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The Darke Side: Footballers Turned Pundits

Ian Darke on the value of former players moving into broadcasting

10 June 2020

BT Sport pundits

Footballers used to retire to run pubs or sell insurance.

Older Pompey fans will remember a winger called Cliff Portwood, who quit the game to become a singer. Meanwhile, England’s 1966 left-back Ray Wilson became a funeral director!

They do not all want to be managers or coaches – too much hassle and pressure.

And the latest trend is for ex-players to start careers as pundits on radio and television. Believe me, this is an increasingly crowded marketplace.

This season alone, I have worked alongside Steve McManaman, Owen Hargreaves, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Savage, Adam Virgo and Steve Sidwell.

All in their own way are charming company and when they gather in a TV truck before the game to talk football, it is an education just to listen and learn.

What you quickly realise is that professional footballers see things in a match which most of us would probably miss.

For instance, they instinctively know if a player has deliberately tried to hurt a rival – ‘left something on him’ is the phrase they use.

"What you quickly realise is that professional footballers see things in a match which most of us would probably miss."

Ian Darke

They might think what looked a routine finish was, in fact, very clever – or that an apparently brilliant strike was actually a bit lucky.

And that’s the key to being a good TV pundit. Tell the audience something they can’t see for themselves. Offer insights to illuminate the viewers.

An example. Antoine Griezmann scored in a one-on-one with keeper Manuel Neuer in an Atletico v Bayern Champions League tie.

Michael Owen, who netted dozens in a similar situation, told viewers: “Watch Griezmann’s body language here.

"Everything he does tells Neuer he’s going to put the ball to his right. Then, at the last possible moment, he just turns his foot and sends him the wrong way.”

The TV pictures confirmed everything Owen had said in a textbook piece of analysis.

Of course, one man’s great pundit is the next man’s pain the neck. It’s all subjective. And those ex-players have to work at their new media trade.

I couldn’t suddenly play centre-forward for England and there’s no reason why a player can hang up his boots and automatically be great with a microphone.

It takes time and hard graft.

This column first appeared in this season's Pompey v Barnsley matchday magazine.

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