The Premier League should have the best pundits – and here is how we will get them

Oscar Howie launches the #utternonsense campaign against mediocre punditry

There is a contemporary school of thought that suggests blogging and its fashionable nephew micro-blogging have reached the point in their media maturity where they begin to influence rather than merely reflect the course of world events. That may very well be true. It seems implausible that Sina Weibo’s 500 million users do not exert some non-trivial pressure upon the Chinese Communist Party.

The purpose of this blog is more modest than all that. The volatile and unpredictable course of Premier League events will be entirely unaltered by this blog or by the deluge of tweets that will begin on Saturday. But it might just be possible to alter the way that we consume these events.

First I hope to confirm that whilst those selected by the purveyors of top flight football to attend their focus groups are content to absorb or ignore hundreds of hours of appalling punditry in the forthcoming season, there exists a group of football fans who are capable of identifying and opposing the utter nonsense these hand-picked experts put forth. Then, I hope to start an insurgent movement against cliché, repetition and hyperbole by proposing some entry-level rules of engagement for all those who will divulge their opinions on television during the forthcoming season.

I am confident that I am not alone in desiring insightful analysis because I know of newspapermen and statisticians and bloggers who deliver it every day. And because I know of Gary Neville. Indeed, the emergence of Neville as the punditry gold-standard seemed to indicate that Sky Sports had noticed they were producing a sub-standard product in the post-Gray era, and the excellent Monday Night Football was a strong response. That television had awoken to that fact that there was more to say about defending than pointing out failed offside traps and errant marking at corners was a revelation.

Sadly Gary and his rapidly-improving, defence-dissecting side-kick Jamie Carragher cannot cover every game on every channel (one of the many downsides of a television deal that turns a West Ham visit to Villa Park into the seventh Premier League spectacle of a weekend). Phil Neville may improve – he seemed to always be doing so during his playing days – but for now it appears that the BBC have learnt the wrong lesson completely in identifying a name, rather than an analytical mind at ease in front of the camera, as the secret ingredient. In any case, the Beeb’s continued employment of Alan Shearer should be justification alone for a reconsideration of the merits of the licence fee. BT Sport have invited David James (who believes Luis Suarez’s 31 league goals last season were just “a bonus” for a Liverpool team that will not miss him) and Steve McManaman (who explained on Sunday that players have no excuses when it’s raining) back for a second season. I am sure that James, McManaman and their peers don’t believe the nonsensical things they are prone to say, but being capable of articulating your thoughts accurately and coherently without inadvertently inverting your own argument or requiring the viewer to guess what you mean should be a minimum requirement. [Note]

If we are to be told week after week that we are watching the best league in the world and are being asked to pay premium rates for the privilege, then we should be given punditry that meets that standard. (A new justification is required for pundits’ inevitable insistence that the Premier League is indeed the best since Atletico broke the La Liga duopoly, but it is probably too much to ask that this justification does not glorify the disruptive tactics utilised by lesser players to prevent great players from being great to watch.)

The billions spent on broadcasting rights suggest the majority of football fans are sated, but the minority must expose this numbing mediocrity. It is clear that the established channels of televisual insurrection are not powerful enough to overturn the status quo: 445 complaints to the BBC could not dislodge Phil Neville. What is required is a tireless insurgency campaign, waged directly with the protagonists: the pundits and their production vehicles. Twitter grants us direct access to these individuals and organisations, and this is the battleground where the #utternonsense campaign might exert some influence.

Here are the areas where progress might be made most quickly by highlighting errors and suggesting improvements:

  1. Pundits should be pundits: simply describing replays is neither necessary nor sufficient
  2. Provision of pundits’ own opinion can be assumed: “in my opinion” and, especially, “for me” are completely unnecessary
  3. Repetition is unacceptable: after adverts, half time is only 5 minutes long
  4. Lazy English should be eliminated: “inconsistent at times” is synonymous with “inconsistent”
  5. Cliché should be used sparingly, if at all: 90% of the audience already knows the first goal is crucial; the other 10% won’t notice
  6. Managers’ interviews must be treated with extreme scepticism: nothing Brendan “David Brent” Rogers or Jose “Little Horse” Mourinho ever says should be taken at face value

I begin this exciting new season hopeful that the #utternonsense campaign will demonstrate that the hashtag is indeed mightier than mediocrity, and that the experience of watching football will be better by the season’s end than it is at the start.


Note: ITV do not cover the Premier League, so their efforts are technically beyond the scope of this blog. But just in case anyone from ITV happens to see this, I would like to volunteer for the next focus group that is asked to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of Andy Townsend.

Oscar Howie

Oscar is an elite sport watcher and full-time pundit with an above-average ability to be more competitive than able. His first sporting hero was Murray Walker and his most recent is Aaron Ramsey. Tweet him @OscarHowie

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