PRE-SEASON is upon us once more. The time of year where the rumour mills go into overdrive, transfers are the talk of the town, twitter goes into meltdown, molehills become mountains and excitement and anticipation come in equal measure with frustration and panic.
However, the good thing about pre-season is that it doesn’t last long.
In around about a month the new season begins and there is set to be more live football to watch than ever before. More live televised games means ever more punditry, which in turn means ever more pundits, including many with past connections to LFC. So in this testing period, rather than adding fuel to the transfer fire, I’m taking a light hearted look at four of the best former Reds, in no particular order, who now offer “expert” opinion either on television or with the written word.
As a player John Barnes could legitimately be described as the best left winger in Liverpool history. A great dribbler with fantastic game intelligence, vision, magnificent passing ability, pace and a fabulous left-foot which was capable of replicating anything a Brazilian could do with a dead ball – Barnesey had it all. After hanging up his boots, there followed a brief managerial career for the wing-wizard, teaming up with former boss Kenny Dalglish for an ill-fated stint at Celtic. However, it wasn’t long before the bright-lights of broadcasting would come calling.
As a presenter on Channel 5 Football Night Barnes was iffy to, say the least, particularly when addressing the camera on his own, but if he wasn’t cut out for presenting, then he found his niche with punditry. Barnes is now a regular feature on ESPNs coverage of Premier League and FA Cup matches, offering analysis and opinion. When he talks, he speaks with authority and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks, often going against the grain.
Barnesey really came to the fore, for me, in terms of his punditry last season, when he was asked regularly for his take on the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra affair and on the wider issue of racism in football. His comments on the subject were refreshingly honest. He did not follow the blanket media line of condemning Suarez in the face of unproven allegations and hearsay evidence, but rather offered balance and perspective to what was otherwise witch-hunt. His take on the wider issue was also well reasoned and sensible, making clear that racism is a societal issue and that while it may exist in football, it is not solely a football problem. His point was, that just because Britain has legislated against racism, as have the FA, many people think that it is a problem of the past when in fact it is still very much with us. A true statement; and one that needed to be made, as complacency is a real partner to racism’s insidious nature.
I like Barnes as a pundit. He may not be polished and perfect but his comments carry gravitas. They are incisive and, equally importantly, they are honest. He means what he says and he knows what he’s talking about. From a Liverpool perspective, everything that he says about the club, fans, new managers – be it in the papers or on TV, contains a positive message. Always well balanced, never sycophantic, but positive nonetheless. He doesn’t make his money from biting the hand that once fed him like so many others do. John Barnes, top player, top pundit, top man.
Another former Red who makes frequent appearances in front of the camera these days is Robbie Fowler. As a player Fowler was simply “God”. For every Red of my generation, Fowler was the number one, our hero, the first name on the team-sheet throughout the 90’s. A goal-scorer extraordinaire and a local lad to boot, Fowler was the embodiment of everything that was good about Liverpool Football Club at that particular time.
When Gerard Houllier sold Fowler in 2001, many Reds instantly lost faith in his management and as it proved, Houllier’s inability to adequately replace him (an impossibility) sowed the seeds of the gaffer’s eventual downfall. Rafa, as we know, re-signed Robbie during his time, returning God to Heaven so to speak, and the Kop got to enjoy watching him score goals in a Reds shirt for a little bit longer.
Alan Hansen, everybody’s favourite TV pundit. The Scot has been offering his expert opinion and analysis on BBCs Match of the Day for as long as I can remember and, although he also writes a newspaper column, it is this for which he is best known. As a player Hansen was a majestic centre-half, one of the best “footballing” centre-halves that the game has ever seen in my opinion, and he won just about every medal available during his time with the club.
Since becoming a resident pundit on the BBCs world famous highlights show, Hansen has become, arguably, even more famous. His dulcet Scottish tones are the ones most likely to be mimicked should you and a mate begin mock match analysis for a laugh. Hansen has famously got things spectacularly wrong, “you’re never going to win anything with kids,” his early season take on United’s eventual treble-winning side for example, however his comments are generally well reasoned and researched.
I like Hansen as a pundit because he offers so much more than most, particularly on the BBC. Whereas Shearer seems to be made of wood and Lawrenson always looks as if he’s just been woken up (something which he never looks or sounds happy about), Hansen is on the ball. Admittedly sometimes he falls into the trap of simply repeating the perceived wisdom on a subject rather than actually researching it “Arsenal struggle going to places like Blackburn & Bolton”, for example, but generally he knows what he’s talking about.
Hansen is also very respectful when talking about Liverpool Football Club. He tries to offer balanced analysis on the club’s fortunes without being too sensationalist one way or the other. His response to Kenny Dalglish’s departure was fairly outspoken but then so were many peoples’, including my own, and as a long-time friend and former team-mate of the King himself, Hansen I’m sure felt the blow harder than most. Alan Hansen, happy to listen to him anytime.
Last but definitely not least in our LFC pundit hit parade is a relative newcomer to the media game. That’s not the only difference between him and the other three either. Whilst our first three pundits have all been former players for Liverpool Football Club, this next one was not. No, not a player, a manager.
Since leaving Anfield in the summer of 2010, Rafael Benitez has found himself venturing into the world of television punditry and newspaper and internet analysis. After a short spell as boss of Inter Milan, where he replaced Jose Mourinho (never an easy act to follow) and was badly let down by Massimo Moratti, Rafa has, inexplicably, been without a team to manage for the best part of eighteen months. He hasn’t been idle though, far from it, now offering expert analysis on Eurosport, writing in newspapers and keeping his own Blog.
Put simply, Benitez is a class act. His knowledge of the game is encyclopaedic and his head for statistical breakdown and analysis is second to none in the modern era. Having read plenty of Rafa’s articles in recent times, particularly during the course of Euro 2012 I couldn’t help but be impressed by the incisive determinations that he makes and the evidence used to back them up. When he talks about pitch zones or the benefits of zonal marking, for example, it is abundantly clear that he knows his subject matter completely.
Benitez’s love for Liverpool Football Club remains strong. Unfairly treated and used as a scapegoat by the ruthless, grinning, pantomime villain American’s Hicks and Gillett, Rafa holds no grudge against the club or the fans and when interviewed about the club on whatever subject, always offers honest, respectful comments. Rafael Benitez, a great manager and a bona fide expert. Let’s hope, for his sake, that a big club gives him a chance soon. It’s a no brainer!
You can catch Neil on Twitter @Neil1980 or on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/