Soccer Saturday is an iconic show, not just for fans but also players. Most of the British lads would stick it on if they weren’t playing or as soon as they got to the team hotel. It is a staple of the football weekend.
The reason it has lasted so long is because not only do the pundits have a wealth of football experience but also great chemistry.
So, it was a shock to read that Sky Sports have decided to axe Phil Thompson, Matt Le Tissier and Charlie Nicholas. To get rid of all three is a big decision. I have worked with Thommo and he was with me for most of my time at Liverpool. He is a wonderful character with such a passion for the game.
But this is what happens in the industry. Things change. Off the pitch as well as on it.
I understand why some fans are frustrated. I remember when Andy Gray and Martin Tyler were the voice of Sky and the Premier League. I loved them. I never thought I would enjoy listening to anyone else. But I did.
Things move on, others will take their place and get their chance. That’s how I got mine. I never would have if things always stayed the same. It will be fascinating to see who fills those roles. There are lots of talented men and women who could take over. People need to stay open-minded. We have already seen that many have not.
The biggest sadness about this is that other pundits, like Micah Richards and Alex Scott, have suffered racial abuse for a decision that is nothing to do with them. This is unacceptable.
Ian Wright was spot-on in his video that he posted on social media. People are making assumptions borne out of ignorance and hatred. Micah and Alex are both fantastic pundits but this isn’t about them, it’s about the show evolving.
There are also financial aspects to consider due to the pandemic. And it will take time for the new pundits to create their own chemistry.
Again, there are parallels to football on the pitch as well as off it. When you are at a club, you have a manager who decides which players work best in which formation, much of which is dependent on who clicks with who. Players are brought in, others moved on. It’s the same in punditry. Producers see who bounces off each other best, who is strong enough to pick another up on something they said.
My first piece of punditry was alongside Alan Hansen. I don’t feel intimidated any more as I have been doing it for a while but I sure did then as I’d grown up watching him win titles with Liverpool. Many times I wanted to speak but didn’t as he was in full flow. I finished thinking ‘Did I even speak?’ Alan came to me afterwards, winked and said, ‘Sorry if I spoke too much’.
Players pay attention to what the pundits say too. I will never forget the day Hansen picked me out on Match of the Day and said, ‘What I like about Danny Murphy is he’s good at doing bits of everything’. I was buzzing. I still remember it now.
I feel for the three guys who have been let go, but it is a great opportunity for others to make their own mark. I just hope that Jeff Stelling stays. He is iconic, too, and knits the show together so well.
If he goes, that would be like replacing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Please stay, Jeff. From an old fan.