Whether you’ve kicked a ball or not, everyone has an opinion on football.
From those fervent fans that watch their team through sheets of rain every Saturday and can give you an in-depth run down of Dagenham & Redbridge’s tactical set up, to your dad and his mates who catch the odd Sunday game with a tin in hand shouting at the TV.
Everyone can talk about the game, but very few people are paid to talk about the game.
Players and ex-players from all corners of the game sit on sofas in TV studios every week and are paid handsomely to tell viewers what they are seeing.
For the most part pundits offer great insight and tactical analysis on the on-pitch affairs, but we are asking whether in the wider conversations about football; the culture, the banter, themes and issues – are players really the only people with the expertise to talk on these?
Would you rather hear Garth Crooks on why Paul Pogba’s haircut is impacting his game or Paul Merson claiming that foreign managers won’t succeed in England, rather than their informed views on the pressure and feeling of playing on the highest stage?
In the interest of balance let’s start this off with a celebration of the well-loved pundits we see on TV on a weekly basis.
Across the major channels a roll call of stars past and present offer a window into the game we all know and love.
From Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville’s masterful tactical exposés on Monday Night Football to Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard’s candid conversations about their careers on BT Sport’s Saturday evening games, the punditry brings out a side of the game even regular viewers don’t see or understand.
There are stories, opinions and comments that get everyone talking, bring up moments that weren’t clear during the match and opportunities for the players to show a new side of their character.
Watching games on TV these days is as much about the pre- and post-match talks as the action itself.
However, with the advent of Twitter, fan blogs and journalists-cum-broadcasters, there is a whole world of football comment that gets very little airtime.
And Glenn Hoddle misunderstanding Kylian Mbappe’s ‘fake rabona’ against Real Madrid last night got us thinking – do you have to be a player to be a good pundit?
For as long as we can remember TV companies have only used people who have played football as analysts but in my opinion there is room for a whole new style of on-screen analysis.
Just look at the success of Arsenal Fan TV and you can see that people like hearing the views of the fans on the terraces, no matter how many times it’s peppered with ‘BLUD!’.
BBC Five Live and BT Sport‘s Champions League Goals Show do fantastic jobs of bringing in the know journalists and football writers that have a wise understanding of the game although they’ve never actually played to a high level.
It can easily be argued that they offer a more articulate level of comment and normally stay clear of the tired cliches that seem to have become a staple of TV punditry.
Remember these are people that are paid to write about football, watch the game 24/7 and millions of people take their word as truth in the back pages of national papers and websites.
Meanwhile, the rise of the football podcast has shown that people want to hear different voices on their favourite game.
The boys at the Football Ramble bring a comedic element to genuinely insightful football conversation which produces an easy listen, and notably they are beginning to break into more mainstream football coverage.
The Totally Football Show‘s James Richardson brings a level of expertise on Italian football that is hard to compare, and he’s also everyone’s favourite presenter™.
Just because these people haven’t played football they are not amateurs, for the most part they are masters of the craft of punditry and are shaping a new period for football media that reaches far beyond Match of the Day and Super Sunday and into the depths of social media and football conversation.
So we put this to theory to the test, with a fairly unscientific method of asking people on their phones to vote in a Twitter poll.
After a few hundred votes (at the time of writing) the public voted overwhelmingly in defence of non-players chatting away on our teleboxes.
We accept that there is no replacement for someone like Roy Keane or Thierry Henry who have done it all in the game and can translate what the players are feeling when the huge moments come around.
But surely even those of us who have not taken a penalty in a Champions League match, or come out of the tunnel at Old Trafford can put ourselves in the position of players to explain what they are going through.
Particularly from fan groups who are often the most avid watchers of the game and see their teams play week in week out, they also generally have the most passion for their side and their opinions stem from that – albeit bias often creeps in.
We asked The Sun‘s very own Danny Higginbotham what he makes of the concept of only players being able to be pundits.
“Can great players make great pundits? Yes. Can lads that played to a decent level, but weren’t necessarily greats, make great pundits? Yes. Can someone that’s not played football make a great pundit? That’s a little different,” said the 2003 FA Cup finalist.
“I do think you have to have an understanding of the game to be a pundit – and that means playing it to some level.
“You’ve been in that position before – you’re 1-0 up, 2-1 down – and it’s a big boost if you’ve got experience of being on the pitch. I can’t talk about winning the World Cup but I can talk about being in the Premier League or our run to the FA Cup final – I love the tactical side.
“When I’m doing games, especially commentary because that’s what I love to do, at the end of it I think ‘Have I taught something to somebody that they didn’t know before?’
“If the answer is ‘yes’ then I’m doing my job.”
These days a season ticket holding fan, combined with the player access that social media offers, will be just as, if not more, knowledgeable on a pressing football debate than some former stars.
When it comes to the surrounding culture of football, fans are the people that drive it through conversations, debates in the pub and spats on Twitter.
Pundits wince at the idea that anyone who hasn’t been through the football pyramid can talk on the subject, but in the summer when Robbie Savage is talking over a commentator during the World Cup final, we could probably collectively ask the question: Really?