For some time now, Monday night football has had little to do with the football. The game itself has become an irrelevance, an out of date slice of ham squashed between two fresh slices of bread. The reason we now tune in is the wit and wisdom of Gary Neville’s analysis. You see, every time Gary goes off on one of his impassioned lectures about the game, Twitter in particular melts before him. We are the fawning audience worshipping at the altar of Gary’s truth.
Last Monday’s night’s game was a particularly pungent slice of ham. West Ham United faced Stoke City at Upton Park in one of those fixtures that really test one’s love for football. There can be no actual enjoyment at any level of a Stoke City game. They try to reduce a game to two teams lobbing the ball at each other with all the subtly of two deer butting heads. There was nothing noteworthy in the game whatsoever. The defending was crude and the attacking reminded me of cold wet AUL mornings where a football is treated like a bomb. I waited in anticipation for The Truth from Gary. He would tear into this excuse for a game, he would point out every single instance of wasted possession and merge that into a long soliloquy about how this was why England fail every two years.
Instead we were treated to some stats about the two main strikers on show; Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll. Remarkably, both strikers had significantly more touches in their own box then they had in the opposition’s box. Gary highlighted this, and praised the two for doing the dirty work, the work as he said that’s forgotten about in May. We were then shown a few clips of Andy rising like the sea to batter away a corner, while Peter stood above all others and nodded away his own corner in riposte.
Now I had sympathy for Gary in a way, trying to cut highlights from that game can’t have been easy. If this was Match Of The Day, then it would be on last, we’d see the teams emerge from the tunnel, the two goals, Tony Puils’ hat and then consign it to some cold storage room where a heap gathers in the corner of games such as this and Aston Villa against Reading.
But honestly, highlights of Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch heading away corners? Gary was in better form at half-time and went into detail about the supposed ingenious method of Stoke’s opener. He proclaimed it as one of the goals of the season. Every conceivable camera angle was deployed, we were shown the goal in real time and then almost frame by frame as Gary explained each and every player’s role in the goal. Glenn Whelan gives the signal, Jonathan Walters makes his run, Charlie Adam commits a foul and Walter’s finishes sharply.
That it was a well drilled goal is indisputable despite the illegality of it. But one of the goals of the season? Has it really come to this? Gary explained the hours it would have taken to perfect every detail in that goal. Would Stoke not be better employed spending hours trying to move away from their kick-everything-in-sight game plan that has them languishing near the bottom of the league and has them tied to a manager and an identity that has already seen them hit their ceiling?
I don’t recall either, during Oliver Giroud’s initial struggles at Arsenal too many highlights of him clearing corners. In fact, I can’t recall any highlights of any foreign striker heading away a corner. In essence, Gary was giving credit to both players for being tall. He was also giving Tony Pulis credit for reducing football to a drill.
Neville is still the sharpest pundit on television. His tactical and technical observations are genuinely enlightening and he remains box-office. But his status is such now that his opinion can give sheen to even the darkest of games. Because the truth about Gary is; he daren’t question the standard of the product, so then should we question the lofty status of his punditry?