Is football being catered to dummies?
Central Coast Mariners goal keeper Mark Bosnich fails to stop a direct penalty. AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Watch the post match analysis of any game and you are guaranteed to hear the same spiel regurgitated from the “experts” on the game.
Phrases like “a great keeper can make an important save after long periods of inactivity” or “he needs time to adjust to the physicality of the game” and “there’s contact” as they slowdown the video to see a player acclimatise a foul.
In England I had to endure Gary Lineker & Co every Sunday at ten. Since my move to Australia it’s been worse. I’ve been forced (although I now mute it) to listen to Mark Bosnich, Andy Harper and some bloke not even worth mentioning.
There are a few qualities that viewers looks for in a pundit- background, knowledge/preparation, communication and likeability. If a pundit has any two of these, the chances are that they can do their job adequately.
A good footballer via proxy does not make you a good pundit. However, performing and experiencing the game at the highest level could help. From what Sir Alex Ferguson or Mourinho says at half time, to the training regimes or contacts still in the game (inside information). These can all add depth of understanding when watching a game of football, making your analysis more incisive and believable than your competitors.
Mark Bosnich is marketed as one of Australia’s best exports. On paper this may be true, but the reality is somewhat different.
After signing on a free in 1999 to Manchester United, he miraculously made it through one season as the first choice keeper. This was not through ability but as a consequence of the poor performances of Massimo Taibi dubbed “The Venetian Blind”.
The following summer his contract was unceremoniously terminated and he was replaced by Fabien Barthez. He then went onto Chelsea where he was infamously sacked for cocaine abuse and managed a mere five appearances in three years.
His best season was the 1995-1996 season where he helped Aston Villa to a top four finish. However the lasting memory of that season was Bosnich insulting the Tottenham fans with a Nazi salute, knowing full well they had a large Jewish following.
Andy Harper plied his trade in Australian football, with a career total of one hundred and eighty games and thirty nine goals but he seems to be more famous for his biography on Jonny Warren entitled Sheila’s, Wogs and Poofters.
He has also hosted/commentated on a series of international tournaments and was incorrectly credited as being a capped Socceroo while hosting the 2002 world cup for Channel Nine.
His highest profile job to date was as the CEO of Sydney FC but resigned a year into the job after being “laughed out of the boardroom”.
To clarify, my aim is not to belittle Bosnich and Harper but to highlight how Fox Sports falsely implies that these gentlemen are the esteemed experts for their elite profile.
When Bosnich is introduced on the show, it is as an ex Man United player. It is Fox Sports who subtlety insinuates that because he is ex Manchester United player, he is a better commentator.
This is the same reason Harper was incorrectly credited with being a Socceroo in 2002.
This in essence gives them false credence for their views, when it hasn’t been earnt.
Given their respective backgrounds it’s hardly surprising that they make a dull and ill informed duo. Fox Sports preferring to play up their disagreements to add depth to a shallow and characterless show.
The producer no doubt hoping that the audience will find their arguments endearing. It’s not.
In addition a lack of knowledge is forgivable, however this can be easily remedied with good preparation, which they still don’t seem prepared to do.
The least important of the four is likability. Gary Neville’s behaviour as a Manchester United player is the very definition of what is wrong with footballers. Rough all over, loud and obnoxious. The exact opposite of Thierry Henry.
However, since joining the Sky Sports team his transformation as a pundit has been exemplary. The combination of a love for the game, experience at the top level and straight talking approach is exactly what the game needs more of. Even his orgasm during the Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League game was a season highlight and a throwback to fanzone on Sky sports where opposing fans commentate on games.
So, why do they still have their jobs? Are there are no better alternatives? Are those in charge of the show are happy?
I suspect the latter to be true. Football is reaching a larger audience, many whom have never watched or even played the game. This has had a variety of contrasting consequences.
On the positive side more money has been made available with EPL clubs now receiving $40 million more each per season due to TV deals which are broadcast globally, including Australia.
In addition the popularity of football in Australia on the up (to the dismay of some) and one would expect to see more football pitches and staff available which, in time will see the quality of the A league and National team improve as the grassroots of the game are strengthened.
However, the flip side is that with increased popularity comes increased risk. We live in a world where being politically correct and appealing to the masses is key.
There are a few reasons why the current situation is so infuriating. Firstly, there are no alternative shows. By virtue of this monopoly, competition is low suppressing change.
Secondly, this is a job they are paid to do, indirectly through the viewer’s subscription fees. When you pay for a service, you expect to get their money’s worth. When you don’t, the feeling is one of frustration and a desire for change.
Finally, the longer Bosnich and Harper are on the air the more acclimatised the viewers become and the more secure they are in their roles.
The sad truth is if Fox Sports/Sky Sports did have someone who was knowledgeable, likeable, of good football pedigree and was able to communicate that, some viewers may be alienated and the current crop of pundits would look bad.
Is football being catered for dummies or are we dummies for letting it happen?