Paul Merson: Pundit, manager, comedian

Date published: Monday 20th June 2016 12:01

Let’s talk about…
England are making six changes to the starting line-up for the Slovakia game? What exactly happened during that 24-hour sexathon?


Spot the difference.

‘Wayne Rooney heads a list of six high-profile changes to England’s starting lineup for the final Group B fixture against Slovakia tonight…’ – The Guardian.

‘Roy Hodgson is set to take a massive gamble and make SIX changes for tonight’s Euro 2016 showdown with Slovakia’ – The Sun.

‘Roy Hodgson is preparing to take a major gamble with England’s European Championship prospects by making six changes, including resting Wayne Rooney for tonight’s final group B game against Slovakia’ – The Times.

‘Roy Hodgson is ready to take a mighty gamble with England’s Euro 2016 campaign here tonight by making SIX changes’ – Daily Mirror.

‘Roy Hodgson will take a huge Euro 2016 gamble by resting his captain, Wayne Rooney, for England’s final Group B game against Slovakia here tonight’ – Daily Telegraph.

‘Wayne Rooney will be rested tonight as Roy Hodgson prepares to take a huge gamble by making six changes to his starting line-up for the showdown with Slovakia’ – Daily Express.

‘Roy Hodgson is taking a huge gamble by resting Wayne Rooney against Slovakia tonight’ – Daily Star.

‘Roy Hodgson is ready to take a huge Euro 2016 gamble by resting captain Wayne Rooney for tonight’s clash against Slovakia’ – Daily Mail.

Eight newspapers, all reporting the exact same story. But the Mail have the back-page ‘exclusive’. Well done to them.


Sky is the limit
‘Sky sources: Jamie Vardy to start England’s Euro 2016 clash with Slovakia’ – Sky Sports. Their article was published at 9am. How could they possibly have known picked up a newspaper?


Roo beauty
Roy Hodgson might think that England’s victory over Wales would spare him media criticism, at least until the next game. He would think wrong.

‘Reckless Roy should have put Roo in deeper role much sooner,’ screams Charlie Wyett in The Sun. ‘Wayne Rooney claims this has been six years in the making,’ he writes.

What Rooney said, of course, was the following: “I think I said it when I was about 24, that one day I would go back into midfield and that has happened over the last couple of months.”

‘Six years in the making’ or ‘six years ago he said he would play in midfield one day‘? The former is catchier, certainly. Less accurate, but catchier.

But Wyett continues:

‘It is a bit bizarre Roy Hodgson only decided to put his captain in midfield a couple of weeks ago.

‘After two excellent displays in France, Rooney will give way to Jordan Henderson tonight as Hodgson makes six changes against Slovakia.

‘But have no doubt, the Manchester United star is set to be England’s key midfielder during the rest of the tournament.

‘The decision to play Rooney in a deeper role, particularly considering the attacking options available to the Three Lions, is the right decision as there is no longer a massive reliance on his goalscoring.’

So, to clarify, it is ‘bizarre’ that Hodgson is playing Rooney in midfield only now, even though Wyett himself admits that the move has come about as ‘there is no longer a massive reliance on his goalscoring’. How can you have both?

‘Yet it is ludicrous, bordering on reckless, that Hodgson has only just decided this is the best position for the 30-year-old, who played in United’s midfield last season.’

Rooney did play in United’s midfield last season – for six games from April to May, according to the reliable transfermarkt. Was it ‘ludicrous, bordering on reckless’ for Louis van Gaal not to play him there sooner?

And considering that Rooney’s midfield role has been ‘six years in the making’, how much blame can Hodgson, manager of England for only three of those years, take? Fabio Capello failed to heed the warning, too.

Wyett would presumably also tell Sir Alex Ferguson that his decision not to play Rooney in midfield at any point after 2010 was ‘ludicrous, bordering on reckless’. Right?

And how ‘ludicrous’ that Wyett picked an England team in February that featured Rooney as a striker? Not half as ludicrous as picking Ross Barkley, we grant you…


The Magic Man
Few teams have truly impressed at Euro 2016 thus far. France have faltered, Germany have struggled, and Spain were poor in their opener.

Paul Merson is unsure who the current favourites are to win the tournament. He has aired his views to talkSPORT.

