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The phoney art of football punditry

As premier league teams get into their starting positions so the football pundits exercise their soundbite delivery. The practice relies on following conventional wisdoms. You can`t win anything with kids, such and such a team has bought well, this team hasn`t strengthened, not enough English backbone and so on and so forth. Elvis Costello once said that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Talking about football is a substantial part of the football 'experience` with match previews, post match analysis, team and player statistics to mull over. The art of football punditry relies on following the herd, taking the path of least resistance, saying those things that some may disagree with but the majority of partisan support will buy into. There are supporters of 19 premiership teams who will want to believe negatives about their competition and only one teams supporters who'll be interested in the positives.

Those that have spent most money during the summer transfer period will usually be deemed by pundits to have strengthened. The conclusion relies on not considering too carefully the players that have left to fund the purchases or the history of failed signings from Morientes, through Veron to Shevchenko. In the case of most transfers you can have little real idea whether any individual transfer strengthens, weakens or makes no difference to a team until the season is at least half way through. Yet invariably purchases of players are seen as strengthening a squad while the departure of players past their physical peak is considered as weakening it. That`s the conventional wisdom and therefore safe punditry.

Similarly it is safe to point out that the team that has conceded the fewest goals has the best defence. Yet extending the analysis to consider whether defensive strength has more to do with attacking strength at home which isn`t necessarily reflected in defensive performance away when more defending is needed rarely occurs to pundits. If it did then it would take too carefully constructed and delicate an argument to fit into a few seconds of soundbite punditry. That`s where punditry falls down. It`s entertainment. Give the public what you think they want to believe and do it in 20 seconds.

Pundits are results driven. Take a look at player ratings in most of the newspapers and they will be based on the result of the game and not individual performance. Drop points, even if by a flukey goal, an absurd refereeing decision or simple bad luck and that will determine a team and its players ratings far more than what they actually did over 90 minutes. The team that has emerged as victors even if they were total rubbish will be that with the highest ratings in almost every case. It serves the simple need and requires little thought to accept that a team that has won must always be better than one that hasn`t.

Many of the supposed 'high brow` (if any still exist) newspaper columnists are little better though you do still find the occasional piece with greater merit. All too few and far between though. Newspapers have to sell copies and so following popular opinion in football works in the same way as any other topical news item. Asylum seekers are all bad as are all foreign footballers.

The internet offers some opportunity to look beyond the pundits. That`s where you`ll find free thinkers now and more carefully considered and constructed arguments. It will still take some seeking out and invariably 90% of what you come across is no more carefully considered than most pundits and usually much poorer in presentation. But it is there if you find the right bloggers and forums.

As for the pundits you shouldn`t find them any more annoying than politicians, estate agents, used car salesmen and most involved in marketing. They are just telling you what they think that most of you want to hear. Dancing about architecture in fact.



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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday August 10 2008

