So many viewers found the co-commentary at the World Cup by former Manchester United, Everton and England player, Phil Neville, totally unintelligible, that the BBC was inundated by complaints. But was it the hapless Neville who was to blame, surely the fault lies with the BBC for engaging someone for the biggest football tournament in the world, without first checking his ability to do the job? You would have thought at least some trial runs on lesser important occasions and training on what’s expected would have been forthcoming. I have suggested before to the BBC that they consider some training when they employ ex-footballers in their co-commentary and pundit roles. They should also be given some clear indication what their role should be.
Another former footballer who irritated me as a co-commentator at the World Cup was Robbie Savage. His comments were no more than constant slating of the referee’s decisions. Is that what he is employed for? Surely what we expect from former players is to provide insight and analysis of play and tactics to increase the enjoyment and understanding of the ordinary viewer, not a lot of often misinformed criticism of refereeing decisions. One of the long standing pundits on Match of the Day received a considerable amount of praise when he retired after the World Cup but they couldn’t resist reminding him of his comments when Alex Ferguson, as he was then, changed his team bringing in young players. ‘You’ll never win anything with kids,’ he said only for Manchester United to win the treble that season. To me however his biggest clanger was when Wycombe Wanderers under Laurie Sanchez had a good cup run and was featured on Match of the Day. Their winning goal was disputed as offside but the referee, on one of the rare occasions when a referee had come on television to explain a decision, said that the scorer had received the ball from a second phase of play. Alan Hanson ridiculed him and said he had never heard of such a thing as a second phase of play. If only he had asked any member of the refereeing fraternity he would have discovered how out of date he was and saved himself from being shown up. No wonder referees do not come on television to explain decisions, when they get such treatment.
Of course we do get insight into the world of professional football but sometimes not perhaps in a way that brings credit to the game. Phillip Neville took his place as a pundit on Match of the Day commenting on the ManchesterCity v StokeCity match. You may have seen Marne Biram Diouf score Stokes winning goal after a wonderful run that started just outside his own penalty area, shrugging off the challenges of two Manchester players, Aleksander Kolorov and Vincent Kompany before putting the ball past England goalkeeper Joe Hart. But he should never have got that far, said Neville, Kolorov should have brought him down knowing that his teammate couldn’t as he was already on a yellow card. No doubt that’s a sentiment that would be shared by other professional footballers but what about the amateur and youth footballers who watch the programme. What it is saying is that if your goal is threatened, then you should be prepared to stop your opponent by fair or even foul means if necessary. Is this really the message the BBC through its pundits should be giving to its viewers?
As I’ve said before the BBC through the popularity of its programme has a great opportunity to not only to entertain but also to educate football fans. It’s a pity that after its much vaunted fifty years it is still failing to do so.