There will always be a point to discuss. There will always be a side upset with proceedings. But usually there are means and outlets to vent frustrations. There will always be differences in the standards of knowledge, and wide frustrations at the substandard level of punditry and commentating on several channels, in particular on the likes of Sky Sports.
My colleague Jack Wills recently penned an article on the subpar Sky coverage of the enthralling Africa Cup of Nations, in which he expresses his bemusement at Sky paying a high fee, while not openly available one can assume it was a substantial amount, they put very little effort into the coverage with only one commentator at most of the early games and no pre and post match analysis. I would argue that maybe the world is better off, as usually when it comes to Sky coverage they say it best when they say nothing at all.
There is always an interesting curiosity when it comes to the choice of pundits and co-commentators on football coverage. Generally former footballers or managers, donning suits and indulging in a feast of statements drenched in self-importance, and waffling archaic takes on the modern game. The general assumption is that former players and or managers will do the job perfectly but little effort is put into making sure they actually know anything about the modern game. But while good pundits usually are former professionals, not all former professionals are good pundits.
A wonderful example of such could be seen when Shaun ‘The Goat’ Goater was drafted in to comment on the Champions League group stage draw a few seasons back. When asked for his thoughts on Manchester City’s draw with Atalanta, Shaun beamed; “Well as we know Italian teams like to take a one nil lead and then sit back and protect it.” As Shaun visibly rustled through the filing cabinet in his brain for any information on this particular team, it became apparent that his total knowledge of Atalanta was a cliché about the 90s Italian national team, he seemed to have been unaware that this particular side were more famous for their crazy 5-4 and 6-3 wins than the more conservative Italian teams of old.
The most frustrating take, however, is a complete misunderstanding when it comes to modern tactics. The high line. The vertigo-inducing height at which current top defenders hold the line of defence seems to baffle pundits and co-commentators who opted out of tactical footballing education around the same time that Giovanni Trapattoni was at the height of his powers. The general consensus is that holding a high line is a bad thing, a risky thing. The belief is that by allowing so much space in behind the defence, it has to harm teams chances of winning consistently,
What they never take into account is the enormous success of the tactic and the major benefits to a team of using such a tactic. The fact that arguably the two of the best teams in England, if not the world, use such a high line is always forgotten. Liverpool’s form fell apart last season, sure because of major injuries to a vital part of the team, but largely because they could no longer deploy a high defensive line. When the defence dropped back the team was no longer as compact, the strikers had to travel too far to gain possession and then had too much to do to threaten in attacking spaces.
The Irish national team are currently embarking on a new experiment, to play more attractive football. They are beginning to play out from the back, play short passes in tight spaces, press defences in high areas and generally be positive when in possession. So far the experiment hasn’t been a major success, largely due to the fact the team is not compact enough. If the defence was to move up the field and hold a higher line, all could suddenly fit into place.
Another tactical enigma that seems to frustrate the life out of the misinformed brigade is the concept of zonal marking. A concept that has allegedly ruined the modern game, never mind the fact that zonal marking came to the fore in the Premier League in the summer of 2004 with the arrivals of José Mourinho and Rafa Benitez. Never mind that zonal marking offers much greater tactical flexibility. Simply because players are in their correct positions, instead of being dragged away trying to mark their opponents, ensuring that attacks develop at a quicker pace catching the other team off-guard. In the eyes of the washed-up former manager venting furiously to a fellow failed manager in awkwardly tight trousers, zonal marking is at fault for every goal conceded from a corner since it became the main form of marking from such set-pieces.
Sure there are fantastic pundits and commentators working in the game, the traditional panel on Irish broadcaster RTE are still some of the best voices to be heard on the airwaves. There is also something warm and endearing about the BT panel, Peter Crouch a particular highlight. But it is at Sky where punditry dreams go to die. At a station where money doesn’t appear to be an issue, the basement certainly seems to be the limit when it comes to ambition for a well-rounded, well-versed high standard punditry team.