BBC BLOGS - Jack Ross
« Previous | Main | Next »

From player to punditry

Post categories:

Jack Ross | 11:34 UK time, Monday, 4 April 2011

The ever increasing media coverage given to football means that the post-playing career path of football punditry is becoming a more popular and accessible choice for players. With the definition of a pundit being 'a source of opinion' and 'an expert', is a successful playing career enough to qualify an individual for a position in broadcasting?

It is agreed that being a great player does not guarantee being a great manager, and the same logic is applied to a career in the media in that top players do not always make top pundits. The reasons for this are varied but can include a difficulty in articulating views in a coherent manner to being one of those players who took no interest in the tactical side of the game and who only focused on their own individual role within a team.

There are of course several players who are able to make the transition from controlling the ball to mastering the microphone and what therefore is expected in the analysis offered by such former professionals? Do the viewers or listeners prefer run of the mill clichéd opinion, banter and in-house jokes or valuable insight into why teams and players perform in a certain way?

Jack Ross

Jack Ross is a regular pundit on BBC Scotland

My own personal preference is for the latter, and yet I would suggest it is not always provided, partly because a desire to become the loudest and last voice in a debate becomes of the higher importance, and sometimes because a lack of knowledge of lesser known players and teams, a problem precipitated simply by a lack of research.

This personal opinion is certainly not universal but there is no doubt that a career in football can provide a great platform for broadcasting work and therefore players should approach this opportunity with the same dedication and application as was afforded to training and matches.

One potential difficulty for former players offering opinions on television or radio is the possibility of offending those within the game. I must admit that, when I played, receiving criticism from players turned pundits (or indeed journalists) never troubled me too much. I think most players would feel the same as long as the criticism was not sensationalist and bordering on disrespectful.

I am not saying I enjoyed criticism, but then I do not think anyone in any walk of life revels in it, but I accepted it as part of my profession. With former players, I actually got more agitated by one describing me not by name but as the 'big winger' as I played at full back in a match he was summarising highlights for.

I certainly was not offended because I believed I was such a good player that he should instantly recognise me but because surely being paid for sitting in a studio means that knowing players names is not too big an ask!

The majority of players who contribute on radio and television, and there are some who do it very well, occupy the position of summariser or analyst. However, in other sports such as rugby, cricket and athletics, they have utilised the expertise of former competitors in other roles meaning a combination of very good knowledge of their respective sport and good broadcasting ability makes them able to present or interview.

Although there are exceptions in football such as Gary Lineker on Match of the Day it seems our sport is reluctant to trust former players with roles which could be considered out of their comfort zone.

Much is made of an urgent need to repackage Scottish football, from the size of our leagues to the timing of the season, but what about the broadcasting of our game. Are there instances where we do not always promote our football in the best light and do we make the best of the resources we have available? Perhaps we do, but could the demand for revolution include what is being offered to an expectant audience?

More players than ever are keen to break into the world of broadcasting, and with increased competition should come an assurance of higher standards.


  • Comment number 1.

    It think it very much depends on the ex-player. Lee Dixon for example is superb at breaking down the tactical make-up of a game, watching him is often extremely enlightening. Compare that to some of the bigger name pundits who are clearly just getting the gig because they used to be a top class player and rarely say anything beyond a few banal cliches. This was especially bad at the World Cup, highly paid pundits who knew nothing of the world outside the Premiership floundering at even relatively well known players from smaller nations.

    Personally I'd like to see it mixed up a bit more. I think Arrigo Sacchi's famous quote about coaches needing playing experience,

    "I never realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first"

    Can be extended to "you don't need to have been a horse to commentate on the Grand National". I'd like to see more knowledgeable non-players like Tim Vickery on the sofa discussing matches involving teams they are experts on.

    So it should be based on ability, not on name recognition. Case in point, Jack's blog puts a lot of well known professional journalists to shame.

  • Comment number 2.

