Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughGary Neville: A breath of fresh air in the world of punditry - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Gary Neville: A breath of fresh air in the world of punditry - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Gary Neville: A breath of fresh air in the world of punditry

Who would have thought that when it was announced former Manchester United and England right-back Gary Neville would replace Andy Gray in the pundits’ seat for Sky Sports News, he would take to the position like a duck to water? Gray had been a corner stone in the years gone by for Sky alongside Richard Keys, promoting the vast array of talent live to the fans on Monday Night Football (MNF) with a round-up of the best and worst of the weekends talking points.

However, when Keys and Gray were removed from their position for sexist remarks towards lineswoman Sian Massey live on television, coupled with the former caught live discussing a potential ‘smash’ with Jamie Redknapp, many were pondering who would replace the duo live on air. Let’s face it, the pairing weren’t everyone’s cup of tea but, they knew what to do and they did it well.

Ed Chamberlain came in to replace Keys as host of MNF, amongst other positions including the presenter of Super Sunday, while Neville, who had retired a little over 12 months ago, was requested to appear alongside the former Sports Saturday and midweek Soccer Special host. Now regularly praised for his input, it is hardly surprising to see Neville such a success in a role that looked impossible to undertake following Gray’s dismissal.

What makes him so good?

The knack that Neville has to thrive in his role is his knowledge of the game having performed at the highest level almost 20 years. And while the argument can be made that Gray spent a similar amount of time as Neville plying his trade in England and Scotland, the latter was around since the inception of the Premier League and played when the game was performed at a higher pace with technique featuring predominantly during the rise of the Premiership as one of Europe’s elite leagues.

But what makes Neville that much better than Gray? To put it simply, Neville isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He knows exactly what it takes to perform at the top of any player’s game and can put his knowledge to exceptional use when it comes to analysing a passage of play, a goal or a controversial decision.

With Gray, his chance to play in the Premier League, having retired two-years before it commenced, limits his understanding of England’s top tier in the way Neville excels in this department. The former Scotland international may have endured a successful playing career, but the way football has evolved, especially in England, since his retirement saw many questions his tactical analysis on numerous occasions with a number of fans believing his opinion to be outdated, to an extent.

I understand this is may sound like a bit of a Neville love piece, and there are critiques of him coming up, but his brutish honesty, his ability to argue his points and isn’t afraid to contradict his fellow pundits if he believes they are in the wrong.

What I don’t like about Neville

It hasn’t happened all too often, but when Sky have relied on Neville to co-commentate in the past, his opinions have become diluted and more scripted. More often than not, he doesn’t have the opportunity to analyse game changing situations in great depth that he would do during half-time or full-time.

His commentating skills are poor and his inability to let his team bias get the better of him really let him down in this department. Matthew Le Tissier for example, who regularly updates Gillette Soccer Saturday, is one that should be ahead of Neville in the commentating pecking order as far as I’m concerned. His work on Soccer Saturday stands him in good stead for the role during Sky’s live games due to his ability to rapidly update what fans can’t see on the screen and quickly analyse any situation to his best extent.

And while Neville can do this, his analysis is better served when it is drawn out over an extended period of time, allowing him to pick out incidents that fans may or may not have picked up on during the course of any fixture. This is what has seen him lauded as one of the better pundits to emerge in the modern game, partly down to his unrivalled characteristic of speaking to his mind to prove his point.

Many pundits within football take a more scripted and clichéd approach to discussing occurrences over the course of any game, whereas Neville isn’t afraid to tell it how it really is, something that generally welcomed by the football family. Whether it’s his recent take on diving or a goal that hasn’t crossed the line, the former Manchester United right-back isn’t afraid to upset the viewers or fellow pundits to make his point and his knowledge of the game at the highest level can be considered unparalleled by some, which is what makes his emergence in the game such a welcome one.