At this point of the season, Gary Lineker doesn’t need reminding that he’s a lucky man.
Last weekend he was at Wembley to watch the FA Cup final with the BBC. This Saturday he’s at the San Siro in Milan with BT Sport to present the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Two weeks and a holiday later, he will be in Paris for the start of Euro 2016.
“It would be a bit much to complain wouldn’t it?” Lineker laughs. “I’m perfectly aware of how fortunate I am to be in this position. With the Euros coming up, there’s plenty on, but the Champions League final is the biggest club football that you can possibly see.”
Good work if you can get it, basically. And, given how many broadcasters are covering live football these days, it’s no surprise that there are more players than ever choosing to hang up their boots and settle in to a pundit’s chair.
But Lineker, who has watched the market boom since first joining Match of the Day as a pundit in 1995, thinks there’s a problem to TV’s appetite for insatiable opinion.
“I suppose in many ways we’re suffering with our coaches and managers,” he says. “We have such a thriving TV football business, and so the real brains, the real intelligent footballers, are going into that side of it rather than being a coach, because they can have a more enjoyable experience.
“That’s probably one of the reasons why we’re not producing too many great coaches or managers in this country. I think the more intelligent ones go into television.”
‘Alan Shearer is a better pundit because he gave up trying to be a manager’
You only have to look at Gary Neville’s ill-fated managerial position at Valencia to see why players would plump for the pundit’s life instead, says Lineker.
“Even somebody like Gary, who is very good on TV, very good at the analysis, he’s had a go at management and because it didn’t quite work out, will he want another go? Maybe he will, or maybe he will want to go back into TV.
“Alan Shearer is the same; for years he did a bit of TV, but in his head – and I’ve spoken to him about this – he thought he was going to go into management again. Now he’s suddenly thought, ‘Hang on, I quite enjoy what I’m doing’. And I think once he made that decision his punditry became a lot better.
“When you think you’re perhaps going to go back into the game, it’s not easy to say exactly what you think because you might be working with that player. You can’t be that critical or truthful.”
So, which pundit could make a good manager?
“I think somebody like Danny Murphy would make an excellent coach if he wanted to. I don’t want him to, because I like working with him, but he could definitely work in coaching and management.”
If the government wants to see my salary, so be it
This is the first year Lineker has worked for two different broadcasters in the UK. He’s not the only person to split his time between the BBC and BT Sport, of course: Rio Ferdinand, Ian Wright and Robbie Savage all pop up on both channels. But inevitably when you’re one of the highest profile broadcasters on the BBC payroll, moves like his make an impact.
“There will always be scrutiny, and it’s understandable,” he says. “It’s a job that a lot of people care about. People care about football, they care about their football on the television. I perfectly understand that; all you’ve got to do is try and do it the best you possibly can.”
BT have clearly benefitted from having Lineker on their team for their debut season in Europe. Meanwhile, the BBC continue to defend their lines against attacks from all sides.
Culture sectretary John Whittingdale’s White Paper on the future of the BBC, for example, has suggested publishing the salaries of all talent earning over £450,000 – which, according to reports, includes Lineker.
Commentators have warned that this could damage the BBC’s chances of holding on to the best in the business, but Lineker says he wouldn’t leave the BBC, even if it meant disclosing his salary.
“I’ve signed a five-year deal to work with the BBC, and for me it’s lovely to have both Match of the Day and BT’s Champions League. Quite frankly, they’ll do what they have to do. You can’t involve yourself with the politics; you’ve just got to let them get on with it.
“If they have to come out with people’s salaries, if that makes them happy, then OK, whatever. It’s the same whether you’re a footballer or are in the entertainment business: we know our salaries are high. They’re higher than people who do probably much more important jobs. But that’s the market rate. No one’s going to go, ‘Actually I’ll have a lot less if you don’t mind.’ That’s how it works, I’m not ashamed of it. I worked really hard, and I enjoy what I do.”
By the sound of it, Lineker will be cramming in as much football as he can for some time to come. And next season, he’ll be able to get paid to watch Champions League challengers Leicester City for BT Sport as well as the BBC. If that isn’t a dream job, I’m not sure what is.
The Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid is live on BT Sport this Saturday 28th May, and, for the first time ever, will be available to watch for free on BT Sport’s YouTube channel