Having a Pop at the Pundits

They get let off the hook week in week out. As the game of football has grown and more matches are broadcast live on a multitude of channels so standards have dropped.

No, I’m not talking about players who can’t score or defend or even move for that matter or referees who can’t tell a handball from an offside or a ball out of play. These days they do not escape as camera angles and technology and experts dissect every wrong move, every missed opportunity and every poor decision.

What about the experts though? Who is monitoring them? Why isn’t there a dubious pundit panel alongside the mysterious dubious goals one? Why is there no Global Head of Punditry, rigourously assessing the likes of Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Robbie Savage? (Although granted the latter may need a whole dubious committee of his own)

I don’t think it is a bold statement to suggest, indeed, categorically state that the state of British football punditry is at an all time low. Mark Lawrenson, in hair terms the Donald Trump of punditry, looks bored by his own presence in a studio. Michael Owen seems to have been bought the Complete Works of Colemanballs, digested every word and is determined to use each gaffe on BT Sport and Glenn Hoddle for all his media and ex-pro sycophants who lament his loss to the game and his tactical nous still conjures up the spirit of Eileen Drewery. A man who seems to amazingly impress all his fellow pundits with his “knowledge of the game”, “tactical acumen” and bewilder them as to “why there seems to be no room for him in today’s game” yet still to my clearly untrained ear talks absolute twaddle when he comes anywhere near a live microphone. You could say much the same for Harry Redknapp and his financially astute dog.

Here’s an example for you. BT Sport have the goal-fest that was Norwich v Liverpool the other week. Prior to kick off Michael Owen, Steve McManaman and Glenn Hoddle are perplexed by Jurgen Klopp’s decision to start with Robert Firmino up front as opposed to Christian Benteke. Firmino gets a hammering from the team and to a lesser extent Klopp for going with Firmino. The fact that the pundit’s preferred choice of Benteke has played a 90 minute version of footballing statues in recent outings counts for nothing as there is abject bewilderment that Firmino should get a look in ahead of the former Villa goal machine. Sure enough Firmino scores 2 goals and narrowly misses a hat-trick in a man-of -the-match performance for Liverpool.

Later on in the game with Liverpool 3-1 down, Klopp substitutes Jordan Ibe and brings on Adam Lallana. Glenn Hoddle is beside himself, his tactical know-how just cannot comprehend how “the lad” and the “really talented young player” can be hauled off being one of the only members of Liverpool’s squad who can “directly influence the game”. I personally was also beside myself thinking if Hoddle had been watching the same game as me. Ibe had beaten his opposing full-back early on in the game and then faded into obscurity, offering nothing offensively and failing to do any tracking back, constantly exposing Alberto Moreno. Hoddle had other ideas though but strangely went quiet when shortly after Klopp’s dodgy substitution Liverpool proceeded to quickly go 4-3 up. How much Glenn Hoddle could give still give to the game of football, if only he was given the opportunity!

This week, one Liverpool fan site has polled its readers and who came out as player of the month? Why, none other than Roberto Firmino. I’m guessing for all of Owen’s, McManaman’s and Hoddle’s bluster Christian Benteke wasn’t troubling the scorer (as -per) in that poll!

Now there may not be, at present, a dubious pundit panel, but there is a TV Anchor, in this case Jake Humphrey. Did he expose the pundits for their nightmare in Norwich?

No. Of course not and that’s the problem. Players and referees are pulled apart and their every action or lack of it exposed and criticised. There is no problem with that. It’s a professional game after all but when pundits get it wrong, particularly so spectacularly wrong, then the host should point it out and expose them for it. They are paid well too as is the host and it would sure make a change from the blase “bon-hommie” that exists currently. Match of the Day can be almost unwatchable as Gary Lineker chortles along with his pundit pals whilst the in-jokes keep coming. All Jake Humphrey had to say was, “So, Steve, Glenn and Michael. Robert Firmino man of the match and an inspired substitution from Jurgen Klopp. Not such a good day for you guys was it?”

Incidentally, what is it with Steve McManaman? He really does need a suitable haircut for his age. At this rate and if he ages badly he’s one step away from becoming Mick Hucknall.

