Have TV pundits had their day? You might be forgiven for thinking so. Witness the inane ramblings of Martin Keown, Thierry Henry, Alan Smith, Nigel Winterburn and Ian Wright, or Paul Merson and Charlie Nicholas on Sky Sport’s Soccer Saturday.
All of them are fence sitters, afraid to commit themselves one way or another on the subject of whether Arsene Wenger is still fit to run Arsenal Football Club. They've been skirting around the issue for years, but never commit to an opinion one way or the other.
To some extent, it’s understandable. They owed their livings to the club, have a genuine affinity towards it and are regarded as legends by the supporters. It would require substance to cut ties with an institution that still gives them all manner of perks while at the same time frowns upon ex-players being remotely critical of their day-to-day operations.
Witness how Wenger prevented Thierry Henry from coaching the youth squad because of his role as a TV pundit. Indeed, Henry may well harbour hopes of managing Arsenal one day; therefore he has to box clever. It would be foolish to sever his ties by going against the grain, potentially costing him his dream job.
So let’s not be too harsh on the pundits, but let’s also agree that their opinions on Arsenal are dead – they have no relevance. A biased pundit is a much use as a condom machine at the Vatican.
Social media is where it’s at, and the pundits are frightened of it. Witness Gary Neville slamming ArsenalFan TV. The YouTube channel has amassed such a huge following, that it’s eating into the mainstream broadcasters’ viewership and being seen as a threat, particularly by pundits who arrogantly believe their opinion to be superior and, wait for it, more intellectual.
Neville made a fool of himself criticising fans, and it’s not because he called an Arsenal fan an idiot – Arsenal fans call each other idiots all the time (and a lot worse). No, it’s because his point of view was loaded with contempt that ANYONE should have a trusted opinion other than the likes of him.
This is despite the fact that Arsenal fans’ opinions carry more weight than Neville because they, obviously, have greater expertise and a more nuanced understanding of how the club operates. It’s the fans that watch every single game, the fans that have an intuitive feeling for its performance metrics and the fans that have more in-depth knowledge of the club’s history.
Neville also rendered himself redundant by making one of the most laughable statements I’ve ever heard from a TV pundit, something along the lines of, “I’ll never call for a manager to be sacked”. How on earth can a pundit take that position when probably a third of Premier League managers get sacked every season in what are, most of the time, long, slow-burning sagas that have a massive effect on the players' and supporters' psyche before, during and prior to the event.
But then, what do you expect from a pundit who a couple of years ago ignorantly exclaimed Arsenal to be completely debt free. This was during a tirade AGAINST Arsene Wenger. He clearly didn’t do his homework on Arsenal, or Valencia by the look of it.
At the moment, everywhere you look ex-Arsenal pundits are squirming in their seats. They’re being pushed by presenters to give a yes/no answer to whether Wenger should remain, and sit there effectively giving every reason under the sun why he’s incompetent, yet refusing to pin their colours to the mast - scared to break protocol.
Even worse, they sway with public opinion. The more vociferous the call from fans/written media for Wenger to leave, the more they edge towards the precipice of agreement, and as the fans/written media back off, they predictably lean in the other direction.
By the way, certain blog writers are not immune from this either – witness Arseblog. Arsenal’s most popular blogger, no doubt, but you won’t find a much bigger fence sitter on the subject of Wenger.
The fact is, as soon as Arsenal owes you a living, unless you have the courage of your convictions – and he hasn’t, your views are bound to be tainted and completely lacking in objectivity. It’s embarrassing to watch, but no longer an annoyance if you’re able to see through the whole charade and completely dismiss their contaminated viewpoints.
You have to look at all these people as an extension of the club - a mutant leaf on the disfigured branch that is Kroenke, Gazidis and Wenger, and a bunch of other corrupt old bastards palming each other off for achieving jack shit.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the internet has changed the media landscape. We live in a “me, myself and I” culture now. The ordinary person wants his five minutes of fame. Television gave us permission with reality TV garbage, and radio, as desperate as the broadsheets for advertising revenues, has to equally encourage audience hysteria.
The internet has allowed the fans themselves to seize their own power, organising themselves to create YouTube channels that are starting to bypass the now-moribund experts’ prejudiced opinions, enabling us to go straight to source. It’s immediate, it’s rapid-fire, and it’s emotive. What it’s not is contrived, arrogant and dull.
The printed press are no better, they’re afraid to criticise Wenger in case they lose their seat in the press box or at press conferences. Meanwhile, corrupt media mouthpieces like The Mirror’s John Cross plant biased stories on the behest of the club itself.
I’ll close by saying that there are still a few pundits worth listening to. Roy Keane for example; a pundit seemingly willing to speak his mind on any subject with brutal honesty, irrespective of his links to Manchester United, or any future expectations he may have of working in the media or as a football coach or manager.
Somehow, I think Keane’s legendary standing has not been tarnished one inch amongst Man Utd supporters. Maybe more pundits should be like him, and maybe broadcasters should employ more pundits like him if they want to regain some sort of control of the media landscape. And I don't include Robbie Savage in that.
Note: Arsenal Truth is now on Twitter @TruthArsenal.
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