As the football season eases into life, some things look like they are staying the same.
Premier League champions Manchester City have started where they left off, recently crushing Liverpool 3-1. Tottenham are showing early season promise of the kind that usually tails off when they are threatened with the possibility of a Champions League place at the end of the season. And Manchester United appear to be showing that even their new coach Louis van Gaal can’t stop them underperforming.
But one thing has changed, and certainly not for the better in my book: Alan Hansen has left a big Alan Hansen-sized hole around the Match of the Day pundit table, having decided to leave the BBC show after 22 years.
Yes, I didn’t think I’d ever be saying this, but I am already starting to miss the old boy.
Look, I’ve nothing against the others pundits. But also, to borrow a Peter Cook joke, there doesn’t seem to much against Alan Shearer in the studio either, at least judging by last Saturday’s edition of the show. Sitting next to the former England striker in a position hitherto occupied by Hansen was Robbie Savage, a man with incomparably beautiful blonde locks and a lively presenting style but nothing approaching the tactical insight of Hansen.
It was almost as if Shearer were trying to compensate for this, injecting Saturday’s show with a lot of chalkboard analysis, much of it excellent. His dissection of Arsenal’s “poor, poor” first half defending, was alright. But he was no Hansen. There was none of the withering expertise of the Scot’s contribution – and also none of the experience.
As presenter Gary Lineker said after Hansen announced he was quitting: “Like every pundit people have their views on Alan, but he set the tone in terms of analysis. We used to just show the goals, but in his early career he said ‘no I want to do it differently’. He wanted to show how you defend, how the team shapes and all of that.”
Hansen knew whereof he spoke, especially about defensive play, even if his use of adjectives (“shocking” or “diabolical”) was limited. I must be remembered that last week we had two strikers on Match of the Day (presenter Gary Lineker and Shearer) and Savage, a journeyman midfielder at the best of times. Hansen was older, a brilliant player in his day, and it seemed, that little bit wiser.
How the new line-up is configured will take time to bed in. The indications are that the BBC is be waiting to see what partnerships gel before settling on a regular double act of pundits.
Will it be from among their current regulars? Rio Ferdinand? Savage? Ruud Gullit? Or even, lawks alive, Phil Neville or Danny Murphy? Perhaps a football journalist who has never played the game professionally could also be introduced.
But whatever they do, the BBC has stiff competition from Sky where the pairing of Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville have made Sky’s Monday Night Football coverage compulsive viewing for football fans.
Yes, while Hansen had his detractors, one cannot help feeling that he will be missed for a while. Here’s hoping that the BBC can win something with the kids who have taken his place.
Match of the Day is on BBC1 at 10.20pm