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Monday, March 20, 2023

This is the era of partial pundits and football is richer for it

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Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville – This is the era of partial pundits and football is richer for itWhat do we want from our football pundits? Insight and authority are the minimum requirements, but this weekend proved that neutrality is no longer required.Ian Wright luxuriated in Arsenal’s last-gasp win over Bournemouth on Match of the Day, Alex Scott struggled to hide her glee as Arsenal won the Women’s League Cup, Gary Neville hated Manchester United’s implosion against Liverpool, Jamie Carragher loved both his old team’s performance and Neville’s reaction to it.Surely no great surprises here. Each of these broadcasters spent the best years of their playing careers with the clubs they were covering and to demand ultra-competitive sportspeople to turn that tap off once they have retired is unrealistic.Impartiality is a reasonable expectation for commentators and journalists but there must be plenty who identify with the unashamed drum-banging from some of the current punditry class.If you are going to tap into a legendary player’s insight and feel for a club, as the BBC does with Alan Shearer for instance, then it is a double standard to expect them to acknowledge their links sometimes and leave them at the door at others. Criticisms of bias usually forget that a club’s harshest critics are often the people who love it the most.But that does not make it any easier to stomach if you find any or all of the biggest clubs inherently dislikeable and are then forced to hear their former employees crow when things are going well. Instinctively it feels incorrect to hear anyone in a commentary or studio-arguing role to refer to a team as “we,” which is thankfully avoided most of the time.Occasionally it does feel as if some pundits are compromised by their personal relationships with the sport’s protagonists. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in particular seemed to enjoy an easier ride from Neville when things were falling apart for him at Manchester United than, say, Jose Mourinho.However you feel about the death of neutrality appears to be no going back. The best we can probably hope for is an equal spread of voices from each club and objectivity. At one point there was a perceived Liverpool cabal within football broadcasting, now it can feel like wall-to-wall Manchester United, especially during their periods of crisis. Keane, Paul Scholes, and Neville held a weekly glummest face competition last season and took turns to say the most wounded thing about just how far standards had slipped.Micah Richards redresses the balance necessarily, his ubiquity an overdue recognition that Manchester City have dominated domestic football for the past five years. Nedum Onuoha, who played 95 times for City, deserves more exposure. Shearer may need some reinforcements if Newcastle’s climb continues. Chelsea, arguably, remain under-served.Whatever your view on the state of modern football broadcasting it is undeniably fun to witness friendly needle between frenemies like Carragher and Neville, who had a camera trained on them at Anfield on Sunday. In the hours after the game it was clips like the one above from that which were appearing most frequently on my social media feeds, more than any of the goals.This, you sense, is the reason why in many cases impartiality seems like it has been left at the door. In the hyper-partisan shouting match of modern online discourse, if you can’t beat them, join them. Where do you stand?

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