The 2nd of February 2011 was a momentous day for football fans up and down the country because the personification of Manchester United’s Premier League dominance, Gary Neville, retired. The signaficance of this decision was two-fold, unfortunately we wouldn’t get to see Neville get humiliated again, like had been against Chis Brunt in his final game, but there were also rumours going around that Neville would be returning to our screens sooner than expected as Sky’s new lead analyst replacing the quintessentially old school Andy Gray.
As the rumours became fact, opinion was set heavily against the former right-back and whether he could hold an impartial opinion, but as he nears the end of his first full season on the other side of the touchline Neville is shaping up to be the most reasonable and considered ex-pro pundit. A title he looks set to keep in light of the tired match of the day line-up and style over substance nature of his Sky team-mates.
At the time it was fair to be sceptical of Neville’s appointment, many teams had garnered a fervorous rivalry with United in an attempt to remove them from the throne, Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea as well as their eternal rivals, Liverpool and City. With Neville a fan as much as player of United, to the point where he has been ridiculed for idolising some of his own team mates, it was hard for many of us to see how he could hold an impartial opinion. Fortunately, whether it was the Sky crash course training or just his unrelenting will to prove the doubters wrong, he has not only been fair but at times celebatory in his assessment of teams such as Liverpool (a far cry from his 2006 celebrations in a victory over Liverpool).
Nevilles neutrality is only one facet of his burgeoning pundit career, his relatively modern insight and analysis is something this country’s football coverage has required for years. Although Neville isn’t the only Premier League star to feature as a regular pundit on our screens he certainly seems to be the most astute in terms of tactics, positioning, player mentality and puts across his opinions in a clear and concise manor. So when compared to his Sky rival, Jamie Redknapp, Neville comes across as a philosophical footballing genius or at the very least somebody with a top top vocabulary in comparison to the privately educated flash harry, who personifies Sky’s style over substance stance of Premier League footballing presentation.
Despite the general air of hyperbole around the Sky presentation team they do have the right idea of trying to move with the times in terms of the panel they employ. Their understanding that modern day footballers will understand the tactics and players of the day, in theory, slightly better than battlehardened 70’s throwbacks is a pattern their terrestrial counterparts need to take in to consideration. The dastardly duo of Hansen and Lawrenson undoubtedly offer just as useful analysis as any modern footballer, as analysis is somewhat objective (bad defending is bad defending no matter what era you’re from), but their lack of understanding of the psyche and contextual setting of the modern footballer (almost exclusively Hansen) is something which particularly grinds on me.
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