Alan Hansen is retiring. After 22 years of honourable service at the BBC, the tough-talking pundit and former Liverpool defender will end his career at Match of the Day in July, following the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
But as tributes pour in for the terrier of defensive tactics, the perma-tanned, Harry Potter-scarred titan of tough talk – let me be the first to offer Hansen the very fondest of farewells.
Finally something football fans all over Britain can unite in celebrating. After a torrid summer in which Spurs spent in excess of £100m for a group of expensive nobodies (Étienne Capoue? Nacer Chadhli?), David Moyes at Manchester United bought almost no one except - *gasp* - Marouane Fellaini and Arsenal fans had to endure endless days of parsimony from tight-pursed old Arsene Wenger – this, now, is the most exciting transfer news of 2013.
Impossible to impress, quick to criticise and condemn - Hansen is the imperial sourpuss of Saturday and Sunday night television. Before a paycut in 2012, he earned a staggering £1.5m a year. And yet, despite the cash, Hansen’s many years as a pundit have been characterised by indifference and cruelty.
Who can forget his brusque dismissal of Michael Owen and Jason Roberts’ goal scoring capabilities on Match of the Day 2? (A moment made more acutely painful by the comic moustache Owen was sporting at the time for “Movember”.) Or, looking further back, Hansen’s brutish insistence in 1995 that Manchester United would “never win anything with kids”. The kids in question were David Beckham, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt, and Manchester United went on to win both the league and the FA Cup that season.
The rashness of Hansen’s prediction was forgivable. Less easy to stomach has been the cold-hearted manner and brute arrogance with which Hansen has approached his job for the past two decades. Even his words of resignation were couched in terms of rhetorical self-aggrandisement:
“I’ve been in football for 41 years and I’m going out right at the top, just as I did at Liverpool. The plan was always that I would retire at 55. I kept going, but I finally decided to retire during Euro 2012.”
Going on, Hansen outed himself as an outright apologist for the old school, showering praise on old statesman of football and vocal Ukip supporter Des Lynam, before moving on to compliment occasional misogynist Andy Gray.
“Des was the best, and is the best, because he was just an unbelievable presenter.” Hansen said, adding: “I always felt Andy Gray was great on Sky, he was a fantastic pundit.”
Let us not get too misty-eyed about these supposed all-time greats. Football has a duty to address, and redress, it’s historically macho image. I’m not saying any of these pundits are to blame for the homophobia faced by players from Justin Fashanu through to Robbie Rogers, but the BBC and other networks should feel a duty to supply their audiences with pundits who aren’t simply models of football’s school locker room status quo – that is, hard men talking hard talk.
That is why the BBC’s brief appointment of both Adrian Chiles and Colin Murray was such a welcome and refreshing change. What became of these modern, macho-less men? With viewing figures of around four to five million every week, Match of the Day remains the most watched football programme in the country. In response, the BBC should ensure their flagship show does not remain in an ancestral era of old school - frequently outdated - footballing values.