There’s an old chap in my local park who shouts instructions to the squirrels.
‘Get the nuts! GET THE NUTS!’ he’ll cry, showering nearby toddlers in a foul swill of saliva, Special Brew and utter lunacy.
‘Climb! Faster! Look out… CROW!’
The squirrels shake their little heads and go about their business of gathering supplies and looking for red squirrels to murder. By default they know a fair bit about squirreling, and the old tramp’s furious instruction is about as useful as a toilet brush made from Weetabix.
Increasingly, our World Cup TV pundits occupied a similar role. Babbling, gushing, frothing, gurgling, at times you may as well be seeking the professional opinion of a wheelie bin full of smashed snooker balls as look for any insight from television punditry.
The World Cup illuminated a growing demise in compelling punditry. Yes Steven Gerrard may be to ‘quarterback’ midfielders what Sepp Blatter is to kindly grandpas and/or competent heads of billion pound industries, but surely the real English concern is that Danny Mills genuinely believed Luis Suarez should be jailed for nibbling on a fellow pro like a Calippo.
But Mills is not alone.
‘Ban him forever!’ shrieks Robbie Savage . ‘Slash his hamstrings!’ barks Chris Waddle. ‘Winter is coming!’ cries Jon Snow, as ever knowing nothing.
Fabio less insightful than naan bread
Punditry should be the exchange of insightful, illuminating opinion from former professionals who have a unique perspective on the game. It is not Juninho murmuring like a frightened vole. It is not Robbie Savage talking as if his scrotum is filled with hot teaspoons. It is certainly not Thierry Henry looking so sexual he might as well be resting both of his immaculate testicles on your eyelids.
ITV is, of course, no better. Glenn Hoddle make a lot of sense but often looks like he’s spent the afternoon fist fighting with a swan. Ian Wright, despite the gurning and agonising restlessness is oddly likeable while Fabio Cannavaro, albeit the finest defender ever to have raked a calf, may as well be made of naan bread for all the intelligible insight he’s got to offer.
On ITV Lee Dixon sounds like a man who is picking up a dehumidifier from Argos, Patrick Vieira is so aggressively French he might as well be thrashing Stephen Fry to death with a baguette while over on the Beeb Rio Ferdinand couldn’t be less interesting if he was made from Rice Krispies, Coldplay songs and a musical about Kevin Costner doing a jigsaw of his own face.
But there are positives. The BBC’s Danny Murphy is thoughtful, eloquent and actually rather charming. On ITV, Gordon Strachan was refreshingly honest about how sad and unfair football can be, while Alan Shearer looks as home in the punditry role as he did in jamming an elbow into the ribs, spine and throat of opposing defenders.
Must try harder…
But the new Premier League season is just weeks away and is set to be as tight as Javier Mascherano’s pre-World Cup anus. Pundits, across the Match of the Day team in particular, need to do better. Admittedly their competition – the likes of Sky’s Jamie Redknapp and BT’s Michael Owen – are largely as enthralling as slightly moist ham, but still the BBC’s raging, lisping response to the Suarez business was almost as embarrassing as Uruguay’s bizarre sense of injustice.
Next season we need to demand as much from our Premier League pundits as we do from our clubs and players. Otherwise we’re just an old loon standing in the park, screaming at the squirrels.