More Summerbee, Please
(This article appeared in The Irish Examiner, February 14)
In the wake of Andy Gray’s demise, is it time to redefine the concept of the pundit? Mike Summerbee certainly seems to think so. From a Sky sofa at Old Trafford, the former Manchester City man blazed a glorious trail for all the infuriated, myopic ranters out there who thought their time had gone.
Fed up with the increasingly lurid eulogies of Wayne Rooney’s goal, Rooney’s performance and Rooney’s impact on humanity’s perpetual pursuit of spiritual transcendence, Summerbee flipped out.
“I’m just wondering, there were two teams out there, weren’t there?” he growled. “We dominated this game, we dominated possession, we had 60% of the game.”
There was laughter, but it was scared laughter. It was the laughter you hear when live TV gets so ‘live’ that everyone’s bottoms shuffle forward to the edge of the seat. You didn’t get that with Andy Gray towards the end. Most people’s bottoms were with the rest of their body, in the kitchen making a cup of tea.
“I tell you something now,” Summerbee continued, “they’ll be looking over their shoulders now, because Manchester City are there. They’re a force. And I would love it, love it if we beat them.”
Alright, he didn’t say the last bit, but who would have minded if he had? It was entertaining. It was considerably more entertaining than watching a cross swung into the box and hearing an awkward ex-player with an enormous knot in his tie say, “Look at the way he swings that cross in. First class.”
Andy Gray was wonderful in the early years of Sky. He explained formations and movement. He brought tactics into the living room. But then he seemed to stop trying. The game changed around him and he didn’t keep up. He refused to believe that there might be something in zonal marking, that 4-5-1 didn’t necessarily mean a more defensive formation than 4-4-2. His nadir came just before the end, when he cast doubt on Lionel Messi’s abilities to perform at Stoke on a wet Wednesday night. As if The Britannia Stadium is the universal testing ground for global genius.
In the absence of a replacement Gray V2.0, a knowledgeable, learned and forward-thinking pundit, why not let Summerbee and others like him come on and rant? Because if we’re going to let ourselves go stagnant, we may as well do it with a smile on our face.