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Ex-LFC Player Pundits – A Short Rant

Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool with a fair amount of hype. There’s no doubting that the appointment of Klopp following the sacking of Brendan “David Brent” Rodgers was quite a coup for Liverpool F.C. He brings some much needed life to the club after the endless droning from Rodgers about “character” and “the group”. Now things are measured in terms of “this moment” and whether the football or decision making on the pitch is “cool” or not. Whatever Klopp brings to the party, things are certainly not going to be dull.

In his first press conference, the former Dortmund manager quipped about the British press, saying that he had heard a lot about them and that it was up to them to prove all that he had heard was wrong. The assembled football journalists that crowded into that press conference were charmed and Klopp probably bought himself some time with them in terms of getting things right at Anfield. However, there was one section of the football media that were not in attendance that day and seem ready to crank up the pressure on “the normal one” from the get go.

Step forward the ex-LFC player pundits.

There are usually warning signs that a Liverpool manager is about to be given his P45. Press conferences become a bit awkward, “people outside the club” with “agendas” are often spoken about and as the paranoia really begins to set in the former players in the press start getting blamed for the current incumbent’s inevitable fate. Houllier, Hodgson and Rodgers are prime examples of this belief that they had somehow become victims of these mysterious outside influences before finally biting the dust at Anfield. It is something I’ve never really bought into although I’ve found the behaviour of certain ex-LFC players now plying their trade with the likes of Sky and BT Sport somewhat sinister.

It’s almost as if the classic British media trick of building someone up only to take glee in knocking them back down has been triggered early in some of them. Maybe the clocks changing back to Greenwich Mean Time has confused the likes of Souness, Carragher and McManaman somewhat?

Following the weekend’s visit of Southampton in the Premier League, Souness and Carragher were up in arms and that was just at half-time. They complained about the shape, the balance of the side, nothing having changed since Klopp’s arrival and there being nothing to get excited about, particularly “for two Liverpool fans”. Now, of course, these guys are entitled and paid to have an opinion. Hold on a second though. This was Klopp’s third game in charge! He’s been in the job two weeks! Not only that he’s had a horrific injury list to contend with resulting in the only fully fit, available striker being the fourth choice Divock Origi. There may be talent lurking in there, but he’s fourth choice for a reason! This is also someone else’s team and an unbalanced squad full of forwards (if mainly on the treatment table), “number 10s” and lacking in wide players. It’s also a squad lacking in confidence following Brendan’s chopping and changing of formations and playing players out of position. It really didn’t matter who breezed into Liverpool the other week, this is something that’s going to take some time to put right.

Since Carragher turned pundit, he’s sadly become somewhat of a rent-a-gob for me, hamming up his comedy double act with his new best mate from Manchester, Gary Neville. As for Souness despite a stellar career as a player, this is a man who as a manager of Liverpool brought Julian Dicks to the club.

Outside of the cozy studio bonhomie of Sky, it was the earlier Europa League fixture against Rubin Kazin which sparked a pitch-side Steve McManaman to lose his cool. “They’d have been booed off if this was Rodgers”, he moaned before anguishing with words tossed around such as “poor”, “frustrating” and “not acceptable”. McManaman was a man close to bursting, his face bright red, looking if he was about to implode. What the former blind-alley merchant failed to recognise though was that this was game TWO! Klopp had barely had time to figure out who was going to post the next picture of him enjoying Liverpool’s nightlife and there stood Steve McManaman, badly in need of a haircut that suits his age, raging on the Anfield turf about how everything is just STILL so poor a full 180 minutes into Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool reign.

Klopp needs time at Liverpool and he’ll get it, just like Brendan Rodgers did before him. This isn’t Leeds United or Aston Villa we are talking about here where a manager’s life expectancy is shorter than that of a mayfly.

Personally, I couldn’t understand why McManaman was so upset. It’s not as if Klopp was holding the club to ransom, refusing to sign a contract extension before jetting off on a free transfer to Madrid now was it?

Quiet Brendan!!! Okay?

Brendan Rogers needs to be quiet.