“I’d probably go for Spain, because of the way they played against Turkey,” said Merson, building up to the killer line. “But I watched the game before that and I think I could set up a team here to hold these out.”

That is Paul Merson, whose last result as Walsall boss – his only spell as a manager – ended with a 5-0 loss to Brentford in League One in February 2006.

“They’re not going to bomb the ball in the box and be all-action. You’ve just got to stay patient and concentration,” added Merson, seemingly oblivious that that made absolutely no sense.

But the former Arsenal midfielder was not done there. He continued his war against the Spains and Germanys of this world mere minutes later.

“I don’t see anybody in the tournament that I look at and think ‘oh, you don’t want to be playing them’,” said Merson.

“Germany are another team – they’re a bit like Spain, y’know, passy, passy, don’t really hurt you.”

So concludes the thoughts of a legitimate football pundit on reigning world champions Germany and reigning European champions Spain who, between them, have won the last four major international tournaments. The ‘passy, passy, don’t-really-hurt-you’ merchants.


The Magic Man II
Do not fear; Merson is not done.

“This is what the squad’s all about. We’ve put ourselves in a position now where the rest of the players are good players. There’s not that much of a difference between all 22.

“If Jack Wilshere comes in for Dele Alli, you couldn’t tell me who’s the better player out of the both of them.”

Except you can, Paul. You did. Two months ago.

“I still think Jack Wilshere is the better player,” Merson quite literally told Sky Sports News on April 1. “We haven’t got another Jack Wilshere. I’d drop Alli back.”


The Magic Man III
One last line from Merson now.

“I think Walker should get a rest. He’s been the best player of the tournament if I’m being honest. I think he’s been absolutely outstanding.”

Dimitri Payet and Andres Iniesta want a word, Merse…


Mr Marmite
There is only one place to go after a Paul Merson hat-trick: A Robbie Savage sitter.

‘Joe Hart made a mistake against Wales,’ Savage writes in the Daily Mirror. ‘He should have kept out Gareth Bale’s free-kick.

‘But he apologised to his team-mates afterwards, it didn’t cost England the game and they didn’t get knocked out of Euro 2016 because of it,’ adds the Welshman in defence of England’s No 1. Suggestions that Hart should be dropped due to the error are ‘utter nonsense’, apparently.

Here is Savage on October 3, 2013, after Hart made a high-profile mistake for Manchester City against Bayern Munich.

‘Are you telling me that an England goalkeeper wouldn’t expect to keep out a 25-yard shot within his reach just because it was well-struck?’

How about a 35-yard shot that was well within his reach, and wasn’t particularly ‘well-struck’?

In that article, Savage claimed that Hodgson ought to consider dropping Hart after the mistake. Of course he did.


Mediawatch has the utmost respect for the Daily Mirror, who conform to the inexplicable inability of many to not be able to spell Jack Wilshere’s name. It is not ‘Wilshire’. It really is quite a simple surname.


It’s a date
Eight months ago, Arsene Wenger made some pretty innocuous, rather inane comments on his future as Arsenal manager.

“I am resolute to commit absolutely until the last day of my contract to bring back big success to this club, and leave as well one day in a position where it can do even better when I leave,” said the Frenchman on October 16 of last year.

The above quotes produced the following back page from the Daily Mirror:

‘Arsene Wenger hints at QUITTING Arsenal in just two years,’ reads the headline to the story on their website on that date. The ‘hint’? That Wenger said: “I am resolute to commit absolutely until the last day of my contract.” His current deal expires in 2017, of course. Some (sane) people argued that perhaps John Cross was reading a little too much into the comments.

Eight months later, and Steve Stammers of the Sunday Mirror blows the whole operation wide open. ‘Arsenal planning Arsene Wenger contract extension keeping him in charge for THREE more seasons,’ read the headline to his article.

Is the ‘Prem’s longest-serving boss’ no longer set ‘to quit in 19 months’?


Recommended reading of the day
Julien Laurens on France’s issues.

Daniel Harris on the emergence of Marcus Rashford.

Aleksander Losnegard on Marek Hamsik.


With thanks to Alan Perrie. If you see anything that could find residence on this page, let us know by emailing, and using ‘Mediawatch’ in the subject field.

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