The lessons ex-player pundits could learn from Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville 0

Sky Sports’ decision to pair Jamie Carragher with Gary Neville on Monday Night Football has already been praised on this site, and the public consensus is that their in-studio chemistry and ability to articulate their knowledge has made the program the standard-bearer in its category.

Last night, both Carragher and Neville were utilised as part of Sky’s Champions League presentation and were a huge asset to it.  Carragher was tasked with breaking down Atletico’s defensive-shape, whilst Neville was on co-commentary duty alongside Martin Tyler.

A bittersweet moment; the problem with Carragher and Neville, is that their superiority highlights the inadequacies of their punditry peer group.

Carragher had clearly spent a great deal of time researching the system developed by Diego Simeone and gave viewers who were new to the Spanish side a concise insight into the roots of their success.  Rather than throwing around platitudes that belong at a pub bar - as almost every other pundit in that situation would have done - the former Liverpool defender actually used his experience within the game to educate and inform.

Similarly, while Neville is prone to the occasional squeal in the commentary box, his value behind the microphone is undeniable; of the many, many ex-pros tasked with summarising, he is perhaps the only one who allows the viewer to get inside the mind of the players.  Neville identifies the phases of the game vividly and sees things on the pitch that the television audience is too naive to notice.

Here’s the key to the success of these two: fans - even knowledgeable, long-standing fans - learn something new from them every time they’re on the television.

Regular readers will know my feelings on this subject and will probably share my disenchantment with the ease that many transition from the pitch to behind the cameras.  Neville and Carragher make that a more credible critique, too, because they are a departure from the ‘turn up and describe events’ culture which the Jamie Redknapps and Alan Shearers have failed to move away from.  Carragher and Neville have no special gifts and they’re not even the most articulate people, but they work at their craft and have - and continue to - invest a great deal of time and effort into making themselves better broadcasters.

Re-watch Neville during his first few episodes of Monday Night Football and look at him now - that progression doesn’t just happen by itself, it’s the product of a determination to improve.

These two are the yardstick, but more than they are an example to others looking to make a similar transition.  Simply playing the game does not equip anybody to be a broadcaster, and all that experience is actually worth nothing if it’s not accompanied by a willingness to learn a new set of skills.

The football-watching public is growing ever more bored of seeing their subscription/license fees spent on employing people who do little more than show up and talk in generalities, so recently retired players would do well to follow the Neville/Carragher example and appreciate how much more valuable a bit of effort could make them to television companies.

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