Bringing Politics Into Football, Lineker’s name has rarely carried much weight in our game.

There are some ex-players worth naming in news stories and some labelled, at best, as former [insert team here] player, or at worst (and you should be really skeptical of the value of their opinion in this case), are unnamed and unsignalled in the headlines of ‘Cristiano Ronaldo told to stop being a whiny little so-and-so’-type articles.

Lineker has typically been identified, more in hope than expectation from us click-hungry folk that one of the most famous and respected people in football media would lead to some decent traffic. That’s never been the case.

People flock to disagree with the opinions of Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Rio Ferdinand but haven’t typically cared what Lineker’s been saying, mainly because he’s said very little and what he has said – by the very nature of his role – hasn’t split opinion. Then he called the England team “sh*t”.

The comment – which provoked a response from Harry Kane thanks to a “pot-stirring” journalist – was made on his The Rest Is Football podcast, which has allowed Lineker to speak freely, having been hamstrung by both his role and the platform as host on the BBC. He’s been doing the two in tandem for a while, but significant blurring of the line between them has occurred this summer.

Alan Shearer and Micah Richards being mainstays on both clearly doesn’t help when attempting to distinguish between the two. Nor does their referencing of the Kane backlash in the next BBC programme (call us cynical, but we can’t help but feel Lineker and co. delighted in the opportunity to give the podcast a de facto plug in front of millions of terrestrial viewers). But it seems as though Lineker’s approach has changed too.

Whether it’s because we’re on the look-out for Lineker quotes now that his opinions are readily available on his podcast or because of a change of tack – either from the BBC, himself or an agreement between both parties – he appears to have been as outspoken as anyone in the coverage of the Euros this summer.

Before his podcast expletive Lineker described Harry Kane as “lethargic” on the BBC, claiming the striker needed to “do more”. And at half-time in England’s quarter-final win over Switzerland, amid speculation that they had all been watching a different game or had happy pills crushed into their coffees, Lineker claimed Phil Foden was “one of the best, if not the best, No. 10s in world football, playing in that way”.

Foden lost possession four times, more than anyone other than Harry Kane (7), completed two of his five dribbles, made one key pass, one tackle, no interceptions and his one shot was off target. He really wasn’t great, and quite apart from claiming his performance on Saturday provided evidence of him being a world-class footballer – which he unquestionably is in a Manchester City shirt – we reckon it warranted a place on the substitutes’ bench for the semi-final against the Netherlands.

But for a moment, we think because it was Gary Lineker, we second-guessed ourselves. We’ve got to learn to disagree with him.

That task was made easier having woken to the news on Sunday morning that he was tipping Frank Lampard for the England job, but it will remain a battle for a while, for us and we suspect others, to dissociate the old Lineker from the new.

He’s long been the voice of reason. If Lineker spoke, we listened, and usually agreed. And when it comes to matters apart from football, we feel pretty confident that will remain the case. But we will need to remind ourselves that it’s incredibly unlikely that his opinions on football – of which he looks set to give many – will always chime with our own.