Early Doors

‘Opinionated’ BBC pundits now annoying and delighting fans, as planned

Early Doors

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BBC's Match of the Day pundits were, it was said, overly dry, 'vanilla' and boring. They just did not have the punch or passion to match their broadcasting rivals.

Sky Sports' Gary Neville has been showered with praise for his insightful and powerful analysis as a pundit, while the likes of Alan Shearer and Mark Lawrenson have been accused of not offering sufficiently interesting reactions to the action.

That was all to change this year as the BBC looked to move in a different direction with their pundits. Out went the retired Alan Hansen, in came the controversial and abrasive Robbie Savage, to name but one swap.

Pundits on the flagship football highlights show were told to be more "opinionated" and "animated" as it sees its 50th anniversary season amid unprecedented levels of competition in sports broadcasting.

Experts have been encouraged to be more outspoken and passionate in their post-match analysis as the show competes with Sky and BT Sport's Premier League coverage.

A BBC press release announcing details of Match of the Day’s 2014-15 coverage has boasted of the “strong opinions” that Savage, for example, offers an increasingly social-media led audience.

Mark Cole, head of football at the BBC, told The Independent that the show would give an enhanced analytical role to presenter Gary Lineker, while its latest pundit, Phil Neville, has been given support and advice following criticism of his commentary at the World Cup in Brazil.

"You can't just reinvent the wheel," he said of the show's mainstream appeal. "There's a difference between what the audience thinks Match of the Day should be and what journalists think Match of the Day should be.

"We have to be careful that we don't alienate the audience... in previous years we have been a bit nice.

"It's okay to have people throwing the remote controls at the telly. We want all the guys to offer opinions. But it needs to be balanced and they cannot be changing their minds next week. It has to come from the heart."

MotD has also been criticised for not shaking up its line-up of analysts with the inclusion of a woman.

"Anyone on that panel of punditry should have played top-flight football and that's our position," explained Cole.

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So what about Shearer, who is often criticised on social media for being boring and not offering sufficient opinion in his analysis?

"There has been some criticism within the press, but he constantly performs unbelievably well in all our audience research," said Cole.

And Phil Neville, the man lambasted for mumbling in a dispassionate fashion as England lost to Italy at the World Cup this summer?



"He had a bad night at the office," said Cole. "He was really hurting that night when I spoke to him but he dusted himself down the next morning.

"The thing is to get that animation across, to show your excitement at various stages and to have that range of tones. He knows that’s in his locker. He needs to be a lot more animated."

So what about the ever controversial and outspoken Savage? Is he just, as the Telegraph's Jonathan Liew remarks, a glorified troll of the football punditry world?

"There is a sense that Savage is indulged not for his wisdom or wit, but for his lack of either: a sort of television ringworm, forcibly burrowing its way into your subconscious," wrote Liew.

"You cannot be irritated by Savage, because as soon as you are irritated, he has won. Even this very article constitutes its own white flag of surrender."

Is this what being an expert pundit on Match of the Day has been reduced to? Savage's ability to polarise opinion and stir up a debate is all the more striking when compared, as it was during the anniversary edition of the show, to the likes of the legendary Barry Davies.

As Liew put it, "the special anniversary episode of Match of the Day on Saturday night rather unflatteringly juxtaposed Savage with the measured elegance of Barry Davies, which is a bit like following the greatest meal of your life with a loud belch in the car park."

In a sense, this is what being a pundit is nowadays: a controversial and outspoken presence in multimedia broadcasting and social media. It now appears to be a deliberate approach, even from the BBC. How times have changed.

What do you think: is it a good thing that Match of the Day now has the likes of Savage and Shearer being more opinionated, or is it in danger of going too far? Post your views below...

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