    There is a dearth of insightful commentary about football on television and you highlight a common complaint in that those who are paid to provide insight often have no idea of player names let alone any insight into the game. For every James Richardson you have an Alan Shearer. The fact that the BBC can employ someone who simply shrugs and admits he knows nothing of a player or team he is commenting on is baffling. Some pundits are happy to roll out stock cliches and phrases but these statements hang in the air and go unchallenged. I feel there is a lack of genuinely detailed analysis which would be a lot more interesting than Alan Hansen telling me someone has 'woeful' defending. Again.

  • Comment number 3.

    my persona non grata when it comes to punditry at the minute is neil mccann. his insights aren't insightful, he's boring and he's taking up space where other talented more charasmatic broadcasters can fill in.

    we'll never see the likes of bill mclaren, murray walker, peter alliss, harry carpenter and david coleman again; these were experts with broadcast savvy.

    two things i want to say

    1) the mix on the sportsound team is fantastic - engaging, entertaining and insightful broadcasting.

    2) where's dougie donnelly?? he is without a doubt the FINEST sports broadcaster in the UK just now. unflappable, infallable, professionalism personified! i'm hoping he's doing the Melrose 7s as usual this Saturday...

  • Comment number 4.

    Very good topic Jack. Of course the listening and watching experience is enhanced by inciteful and intelligent input from former players. You are very much a case in point. In my opinion the Beeb should be having a re-think.

    The fact is that Sportsound has been greatly enhanced with the inception of ' open-all-mics '. This is down to the likes of Patterson, Biscuits, Ferguson, Dodds etc. etc.
    who are entertaining, lucid and obviously gripped by their match.

    I would hand the whole thing over to you and the rest. Richard Gordon is a great anchor. What needs to happen is to ditch the pathetic Chick Young and Traynor. Their ' My contacts with the Old Firm are better then yours spat' was an embarrassment. Get rid of them. I am sure I am not alone on this.

  • Comment number 5.

    This could turn into a punditry performance assassination! Very good blog Jack.

    The combination of intelligence, tactical analysis and a dash of personality is the ideal combination for me. For example, listening to Gordon Strachan on tactics during a half-time analysis is just a joy.

    Would agree on the post above who mentioned the consumate professionalism of Dougie Donnelly as a presenter. Archie MacPherson is fabulous as well. Richard Gordon is good but he works better on the Radio for me.

    Why has Sportscence has become so utterly lifeless and dull? You miss nothing by watching the highlights of games on the computer. 'Off the Ball' and 'Open all Mic's' on the other hand really are great formats and great radio.

    Chic Young is fine for the foolery if nothing else. Loved the bit on Saturday when he accused Jim Traynor of being a cheerleader for Rangers. Coming with his record of fawning towards anything that smells of Sir David Murray this was pure comedy. As always.

    My least favourite pundits (for whom I routinely press the 'mute' button):

    Alan 'I got a job on the BBC because I was a favourite England player' Shearer. No knowledge of tactics at all.

    Hansen/ Lawrenson: just tiresome

    Neil McCann - absolutely no personality whatsoever

    Charlie Nicholas - prefer the Johnathan Watson impression in 'Only an Excuse'

    Andy Townsend - how this guy ever got on the air escapes me. Ridonculous!

    Lee Dixon - good tactical knowledge but lacks personality

  • Comment number 6.

    # 5

    Good shout Rob. ( And thank you). What price David Francey ? I am getting long and weary listening to the journies scoring points.

    Jack is right. Give it to literate ex-players. They can do no worse than Chick and Traynor who probably argue over who has their nose further up.

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree with the last few points. In particular the list of mediocre pundits I'm sure will grow over the next few days but its clear the likes of Neil McCann are a little out of their depth. I also believe some of the journalists who were ok(ish) in the written media forget they are there to add colour to the game and are self indulgent in their approach eg Messers Young and Traynor. Unfortunately some of the more insightful are not very good in front of the mic.

