LARRY RYAN: Pundits have strong words for gaffers

Larry Ryan writes a strongly worded letter to the week’s sport 

What an impact Moyesy has made at the Hammers. Off to a flier. Hit the ground running. The best possible start.

“He now appears to be back to his Everton best,” read one article this week.

The churlish will point out that Moyesy hasn’t reported for duty at any football matches yet.

However, in the key battleground, for hearts and minds, he has set his stall out and he has done ever so well early doors, considering he was under the cosh.

You could see in his first media outings Moyesy knew there was a lot at stake. Unlike at the Stadium of Light, where he mounted a stout defence against optimism, he has attempted so far to steer clear of promising a long and gruelling battle against the drop for the Hammers. He has resisted his old inspirational catch phrase: “Nothing dramatic will change.”

There was, though, one immortal line which may be resurrected down the track if this all goes south: “I think I want to be more aggressive, now.”

However, once Moyesy had made up his mind, on the aggression front, he was on the front foot and into the third person, which is now a more complicated business than in the pomp of Kevin Keegan’s Kevin Keegan.

“All I can do is do what David Moyes has done before,” David Moyes once said, back in the glory days of David Moyes, when he had just taken over at Manchester United.

Unfortunately, it quickly became evident that meant finishing fifth or sixth in the table and Manchester United had other plans. So, going forward, Moyesy will have to spell out which of the Moyesys he means.

“Probably in this job, I am going back to being David Moyes at Preston,” he clarified and, in a pre-emptive move, in case he doesn’t get the rub of the green at the London Stadium, David Moyes even gave his nominated David Moyes a vote of confidence. “I think if I was a West Ham chairman I would certainly consider David Moyes as manager, that’s for sure.”

He reaped the rewards for this attacking display.

“That was bullish, he was back. That was the best I’ve seen him for a good few years,” Craig Bellamy told Sky Sports’ The Debate.

A thousand online write-ups flowed from there. Has Moyesy won himself a honeymoon period?

Crucially, it’s now the pundits who decide which David Moyes is standing in the technical area.

In this post-mind-games era, where the internet still has to be filled, it is the opinions that matter. Maybe even more than the precious points. In a media landscape in thrall to opinion — as long as it comes from licensed pundits — it is they who decide if we are buying what a gaffer is selling or who determine if a three-year project has been fitted with a suitable philosophy.

Interestingly, it is not the gaffers who have many different selves to choose from who are most concerned about the influence of the pundits.

There is not a selection of Tony Pulises, there is only one Tony Pulis (an aggression-fuelled pragmatist) and there is only one Jose Mourinho (an expensive, conspiracy-fuelled pragmatist), but both are outraged when they are not portrayed by the pundits as idealist champions of dignity and beautiful football.

When he isn’t speaking about not speaking about injuries, Mourinho devotes most of his attention these days to the people he calls “the specialists”.

“It is better for the specialists to comment on the game than for me to give my opinion,” is the way he plays it, helplessly afloat on the tide of punditry, while Pulis tries, as best he can, to erect flood defences: “It’s amazing that they failed as managers,” he sniffed last week, before outlining his tactics for beating the pundits.

“I usually go out and have a cup of tea, then come back and watch the football.”

Once, we thought that the pundits might indeed be beatable on their own patch, that the arrival of Sky+ and whatnot would kill the pundits, that we would fast-forward through their ‘for-mes’ and their ‘all-credits’.

However, as Pulis is learning, the pundits can’t be avoided in the kitchen or contained within half-time. Their opinions have been set free on a tsunami of clickbait.

Not that we need feel much sympathy for Pulis, who dabbles in punditry himself. Indeed, should he be thrown overboard by the waves of opinion, he will be back in the pundit’s chair, eyeing the merry-go-round and leading the clamour for British managers to be given a chance.

Ironically, it is partly down to the likes of Pulis and Moyesy being given all the chances, that England’s golden generation waits in the wings, making punditry more box office than ever before.

Stevie G, Lamps, Rio, Carra, Scholesy, the Nevilles — the rewards for the top top pundits is at least rivalling the pay of the middle managers, and the job security is better.

So we may soon be at a stage where football men dabble for spells in the game of chance that is results and points until they can get back into the serious business of punditry.

The growing confidence of the top pundits was reflected last weekend, in one of Gary Neville’s sermons aimed at Mourinho. Where once the managers would go the modest route and tell us it is really all about the players, now it is the pundits throwing the odd scrap back to the gaffers.

“What we are saying here is noise,” Neville patronised. “We are filling time until the game starts. Why are they obsessed with critics and pundits? Stop it. You’re making yourself look weak.”

Said from a position of unprecedented strength.

Kelly’s heroes at junior B

Finally, the nation is starting to recoup a fair return on all the cash it has poured into Ed Sheeran’s pockets over the years.

Magnificent Tipp musical duo The 2 Johnnies have repurposed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud into an emotional appeal to a club veteran whose “legs don’t work like they used to before”.

The haunting refrain, sung down the phone by the club chairman and advisor, will rattle many a one-time legend whose engine is goosed: “Seamie now, will you drop back to Junior B?”

While Sheeran might have preferred to concentrate on “finding love right where we are”, there is more poignancy in the Johnnies’ couplets:

“Seamie, you got cleaned out against Nenagh.

We can’t watch you play another game senior.”

The new release from the Johnnies sent us back to their neglected classic from the summer gone, Junior B All Star, where the lads remind would-be regraders of the perils to be found down a level or three.

“Swinging the elbows, giving out shiners.

This is no place for county minors.

“Henry Shefflin, Eoin Kelly, you wouldn’t last at junior B.”

On that final point, though, at least the lads have to hold their hands up this week.

Kelly, one of the greatest of all senior hurlers, came on at half-time last weekend and scored five points as Mullinahone clinched the South Tipp junior B final.

Presumably, the boys are readying a Shape of Youtribute.


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