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The phoney art of football punditry

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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Date:Sunday August 10 2008
Time: 12:05PM


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
10/08/2008 12:19:00
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.
10/08/2008 12:20:00
Eamonn Dunphy is hia name.
10/08/2008 12:21:00
his name
10/08/2008 12:24:00
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.
10/08/2008 12:34:00
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
10/08/2008 14:27:00
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.
10/08/2008 14:31:00
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
10/08/2008 14:49:00
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
10/08/2008 15:07:00
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
10/08/2008 15:13:00
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