Ian Burrell: Awkward, nervous and a bad suit – but Neville makes promising debut
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Wednesday 17 August 2011
It was neither an assured debut nor a spectacular one – not by comparison with the stunning arrival in the Premier League of Sergio Aguero on the very same evening.
But there was plenty in Gary Neville's punditry performance at the Etihad Stadium to suggest that Sky Sports has found a more than adequate replacement for the abrasive Andy Gray.
Of course, there were plenty of fans queuing up to criticise Neville online. That was to be expected after a career that was utterly devoted to the cause of Manchester United. On Monday night, those who had grown to dislike him on the pitch, sensed weakness in the usually sure-footed right-back. He was "awkward", "uncomfortable" and "nervous", they commented, often from sofas somewhere on Merseyside. He was also attacked for lacking the necessary deftness in handling the touch-screen gadgetry which Gray made his own.
Some of this was fair comment. Neville looked like he was sweating under the lights, his hair was unkempt, his goatee incomplete and his suit ill-fitting. He didn't know what to do with his hands. His co-presenter Ed Chamberlin forced him to change position more times than any winger ever managed. He referred to the second half as "pedantic", when he meant pedestrian. And he interviewed Roberto Mancini like a schoolboy fan, hopping from one foot to another. "Roberto, Gary Neville, I never, I b-bet I never thought you'd be interviewed by me," he said, making the Italian sound the more fluent.
But for all his foibles, Neville brings honesty and credibility. He speaks with sincerity, and the authority of having played 400 times for United and of having taken part in a victorious Premier League campaign just last season.
Neville, with his astute observations on defending set-pieces and the unique pressures experienced on the field, has already shown insight. His dexterity on the touch screen will improve (he has one at home for practice), as will his confidence. And so what if his grooming wasn't as obsessive as his more narcissistic peers?
At the end of the programme, Neville revealed a surprising humility when he admitted that City's opening game of the season had shown that Monday Night Football was "quite difficult for Gary Neville". As for bias, he showed in his generous comments on United's nearest neighbours that he is capable of hiding his loyalties in the studio in a way he was never capable of on the pitch.
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