Sportspeople are wired differently from us mere mortals. Whether you watched Bradley Wiggins grunting his way round Ischia or Jamie Carragher throwing himself into tackles in his last Merseyside derby yesterday, it was plain to see that just taking part is not an option.
The debate about whether the competitive fires ever die out – and if so, how quickly – has confounded many an expert. Carragher (right), who retires at the end of this season, will soon find out. And, lucky us, we will get to see just how he adjusts every week when he turns out as Sky Sports' latest pundit. His soon-to-be colleague Jamie Redknapp yesterday spelled out how difficult Carragher will find watching from the sidelines when, speaking ahead of the Merseyside derby, he said: "He has an incredible appetite to win; he will miss it badly. It will be an incredible void in his life when [football] is not there. He will drive his wife and family mad."
Looking ahead, Redknapp added: "But it is great for us," meaning Sky Sports. And he was right. Because as astutely as Redknapp summed up his former Liverpool team-mate's contribution to the cause –"his leadership is immense; on the pitch, his is the only voice you can hear; any defender should watch him for a how-to lesson" – he can all too often fall into bloke-in-the-pub mode. And together with Ray Wilkins yesterday, as most weeks, it was difficult to see past the blindingly obvious statements and actually learn something .
Carragher will give the line-up some bite, if previous stints as a pundit are anything to go on.
He was excellent throughout ITV's Euro 2012 coverage. Not as moody as Roy Keane, not as eager to please as Gareth Southgate. And he seems to have a brain in his head. Whether the fading of his competitive mindset will smooth his edge off remains to be seen, but here's hoping he brings a little of what he had on the pitch into the studio.
Someone who has never lost the spikiness he had as a player is Martin Allen, who was part of the team covering the first leg of the League Two play-off semi-final between Burton Albion and Bradford City on Thursday. His shouting of thoughts into an enormous microphone with the backdrop of boisterous Bantams supporters made for great, if slightly unhinged, viewing.
Allen clearly knows his stuff. But his delivery, with barked one-word sentences, is unnerving, to say the least. He. Says. Every. Word. As. If. He. Is. A. Strict. PE. Teacher. And he always seems only an ill-judged interruption away from screaming obscenities directly into the camera.
He and the host of Thursday night's action, Simon Thomas, were like oil and water. For all of Thomas's carefully-threaded interjections for reasons of continuity, it looked clear that the wide-eyed Allen needs a clear line for his trains of thought. And what a huffing, puffing, bludgeoning behemoth his thoughts are. On Calvin Zola's second goal in the first leg, he said: "It was more like Gee Ann Frank Oh Zola, rather than Calvin. He was Drogba-like as well. Marvellous. Just. Marvellous."
You'd think that Carragher would tell it differently. But – and it may be wishful thinking – there is no reason to believe it wouldn't be just as colourful, in his own way.