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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Britain Loves an Underdog… Sometimes.

The British love a sporting underdog. We revel in a “giant killing” in the F.A. Cup, unless it’s our team being slayed of course! We watched in our millions late into the night when Dennis Taylor, the plucky Irish funster, beat Steve Davis the boring, safe, winning machine in the last frame on the final black. More recently we cheered on Garbiñe Muguruza as she went toe-to-toe with Serena Williams in this years Wimbledon Ladies Final as she threatened to make an impossible come back from 5-1 down in the last set.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of the British sense of fair play when it comes to sport and we like to make heroes out of the unlikeliest people. Step forward Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and any junior football team paraded annually in the local press for going a full season without winning a game and getting thrashed every week 62-0 but never giving up, tuning out every week and with the goalkeeper suffering repetitive strain injury from retrieving the ball from the back of the net so often week in, week out.

Strange then that this sense of fair play and supporting the underdog doesn’t seem to apply in other aspects of our country. London Underground workers staged a strike last week over Boris Johnson’s plans to introduce night trains. Whilst this may seem a good idea it’s somewhat of a vanity project for Boris and something he basically announced on the fly, without discussing with anyone about how it might work and probably more problematically how much it might cost.

Transport for London’s proposals to drivers terms and conditions for pulling off Boris’s night trains see drivers faced with rotas where the amounts of night shifts they face are totally set apart from any realistic work-life balance one might expect. Imagine if you suddenly faced the prospect of having to change your hours of work from the daytime to the middle of the night. Particularly, if you fancy spending time with your family when you’re not working. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be too impressed?

Surprising then the amount of vitriol against the tube workers from many in what seems to be a tale of the underdog, in this case the ordinary working tube driver, against the establishment figure and Bullingdon bully boy Boris Johnson. Ah! But look at how much they get paid and ooooh! Look at their holidays, those greedy tube drivers! Why do tube drivers get paid more than nurses? Greedy, overpaid, underworked tube drivers!!!

Strange how when we look at ordinary working people and what they are worth compared to other ordinary working people we seem to reason that X gets paid more than Y so X is totally underserving and should be only getting paid the same amount as Y. It’s the race to the bottom and the politics of envy.

The ordinary working people of Britain should be looking at the tube drivers and underground staff and lending them their full support against Boris and his tax avoiding top earning, Tory donating friends. We should applaud them too in that their perceived high wages and generous terms and conditions shouldn’t be a stick to beat them with but a model for us all to follow and fight for. The RMT Union is a strong one, perhaps the last of its kind. It shows just why all ordinary working people should join a union as a matter of course. Together, through a union, ordinary workers can be heard and have a strong powerful voice against poor working practices and the attempts by employers to treat their staff unfairly. Instead of envying tube staff, we should be using them as the model to springboard fairer wages and terms and conditions for all.

David Cameron wants to opt out of the European rules on employment rights. Those rights entitle you to fair hours, annual leave, sickness and maternity benefits, redress against unfair dismissal and so on. At a time when unions have been vilified by a right-wing media and membership is on the wane we now find ourselves in need of them more than ever as workers rights that we have all become accustomed to are under threat. London Underground workers should inspire us not anger us. Whilst austerity continues to bite, whilst the vulnerable are attacked, whilst the rich get richer and contribute the least to society as a whole and whilst the political classes merge into a faceless force for the few and not the many; let’s support Underground staff in their battle with Boris.

It’s actually a battle we all need them to win before they come after us next.

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?!!