“If you don’t play for your country, you are a bad player.”
If the line was said by any other pundit, you would accuse them of setting the bar way too high for Premier League talent.
You might even call it lazy punditry, for it ignores the dozens of players who slip through the net for whatever reason, and does an injustice to the scores of excellent footballers lower down the division and in the Championship.
You wonder what former Manchester United captain Steve Bruce — who famously never got an England cap — would feel about such a comment, which inevitably came from the mouth of Sky Sports’ resident Mr Angry, Roy Keane.
The Irishman has earned himself a formidable reputation of late thanks to his brand of outspoken, no-nonsense punditry. Forget the eagled-eyed analytical approach of Neville and Carragher, Keane isn’t hired for that. Screwing his eyes up and unleashing a ‘heated rant’ to be clipped up and fired onto social media will do the job instead.
Maybe it was an indictment of the poor entertainment offered up by Chelsea versus United in the 4.30pm kick off that Keane’s row with Jamie Redknapp was the most exciting one-on-one battle on display all Sunday.
The pair were different breeds as players and, once again, you sensed Keane wanted to expose his former Tottenham and Liverpool adversary as he did in midfield in the 1990s.
They were debating the strength of Tottenham’s squad, with Jose Mourinho’s side heading into Sunday afternoon’s clash against Burnley having won just one of their previous six matches.
Here is a flavour of the ‘debate’, which quickly turned ugly and had presenter Dave Jones telling Redknapp to “take a breath” at one stage:
Redknapp: “I don’t think you can turn around and say this isn’t a strong squad — it’s full of internationals.”
Keane: “Being an international doesn’t make you a good player.”
Redknapp: “Are you saying these aren’t good players, Roy? Are you saying that Alderweireld, who plays for Belgium, is he not a good player?”
Keane: “He’s not bad. Would he get into any of the top teams in England? Man United wouldn’t take him, Man City wouldn’t touch him, I’m not even sure Leicester would take him.”
Redknapp: “I think he’s a better player than what you’re saying, Roy. He’d get into your Man United team right now.”
It went on. And on.
Lo and behold, both Keane and Redknapp’s names were trending on Twitter soon after — and Sky had what they wanted. Amid a fairly tedious ‘Super Sunday’, it was panacea for those producers and executives who rely on drumming up debate online to stay relevant.
In this way, Keane is the broadcaster’s perfect pundit.
It is fairly obvious that he cannot (or will not) analyse and dissect the game like his former teammate Gary Neville, who deserves immense credit for revolutionising punditry in the past decade.
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Manchester United were denied a penalty in controversial fashion against Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players were furious that Callum Hudson-Odoi wasn’t penalised for a handball, as they had to settle for a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge. The point leaves United 12 points behind leaders Man City, with Crystal Palace the next opponents.
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While Keane was a firebrand player who could lose his head sometimes and get sent off, he also read the game brilliantly from midfield, a tactical maestro. He does not bring that same tactical acumen to the punditry table.
From rolling his eyes when he was “sick to death” of David de Gea last season, or claiming he’d be “fighting him in the dressing room” after an error against Spurs, the list of Keane soundbites is now long and memorable. No doubt it fills the YouTube and Twitter reels for Sky Sports on slow news days.
Keane’s most ardent fans admire his punditry for ‘pulling no punches’ and ‘telling it how it is’. And maybe that’s fine.
If the public want their analysis short and snappy and for entertainment instead of information, Keane is doing a great job. He is decisive and sure of himself and people enjoyed the way he shut down the dithering Redknapp.
But this also serves to undermine the commendable work of other, more analytical pundits, for the sake of a cheap headline. A penny for Neville’s thoughts.