    My bugbear (so I'll get it off my chest) is the completely partial analysis or commentary from ex big name players or managers. I actually am ok with the partiality - its the insistence that they are impartial that bugs me. For example Murdo McLeod - Celtic hero, ex manager etc and watches every Celtic match with his hooped specs - so what! we should expect that. If it was Ally McCoist (he may be there yet) I am sure its the same but please - lets not pretend they are impartial.

    Anyway - would rather be at the game and leave the jaw jaw to the over the hill brigade.

  • Comment number 8.

    Good blog JR - surely one of the worst pundits ever to grace our TVs and radios is big Mark Hately! shocking in the extreme! I tend to tune into Sky Sports Sunday Supplement for some informed commentary. Sky etc should be looking at these more articulate journalists and ex-pros and get them more involved - a bit fed up of the banal run of the mill punditry that is currently on the box!

  • Comment number 9.

    Excellent blog Jack!!

    As many others have already alluded to, it may have been conceived as a result of the embarrassment to broadcasting that was Traynor & Young's half hour spat on Saturday. I'm interested in football insight, not moron's arguing over brownie points.

    Too often pundits & commentators are selected because of their football history instead of their ability to do the job in question. I don't care if they played for AC Milan or studied an HNC in journalism at Salford college, are they actually any good?

    The top three commentators on TV for me are Jim Beglin, Lee Dixon & Richard Gordon. All three are insightful, intelligent & can offer a fantastic explanation for certain situations which aren't obvious. I'd happily listen to them on every single game I watched, to be honest.

    Why don't the BBC re-invigorate the lifeless Sportscene by jetting in Stuart & Tam to host it? Viewing figures would rocket!!

  • Comment number 10.

    P.S. I think some people are being a bit harsh on Neil McCann, he is (a bit like Jack) in the early stages of a broadcasting career & has terrific potential.

    His visits to clubs during match previews are excellent, but he needs to develop his personality more during a game.

  • Comment number 11.

    Great Blog Jack.
    I totally agree about the way in which we (Scotland) market our game. I have lived in England and Wales the past few years and the perception of the SPL is a joke down here, even though most who watch regularily would agree the standard is not as bad as is perceived down south (hence why decent managers down south have been cherry picking Scottish players for years now).

    I wanted to mention 2 instances of the way we market our 'product' that I thought were funny...

    1) A couple of years ago Sportscene MoTD ran a competition. The prize was tickets to any English Premier League game of your choice! Craziest bit of marketing I have ever seen. And I work in marketing.

    2) I also find it extra-ordinary that virtually all televised Celtic & Rangers games feature at the other teams grounds. Why wouldn't we want to show the best grounds, the most fans, the best pitches to our audience around the world? I don't even think it benefits the other teams as they would probably get 2000/3000 more Celtic & Rangers fans at their ground for Saturday 3pm KO's. I don't know the numbers by the way am just guessing - but purely from a marketing point of view it definitely makes no sense.

  • Comment number 12.

    Ex-sport stars becoming commentators? Naah it will never work. Terrible idea. Who thought of that?

    Seriously I prefer someone who has played their sport becoming commentators. As long as they have a personality. When I watched the World Cup I always prefered the BBC. Apart from no adverts every 2 minutes the studio guests had more to them than the lifeless robots on the other side. Give me Hansen/Lawro than Townsend/Chiles everytime. I agree to the comments about Lee Dixon too. Very good and something different.

    @#3 Funny how some people are slagging off the BBC but all those guys you mentioned were old school and all worked for the BBC

  • Comment number 13.

    If a pundit delivers analysis dressed in a clowns outfit does this make him a better pundit? or just a nut in a clowns outfit? Discuss....

  • Comment number 14.

    Do you have match of the day in Scotland ?, if so Hansen,Nicolas,Gray,Nevin,Brazil... etc can all go and be pundits on this show.

    They all can remember the good old days when Scotland had a team that actaully qualified for competitions.

    Everyone of these players are useless at being pundits, perhaps they are SPL standard?

  • Comment number 15.

    I have to say that Alan Shearer is hands-down the worst pundit going.

