Gary Neville: Single-handedly making punditry bearable (again?)
Back in February 2011, the Guardian’s ‘The Gallery’ humorously predicted Gary Neville’s next career direction in response to the news of his imminent retirement. Unfortunately, he became neither a Tellytubby or an Egyptian rebel – instead, replacing Andy Gray as the man tasked with analysing games for Sky Sports; and, boy, has he done it well. With his somewhat-oversized iPad-like gizmo and the trusty stylus which he excitedly waves around like an eight-year-old playing Nintendogs, he’s gone down a hit with armchair fans this season. And they’re not poking fun at him, any more. Unless you’re an oblivious, Neville-hating, armchair fan without a TV. Which would be weird.
His entertaining, fresh approach to punditry has been so well-received that some have even remarked the actual game, the one he’s tasked with analysing, to simply be ‘two 45-minute breaks’. That’s not too far from the truth because there’s something so obviously different about him – for example, his professionally soothing voice, his ability to read between the lines – compared to, say, Alan Hansen or Alan Shearer, where he actually says something viewers would find remotely interesting. And he probably knows a thing or two about Hatem Ben Arfa, as well.
Neville isn’t as relaxed on camera as Hansen or Mark Lawrenson – sometimes he’s nervous and fidgety – but he’s already proven himself to be far superior on his hourly 7pm review of the week for Monday Night Football. And he’s still fairly new, let’s not forget.
Of course, there are times when he falls into ‘The Lawrenson trap’ of saying something disappointingly banal; for instance, he put Tottenham’s emergence as a force this season partly down to ‘desire’; only seconds away from wheeling out the “never-say-die” cliché we’re so familiar with on Match of the Day. Fortunately, Neville is Neville and, in no time, he turns it around with a gem and all those minor blemishes are forgotten about.
His close knowledge of 21st century football is mightily impressive; he is familiar with all the latest trends, but finds the perfect balance in not going so technical with saturated tactics talk about the perceived role of the ‘False 9’. He will point out where teams are going wrong – and indeed, right – not shying away from being critical, even if it means being critical to his beloved former club, Manchester United. He’ll throw in some hilarious tounge-in-cheek statements, too. His David Luiz quip, in which he said the Brazilian appears as if he were being “controlled by a 10-year-old in the crowd on a Playstation”, remains a highlight.
He’s even seeing a contrast in fortunes from his playing days as many have begrudgingly praised the ex-United player, seemingly won over by his charm (true story). Neville has always been a bit of a charismatic figure, however; his famous friendship with David Beckham – the butt of many jokes – showed this. He once said: “I was with him that fateful night he first saw The Spice Girls on the telly and said: ‘See that girl who can’t dance or sing, I’m going to marry her’”. Now, he’s forging a famous double act with a less glamorous being in Sky presenter Ed Chamberlain, feeding off each other like two lion cannibals. But, once the show really gets going, Chamberlain stops talking – and leaves it all to the meticulous Neville. Someone, anyone, give the man a raise and, better yet, his own spin-off show.