John Terry and Robbie Savage ignite pundit vs player issue

I’ve written before on how ex professional footballers are ruining football punditry and now the unlikely combination of current player- John Terry, and ex-player turned pundit- Robbie Savage- have popped up to illustrate the point rather wonderfully:

“I’ve come under criticism, individually, from certain players and individuals, players I’ve looked up to and played alongside. I’ve taken that on the chin: Rio, Carra, Neville, the very best I’ve come up against in the game. I take that on the chin. When others speak, maybe I don’t take it on the chin. When players have not had a career, played at a really bad level in their career … Robbie Savage being one. He’s dug me out a couple of times. You take it as a footballer, as an individual. I’ll take it from the Rios, Carraghers and Neville. All day long. From others? Nah.”

Courtesy of the Guardian.

There is so much packed in to that quote that it deserves an unpicking. On the face of it, Terry is saying that he will take criticism from “good” players but not from “bad” players. Is is also making the cognitive leap that a good player makes a good pundit. Is this the case?

Punditry has taken a nose dive in recent years as studios have been flooded by ex professionals desperate to still remain in the game in some way. Much in the way that not every ex player is cut out for management, the same can be said about punditry. Despite having a rather large personal dislike for Gary “Shop Floor Steward” Neville, I have to admit that he is an excellent pundit. He’s both articulate and he reads the game well. His comments about Agbonlahor only touching the ball 8 times on Monday in the first half against Spurs were likely conjured up by the stat boys but he took them and produced some interesting analysis around them. Contrast that with the co-commentary by Michael “Win a Penalty For the Team” Owen though, and it’s easy to see the gulf in ability. Owen is like a stuck record, endlessly droning on about how cheating to win penalties is the professional way to go.

Let’s not forget the three big managers of the Premier League era, Fergie, Wenger and Jose, didn’t exactly set the pitch on fire with their dazzling skills either. Jose played at an amateur level, Wenger played lower league football and Fergie probably the most successful of the three, played for various clubs in Scotland. You don’t see their lack of skill on the football pitch as a hindrance to what they achieved though.

So Terry’s non sequitur of only listening to criticism from ex players who were any good is at best a bit of misdirection, and at worst confusing. Any one remember Pele or Maradona’s astonishing lack of perspicacity when it comes to on pitch performance?

Having said all that, the BBC’s insistence to stick with their plan to turn Savage into some sort of cerebral pundit (their Gary Neville) is still an odd one that can only hope to be doomed to failure. Much like Stan Collymore, Savage is better suited to phone ins where angry and inarticulate fans call in to rant at their team following the latest defeat. Ship him off to Talk Sport and get a proper pundit in.

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