Love them or hate them, there’s certainly no ignoring them. They’re a permanent fixture on your television screens before the game, at half-time – and if you managed to give them the slip both those times, you’ll certainly run into them at the end of the game. Here’s to the talking heads of the beautiful game, for the occasional instances when they get it right, for the many times they embarrass themselves and for every day they earn the Nobel Prize for stating the obvious.
From the House of Harry, comes good ol’ Jamie Redknapp. Famous for having spent most of his playing career on the stretcher, or on the catwalk ramp, Frank Lampard’s cousin took on, much to our chagrin, the role of a football pundit with Sky Sports. It was probably a smart move for him, though – considering he thrived on public attention, and had mastered the art of gelling his hair back and turning his Armani suits into a second skin.
What we like about him – As much as you might be loathe to admit it, he did have a career of note as a player. He might have been Beckham without the talent, but he still made it to Liverpool’s Top 100 players who shook the Kop. He did have a stint at Chelsea as the coach of the reserve squad (comprising players who might have been better than he was), and was even at the receiving end of some good ol’ fashioned nepotism when Harry Redknapp offered him a coaching stint at Tottenham Hotspur.
What drives us mad – The excessive use of the word literally. He literally drives us insane, with his liberal use of the word. Whether it’s a little exaggeration for effect courtesy a “Wayne Rooney literally destroyed Tottenham on his own”, or a nonsensical “Messi literally sends people out of the stadium with his skill”, Jamie really needs to be handed a dictionary. And a thesaurus. How about using the word, “virtually” instead?
The man literally (Now look what you’ve done, Jamie!) needs no introduction. When he isn’t being chased down the street by pitchfork-wielding feminists for his comments about Sian Massey, he’s plying his trade with Talksport. Not many might reckon the chubby announcer once had a glittering career as a striker. He reached dizzying heights with Aston Villa winning both PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year at 22.
What we like about him – That’s an understatement. Actually, we love him for it. The bit where he says, “Take a bow, son”, in that Scottish growl of his. There aren’t too many iconic phrases out there in football, that get you to sit up and associate them with a voice immediately. Club him together with Martin Tyler, and you had the closest thing to a dream team – depending on whom you ask.
What drives us mad – Let me qualify that by insisting, it’s not all of us. Andy Gray, despite being Evertonian and consequently (you’d presume) anti-Liverpool, was reviled by Manchester United faithful for apparently putting a negative spin on anything remotely related to the Red Devils. They even opened up a Facebook page for him – the quite obviously named “Andy Gray Is A Biased **** Who Hates Manchester United”. What probably gets United supporters’ goats even more is that Andy just loved Steven Gerrard. He made no bones about orgasming everytime Steven Gerrard scored, and even marked Stevie G out as top striker in his Team Of The Year 2008. His fondness didn’t extend to the rest of Liverpool’s squad though.
For someone who played for the Malaysian national team, as a defender of not-so-great standing, Shebby certainly knows how to punch above his weight. Ostensibly brought in to placate the race-baiting reactionaries in South and South East Asia, Shebby Singh is now a regular fixture on ESPN’s asia-focused segment. Shebby perfected the art of surgically removing his foot and shoving it down his mouth multiple times, while keeping a straight face through it all.
What we like about him – Say what you want, but who else would you trust to be the butt of unintended jokes? Shebby’s loud when he’s right. He’s even louder when he’s wrong. But he’s loudest, when he has no clue what he’s talking about. You won’t find another TV personality more in love with Tottenham Hotspur than he is. He makes even Harry Redknapp blush with his effusive, and often undeserved, praise of the Lilywhites.
What drives us mad – “Yes John, No John, Certainly John, You See John, Well John, Okay John, Indeed John, Maybe John”. That’s a perfectly valid sentence in the English language, if you ask him. The John in question here is John Dykes, the moderator of these discussions, and the one man who can decipher Shebby singh’s ramblings into a cogent, coherent sentence. Like when Shebby insisted Steven Gerrard play at right back.
Now here’s a darling of the Asian continent. John Dykes might not have instant name recognition in most parts of the continent, but is an instantly recognizable face. Mostly because he was the only sane guy keeping the peace on ESPN’s Football Focus.
What we like about him – The seriousness he brings to every football game, even if it’s played between two minnows. He’d walk you through a kindergarten girl’s soccer game with such sincerity, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was talking about the Champions League final. His aura, presence and poker face makes him the perfect choice to head a panel of uber-aggressive experts.
What drives us mad – No, contrary to what you may have heard, he’s not perfect. For starters, he quit ESPN. We miss him, but aren’t going to forgive him for leaving us high and dry, just yet.
Gary “Match of the Day” Lineker is BBC’s presenter-par-excellence, and an anchor for football on Al Jazeera’s English channels. He’s had a glittering career, as a striker, having started off for lowly Leicester City, followed by stints at Everton and Barcelona before turning down the chance to partner Mark “Sparky” Hughes at Manchester United.
What we like about him – His affable attitude, and his willingness to be at the receiving end of a few jokes. Plus he stands up for campaigns like The Y Word, and gets under Manchester United’s skins by refusing to sing from the club’s hymn book.
What drives us mad – He doesn’t really get us to gnash our teeth in anger. So I’d have to say it would be his wife, the lovely Danielle Bux, who drives us mad. Or crazy. But in a good way. Ergo, we might direct a lot of jealousy at poor ol’ Gary. Oh and there was also the time he answered nature’s call. ON THE FIELD.
John “Budgie” Burridge
It doesn’t matter what team you support. Odds are he’s played for them. He’s so fanatical about football, that he turned suicidal when he couldn’t play the game anymore. You have to respect that kind of devotion to the beautiful game. He remains to this day the oldest player to have played in the league. And urban legends consider him as the pioneer of the on-field warm-up routine. His punditry, however, is for the most part a lot of noise.
What we like about him – I suspect he’s the one thing that keeps Carlton Palmer in check. The ying to the former’s yang. The unrecognizable accent that you suspect is merely a ploy to disguise the fact he doesn’t want you paying too much attention to his words.
What drives us mad – The incessant need to remind people of his glory years. Insisting he was warming-up the way Nani did, decades ago. And announcing repeatedly that he’s played longer than van der Sar, on the day of the latter’s last game, smacked of desperation.
He’s the reason you should never to turn your nose up to pooh-pooh anyone. Carlton Palmer may have been derided as having no talent, or chivalry, but on the pitch he was as stubborn an opponent as you could hope to face. A bit of a journey man, having spent his best years plying his trade with clubs like West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield Wednesday, not to mention Leeds United, Carlton’s been decidely ordinary both as a player and as a manager.
What we like about him – Take Shebby Singh at his craziest, and multiply that by 10. Carlton Palmer is, on his day, even more exciting than the game between Europe’s best teams. He remains, to this day, his worst enemy – violently disagreeing with the very same points he made 5 minutes earlier. Nobody can do a volte-face on a topic better than Carlton.
We also like him, because he has a deep and abiding disdain for all things Rafa Benitez. And because he always backs English clubs in a game against Barcelona – before the whistle. At half time, once Barcelona have thoroughly dominated proceedings, Carlton insists he knew all along it would be his favorite Catalans walking away with the honors.
What drives us mad – His presence.
Tell us what you make of these pundits, and other talking heads who add to the whole weekend experience of watching your favorite team in action.