Footballers only usually find their feet as TV pundits when they’ve retired and don’t have to go back into the changing room with the players they’ve just laid into.
Steven Gerrard last night proved once again that he is not like other footballers.
The Liverpool captain was injured, but was brought in as an ITV pundit for his side’s Europa League last-32 match against Besiktas.
Normally this is a PR exercise for player and club, a chance to work the commentary box and explain how everything is rosy.
Gerrard, refreshingly, chose not to follow the script.
When Liverpool were awarded a penalty in the last five minutes of the match, stand-in captain Jordan Henderson picked up the ball, ready to take the kick.
His teammate Mario Balotelli clearly had other ideas, taking the ball out of his hands and appearing to challenge Henderson and his strike partner Daniel Sturridge.
In the end, Balotelli took the penalty… and scored.
So, no problem, right? Wrong, at least according to Gerrard, who in his post-match comments made it clear that Balotelli had blundered.
He told host Matt Smith that if he had been on the pitch he would have taken the penalty, adding, “Jordan should have taken the penalty. Rules are rules. It should have been Henderson. Mario was being a bit mischievous.
“Credit to Mario, he’s scored,” he added. “But it’s not nice to see when footballers are arguing. I think Jordan has handled the situation very well. He can see that Mario really wanted to score.
“Jordan walked away at the right moment and handled his post-match interview very well. Jordan is the captain and Mario showed Jordan a bit of disrespect there, but he’s scored a very important goal.
“I think six or seven players would have wanted to take that penalty, so if they all say they are taking it, what happens then? Rules are in place for a reason.”
Perhaps this is the type of chat that should have been saved for the dressing room, but clearly Gerrard felt he needed to show he could be candid when he wants to.
Like his Manchester United rival Paul Scholes before him, Gerrard has mostly let his football do the talking. But as he prepares to leave Anfield in the summer, he must be looking at his post-playing options. Coaching? Punditry? Management?
Gary Neville appears to be trying to do all of the above. Scholes meanwhile has not minced his words when it comes to criticising his former club. Even Gerrard’s former teammate turned Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher seemed impressed.
Gerrard was just stating his case, reading the game, pulling no punches. And, maybe, behind it all there’s a touch of wanting to make sure Liverpool can still function without him.
As he says, he wouldn’t have let Balotelli do what he did. Surely that’s an implicit challenge to Henderson as much as it is a criticism of Balotelli?
As always, we read too much into what footballers say. But Gerrard’s been around the game long enough to know what he’s doing. He knows when to pass, and when to pass over a question. This time, he chose not to.
Carragher, Neville, Scholes… there isn’t much space left in those punditry squads, but last night Gerrard showed he might just be first team material.