    He rarely seems to research and his analysis is based around either agreeing with Alan Hansen sat beside him on the sofa like a balding sheep, or else he just disagrees with Hansen for the sake of disagreeing - usually with no substantiation at all (see there debates re Walcott this season).

    On the other hand, Hansen and Dixon are good, while Lineker does a good job at presenting.

  • Comment number 16.

    I just heard Jamie Redknapp make a comment about how he knows his dad well. I despair.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    It is interesting to read that players who have turned pundits continue to split opinion just as much as they did when they featured on the pitch.

    I definetely feel that there is scope for more tactical analysis within Scottish football coverage, even if time only permits one goal etc to be covered in a far more in depth manner.

    My own opinion is that a recent retiree like Neil McCann is making a successful move from pitch to studio-having played with Neil and undertaken coaching badges with him I know he certainly has both the game knowledge and opinion to pass on to viewers.

  • Comment number 19.

    Great blog as always.

    Articulacy, intelligence and tactical nous are not guaranteed in a player; and those that have it may well seek careers in management or coaching.

    Compared to say Germany, the quality of analysis in Britain is often blinkered and one-dimensional (see Shearer and Hansen's World Cup for details). Indeed, if more British people understood football beyond the domestic leagues, perhaps there would be more international success on these shores. There's too much hoof-ball even in the EPL.

    But bigger picture aside, John Robertson is a lovely fellow (and a Hearts legend), but I found his commentary during Lithuania-Scotland to be fairly pointless. Mantric repetition of "We just need that one spark, that one chance" is not expertise, or analysis. I could have offered more constructive tactical observations, and I'm just a barman and literature student.

    In my opinion, when the paid pundit is making observations less well-informed than the man in the pub, the broadcasters aren't doing their job right.

  • Comment number 20.

    Don't know why my post was blocked. I only mentioned Pat Nevin's propensity to twiddle his pen.

  • Comment number 21.

    Nah, he doesn't twiddle it, he holds it firmly. He leaves me with the impression that he is about to gesticulate to accompany an insightful and interesting point of view. But he doesn't.

  • Comment number 22.

    Interesting points raised there.

    Cliches do seem to be the order of the day with some pundits. This is understandable however. Having listened to Danny Lennons post match interview on Saturday after the Hamilton game, every 2nd sentence was a cliche. Therefore its no surprise pundits take a similar slant on things.

    Furthermore, Hansen and Shearer bordered on useless during the World Cup. After the initial 20 minutes before the match is taken up with Engerland chat, the remaining 5 minutes before k.o for most group matches was " Well, we don't know a lot about Algeria/N. Korea/ insert other "smaller" nation here..." Well why are you there then if you can't tell us a bit about the teams playing in the upcoming match?

    Ex- players, for the most part, tend to talk in cliches and sit on the fence so as not to upset their mates.

    Give me a Tim Vickery, Gabriele Marcotti or another well informed journalist anyday.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm new to this commenting but I know sense when I see it! I think you are right - we are crying out for more tactical analysis. I, for one, am sick of studio guests pouring over refereeing decisions, for example. It is not helped by reporters - their first question to a players or manager is almost always about a referee's decision. It does no good whatsoever.
    I have a question for all posters: if you were in the studio covering a match of your choice, who would be presenting and who would be alongside you?

  • Comment number 24.

    19 and 22,

    When will a Scots commentator actually comentate on a Scottish team playing in either the European or World Cup finals ?

    What price at the bookies 1000/1 maybe ? .... 1998 is a long time ago !

  • Comment number 25.

    Sound tactically or not NM for me lacks the breadth of knowledge and personality at this 'stage' of his post-footie career, Jack.

    Liked the comment above about pundits having to be better than those watching down the pub. WGS for me is an excellent pundit who debates systems as he comments and he is lively as well. Well worth watching for his insight, so long as its not about the team he is managing at the time.

    In response to the post about which presenter and pundit would people choose: McPherson and Strachan

  • Comment number 26.