Time: 12:05PM

Your Comments

It's a frustrating vicious circle because people just hoover up what they hear and regurtiate ad infinitum. The only channel with decent punditry is an Irish station called RTE, where Eamonn Murphy (I think that's his name) dares to challenge tired cliches like "Gerrard is world class" or "he's a top, top player." Personally, I rate Stewart Robson very highly, but he doesn't get much exposure beyond a small column in the Telegraph because he doesn't necessarily think English players have great backbone or that Michael Owen is a lovely chap. One of the greatest pleasures in viewing a game live is not being subjected to mind numbing dross like Shearer and being able to formulate your own opinion. Some people don't like to derivate from the safe cliches and get upset when you offer a different perspective. Bottom line, I look at what pundits on sky and especially the bbc and wonder, "what the hell are they getting paid somuch for? What insight are they providing that I couldn't provide myself?"
Little Dutch
I live in Ireland,and the punditry on RTE coverage is an absolute joy and far more entertaing than the games in alot of cases.It is the total opposite of punditry on British TV,youtube it and you'll see.Guardian football podcast is brilliant aswell.
Pking
Eamonn Dunphy is hia name.
Pking
his name
Pking
The fact that you can view RTE punditry on YouTube is another plus for the internet. As is the fact that a post in a comments section can alert you to its availability. You wouldn't get that information from the usual media.
Amos.
I also like the Guardian football podcast (better than the Times one), well researched and quite funny. I like Sid Low's reports about Spanish football. But they've also got quite a lot of "conventional wisdom" that Amos talked about. Paul Doyle's season preview is an example, he just has no clue about Arsenal's preparations and just makes his guess about our chances this season but still uses words like "systemic failure" etc. with a pundit's attitude without a pundit's knowledge. That's the broadsheets for you too.
Lou the Gunneress
Last season, I can't remember the match, but the feed on Setanta Canada lost the commentators feed- for about 15 minutes there was just the video and stadium sounds, no inane drivel by semi-literate commentators and it was fantastic, so much more enjoyable. I can see what's going on, it's not radio after all. It would be great to see all matches this way, or make it an option with an alternate audio track, maybe with just the name of the player possessing the ball as a small graphic like a video game.
elbondo
Hehe Elbondo that's what my dad's been doing for years - he'd mute the TV when he watches football - cos he feels "I've watched football for 30+ years and don't need their "help" in appreciating what's going on in a game cos they're just crap." So it's not only England or Canada, same 5h!t everywhere.
Lou the Gunneress
Something similar happened in Euro 2008, the lothsome duo of Motson and Lawrenson (does he actually think he's funny?) were lost due to a thunderstorm and radio 5 live's commentary was piped onto our screens. Much to the relief of the nation. The other thing that grinds my gears is the total lack ofresearch, pundits unabashedly admit knwoing nothing about the lesser lights of football. It's not a difficult job, surely it's not too much to ask a BBC pundit, who are paid by us (and if we refuse to pay them we go to prison) to do a couple of hours research? They are paid to offer us an insight.
Little Dutch
LD that's exactly why I think the BBC is worse in this regard. Sky you can expect they're putting on a show the Americanised way, treating it as TV entertainment, fine, at least you know that's what they set out to do. But the BBC, what happened to the Reithian "public service broadcasting" whose purpose is to "educate, inform, entertain"?
Lou the Gunneress
http://www.football365.com/john_nicholson/0,17033,8746_3640534,00.html Good article here that addresses that very point Lou.
Little Dutch
Not sure if you lads see the same Setanta covereage as we do here in the States, but Pat Dolan from the Setanta halftime show is brilliant as well. While he occasionally may also follow some conventional wisdom, I think he far often than most pundits goes out on a limb, disagrees with others, and offers some real insights and energy -- and in a funny way, as well.
devvil
They are certainly not paid to offer us any insight. They are just spoon-fed to us by their superiors who believe that all stupid Jo Public wants and 'needs' is some sport 'celebrity' to keep him content. It's just more dumbing down. LD's makes a great point that they don't even bother to do any basic research for their wages, which is pathetic, but the fact that they are allowed to get away with this is the bigger crime. Don't forget that Shearer didn't apply for the job - they called him.
Andy-bayor
Thanks LD, good article (and rant) there.
Lou the Gunneress
The worst part of it all is when they say things like "He is being played out of position" about Jack Wilshere, assuming that because he is left footed he is a left winger rather than a right winger. Not looking at the fact that he is obviousley going to be better on the right hand side. They also annoy me with their lack of knowledge about how good, or bad, a player is and who is in the squad past the first team.
Tom14
Really good article here! I totally agree. The fact is that there is a negative bias towards Arsenal so everything will be scrutinized much more than any other team. Once any type of journalism or punditry is biased it is no longer that. I agree that Setanta is quite good, I really do enjoy them in America but Fox Soccer Channel is the biggest joke going as far as sports analysts, they have no clue and are up Man U's backside at all times. Again, great write up, respect! God Bless!!!
Paulsito
I would big up those who write and comment on this blog. The articles and comments on here are very intelligent and constructive for the majority, I applaud you all!
Paulsito
Would like
Paulsito
Great article Amos, I think that the BBC TV pundits are the worse, I too have turned off the TV sound and listen to the radio intead, on many occasions. But one of my fave podcast is "Up all night" a World Football discussion programme with Dotun Adebayo, where he and other pundits talk to listeners about teams and players from around the world. It's a great podcast!
hackneyval
It has been a blight on the entertainment aspect of football for some time now. The tired cliches become all the more tiresome with every passing season. As much as I think Ian Wright needs to shut up in his misconstrued articles and interviews, he was utterly correct in asserting that BBC football punditry is terribly outdated - it has almost become a parody of itself.
Gunnerman
The thing that twists my ti*s the most is when to&&ers like Hansen, Lawrenson and big ears sit all smug, smarmy and orange looking, trying to see who can get thier head furthest ou the collective backside of Man Utd!!!1
LondonGooner
Then Man Utd fans try and convince people that the World is against them! JOKERS!
Tom14
I miss England but one thing I don't miss is the football punditry. I was there during the worst of the Vieira/red card hysteria and it was all I could do not to show up at the BBC and go postal. I'm glad we don't have access to these idiots over here. Bad enuf we get regular doses of skysports news. I get so sick and tired of the MU orgy, the begrudging admiration we get and the absolute glee when we fall of the rails.
jaelle
* fall off the rails
jaelle
The RTE panel is excellent, they take opposite views and argue their respective case forecefully, which is a delight, and even more so- entertaining. The pundit on Arsenal TV - Stuart Robson is excellent and makes some very astute observations about Arsenal and the players. The problem with pundity in general is that it serves the masses, i.e. those who dont know their football well and the tired cliches work well for them. After a while, once your understanding of the game grows, you figure out that they are full of crap.
prits
Just an example of how much of nothing they can put into a nothing article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2008/aug/12/premierleague.arsenal?gusrc=rss&feed=football
Lou the Gunneress
LTG - The pillock who scribbled that article says that Benitez has challenged the top two of Man Utd & Chelski mor ethan Wenger at Arsenal???? WTF is he on about! Ferkin moron!
LondonGooner
 

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