In fairness, the likelihood of Brendan ever being totally silent is going to be somewhat slim. If I’m honest I’d struggle in that respect too! However, when it comes to media appearances Brendan seems to focus on talking in terms of quantity rather than quality. Rogers is like the soundbite equivalent of the 24 hour plumber. Seemingly, always on call to say something, (indeed anything!) to a media outlet at any time of day or night. Comfortable in terms of any topic, but not necessarily able to stick to it. Happy to provide a quote but not a short one. Always obliging to critique a player or performance but likely to include the words, “terrific”, “resiliency”, “to be fair”, “okay”, “group”, “mentality”, “intensity”, “technicians”,.. Well I think you get the idea. Indeed, you can probably put all those words in one sentence, possibly in any order and have an actual quote.

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. We all cringed throughout the Channel 5, “Being Liverpool” documentary. All I need to say here is “envelopes”. On top of that, some of his musings have been quite frankly a bit weird. Take the, “magic carpet ride of development”, for example or the “My biggest mentor is myself because I’ve had to study, so that’s been my biggest influence.”

I also worry about what makes Brendan tick sometimes. Apart from enjoying being football’s rent-a-quote there’s the image focus. The waistline, the teeth, the tan, the flash car, the trophy girlfriend. Of course, if the man’s winning football matches then he can do what he likes with his personal life for the majority of Liverpool fans. Indeed, I’m not one to worry about what somebody does in private per say. Yet, for someone who portrayed the family man when coming to the club to change his appearance and personal circumstances in such a short space of time, together with a love of the personal spotlight, poses a question mark for me about Brendan’s make up. You can’t take issue with the fads of the modern day player and display some of them yourself.

None of what I’ve pointed at so far though is my biggest concern.

Sometimes, Brendan can’t help himself. He can’t help but say too much and this puts him under far too much pressure. A pressure that shouldn’t exist and that he heaps upon himself. Surely being manager of Liverpool Football Club brings enough pressure on its own?

Take the Raheem Sterling situation. Whatever the rights and let’s be frank, serious wrongs of Sterling and his agent’s position, let’s be honest Brendan’s loose lips haven’t helped matters. “I think he is the best young player in European football at the moment,” he enthused last year, “He is 19 years of age and I don’t see anyone better… His overall performance has shown so much maturity and, for me, he is the best young player in European football at the moment.” Are we seriously not going to expect that direct quote  to be used in any future contract negotiation? Why did Brendan have to go that far in his assessment of Sterling anyway? What was the thought process here?

Here’s another quote regarding Sterling with Rogers talking about the initial switch to the 3-4-3 formation. “At Newcastle Raheem Sterling played as one of the wide players. So what did I get out of that game apart from a loss? I learned that Raheem probably won’t be able to play wide in what I was looking to do because he’s not in the game enough. He was on the side.” Surprisingly, Rogers played Sterling at wing-back in the very next match after this quote and in subsequent games. Why say this in the first place? Surely, the critique of Sterling isn’t necessary or helpful to start with and less so when you proceed to persist with something you’ve apparently already “learned” doesn’t work.

Okay, let’s go and show some terrific character by putting wee Sterling to one side for a moment. Here’s another senseless classic from Brendan: “Look at Tottenham. If you spend more than £100 million, you expect to be challenging for the league.” Now I don’t have to explain this one do I? We can see how silly this looks now. I could quote Rogers endlessly in making this point. He talks so much and at such length that there are web pages dedicated to his “wisdom”. He’s even been compared to David Brent. Worryingly, a list of quotes from Brent and Rogers proves very difficult to pin-point exactly who they should be attributed to! Brendan causes unnecessary problems for himself and the club by talking. Not just talking, but talking far too much.

I say all this as a lifelong Liverpool fan who supports Brendan Rogers as the manager and can see what he has done, under the current owners and their philosophy, particularly in the transfer market. Brendan has a difficult enough job on his hands without making things any further tricky for himself. He’s a young manager and essentially still learning his trade. He deserves the time to be a success at Liverpool.

Someone should have a quiet word with him though.

Sssssssssshhhhhhhhh!!! Okay?!!