The rise of the keyboard warrior is one of the biggest negatives about the internet and the TV football pundit is one of the most regular targets for such people. It seems that every pundit on TV has an army of critics ready to pounce upon their every slip up. In some cases it's understandable because it's funny, such as when Alan Shearer said of Spain; “These guys have had an unbelievable amount of sex...er, success...” after the final of Euro 2012, but in the majority of cases it's tedious in the extreme.
The BBC came in for a barrage of criticism over their Euro 2012 coverage, to the point where for the first time ever I heard a lot of people saying they preferred the coverage of ITV and their weird balcony set up.
Though I think much of it is criticism for criticism's sake I can't help but feel that too much of it was valid and that the BBC in particular need to do something about it.
Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer's views on Mario Balotelli are an example of this, as they're demonstrable nonsense. Shearer said he'd yet to achieve anything in his career, even though he's just won the Premier League and has three Serie A titles, an Italian Cup, Italian Super Cup and a Champions League winners medal to his name. He then claimed that he'd actually said he'd never achieved anything at international level. He's 21 and has already been further than Shearer had at any point in his career on the international stage.
Hansen maintains that Balotelli's personality makes him a liability and that this outweighs his talent...and that's it. He doesn't really expand on anything any more. The one word sentences that used to characterise his summation now seem to be all he does - “Pace. Power. Athleticism...” - as if he's ordering a fry up in the BBC canteen; “Bacon. Sausage. Egg...You're out of eggs? Unbelievable.”
Hansen and Shearer at least have the excuse that they can't overcomplicate things as they need to appeal to the everyman, but Mark Lawrenson has no such get out.
His performances as a co-commentator irritated people so much that he repeatedly trended on Twitter, before he dismissed users of the site as “sad”. This is no surprise, he's a 55-year-old man, Twitter isn't aimed at him – but he adopted this withering tone towards the football itself, as if he had no interest in the tournament and felt that the entire modern world was stupid and beneath him. I just don't see how anyone at the BBC can think that this is good output.
Their tactical analysis has also been roundly criticised but broadcasters do have to make sure that they have a broad appeal, particularly in an international tournament, and this is understandable to a degree as not everybody watching has an in depth knowledge of the sport.
I once met Clive Tyldesley and he told me how important this is. He said that he watches every match he's commentated on afterwards and that if he's said; “of course” he considers that a bad thing as it's assuming knowledge on behalf of millions.
I did also ask him if he supports Manchester United. He looked me in the eye and said; “I used to.” Of course he did.
There is a lot to be said for crediting your audience with some intelligence, though. Thanks to the internet there is a raft of in depth analysis available and UK TV is yet to acknowledge this and catch up. In Italy, and across the continent, panels regularly feature journalists and even bloggers alongside the ubiquitous ex-pros, because this reflects the way football is experienced by its consumers now.
I don't see why every person on a punditry panel has to be an ex-pro. Sky's Revista de La Liga has some of the most interesting punditry on TV, chiefly because they know they're catering to a niche audience who've taken an active interest in foreign football, but also because they have journalists such as Guillem Balague and Graham Hunter involved. They bring a different insight from that of ex-players and it's one that is valid.
Legendary AC Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi never played professionally and when criticised for this he famously said; “I never realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first.”
The evidence that a rethink is wanted by the people who pay the license fee is overwhelming, but I think this is the very reason it isn't happening. Another problem with the keyboard warrior is that he or she will go so over the top with criticism that it appears to be the ravings of a maniac and can therefore safely be ignored. In this case even these people have a point, and it's about time that the BBC acknowledged that.