    "Do the viewers or listeners prefer run of the mill clichéd opinion, banter and in-house jokes or valuable insight into why teams and players perform in a certain way? My own personal preference is for the latter."

    That´s what I call stating the obvious and shows why we don´t need players or former players to give us their opinions, at the taxpayers´ expense in the case of the BBC.

    Personally, I am only interested in players´ performance on the pitch not what they have to say because it is generally inarticulate and of no value. Nor am I interested in what someone who was a brilliant player 20 years ago has to say about the game today. What does he know about today´s football?

    Watching a good game and exchanging banter and comments with your friends afterwards is great fun but listening to post-match commentators is a bore.

    I live in Brazil where games are followed by endless “discussions” with “experts” – some former players – that just become irritating exercises in egoism.

    Not only do these programs have half a dozen people ranting away at the same time but replays are shown ad nauseum.

    When I switch off after the game on a Sunday evening I know I will see the goals and main incidents – usually involving fights - at least 20 times the following day on TV when I am having lunch in my local "padaria".

  • Comment number 27.

    Yes tom slaver, 1998 is a long time ago... maybe you should also move on...

  • Comment number 28.

    27 .....

    What are the odds on Scotland qualifying for any tournament in the next 12 years ?

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    Talking of horses... Derek Rae is the great dark horse of Scottish football punditry. Little known in this country, he has been the voice of 'soccer' on ESPN in the US for many years - presenting as well as commentating. Since ESPN took over from Setanta he has thankfully been back on our TVs, and despite not being an ex-player (shock horror) he demonstrates an incredible knowledge of the game - not just here but all over the world. Crucially (in Scotland) he is also entirely unbiased, and offers a balanced opinion... he even makes Craig Burley sound good!
    Oh, and while we are on the subject of assassinating ex-player-turned-pundit types, Scott Booth and Billy Dodds deserve mentions. Utterly inept. That is all.

  • Comment number 31.


    why did you drop the word "successful" from your blog title

  • Comment number 32.

    Agree With most of the opinons above especially the comments regarding Mark Hately, i read his column in 1 of the tabloids and a more biased opinon i have never read. The man glorifies everything about rangers to the point that its blind loyality. If he wants to write that type of Column maybe he should be doing it in Rangers based publications. I can't wait to read his column this week and see who he blames for the sectarian chanting at Ibrox. John Hartson and David Provan look like the have no bias and thier columns are similar to the fans on the terraces, Andy Goram is another who's column seems unbiased, i read the article where he slammed David Weir and other Rangers players for the 3-0 game and the night of madness, he was equally as scathing on Celtic.

    Worst Commentator on TV Is Clive "1966" Tydesly

    I enjoy Lee Dixons anaylsis however mono-tone Shearer is a No-No!

  • Comment number 33.

    When players are singing on their last song, and really is starting to get downwards in their careers, i have the impression that they do more and more to try to 'win' the journalist off the pitch than on it. They try to look serious and reflected over what went wrong in the game, and try to act political correct in front of the camera. When players do such things, it is because they want to have a good application for the free spot as an expert in the local TV network's roster. I have been so lucky to played on the highest level in Norway, Tippeligaen, as a young promising player for two years. I experienced this a lot. The older guys on the team always had this great connection with the media, and journalists, and when they retired they got jobs in different newspapers or radio stations.

    For me personally i dont min this. the players that have played on a high level for many years probably know the game better than anybody else. The problem is though that not everybody have the same understanding for football. Some of the players that played on a high level was just born with a big physical advantage that made them good football players, with out really understanding the game. When players like that goes into the role as an expert at TV, that annoys me. In norway we have seen several examples of this, but they have been taken of the air pretty quick. I think that TV Stations should screen better who would be a good match for these various roles in Media, and that can provide the audience what they want. The most important thing for me is that the players going into this role is good role models and contain the right values, so that young players watching football on TV is served the right attitudes from the experts.

  • Comment number 34.

    28 - slaver

    are you ok? not a bad question though, check online on various betting websites in the evenings if you are not too busy to do so. might have a flutter myself.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.