View from the sofa: New skipper Shearer out-pundited as Match of the Day reaches 50 gracefully

Match of the Day BBC1

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The Independent Football

There are many things that you shouldn’t take up once you pass the age of 50, if you want to avoid embarrassment. Such as making fashion choices based on anything in Grazia magazine. Or donning a pair of budgie-smugglers and dancing to Shakira’s “La La La” while on a European holiday. Or Olympic weightlifting.

In other words, once you hit the half-century it’s best to stick with what you know. And so it was on Match of the Day, which kicked off the new season with a reassuringly familiar format on Saturday night, having reached the big 50.

There were changes from last season, of course. Alan Shearer has taken the mantle of senior pundit in place of ol’ grumpy guts Alan Hansen, who shuffled off into retirement after the World Cup. And Ruud Gullit – a former adversary of Shearer’s during the ex-England striker’s playing days – was making his domestic debut. 

Would there be fireworks? Not likely. This is the sober BBC, not shouty Sky. But tension... there was a hefty dose of that, even as the pair dissected the opening match, Manchester United v Swansea.

Shearer had first go and actually offered an opinion – good start. Then Gullit took the baton and ran, giving decent insight into United’s mistakes for Swansea’s winner. Not bad for a debutant. Shearer had a proper foil on his hands. His reaction? To talk all over Gullit’s final sentence, shouting: “Where was the marking!?”

Shearer was spooked; he was being out-pundited. On the opening day. But Gullit had clearly broken protocol, the same one Shearer himself had followed when embarking on a punditry career: if you have anything more interesting to say than “good goal”, button it for the senior bloke to say.

For the viewer, it was great to watch. Not quite Bruce Lee v Bolo Yeung in Enter the Dragon, but an impressive joust nonetheless. And as a result each man raised his game as the show progressed.

The proliferation of opinions was not the only tweak. The post-match chat included more interviews with players from both sides as well as managers, which didn’t offer much in the way of earth-shattering insight, but gave a little more colour.

There are more pundits to come later in the season, including Robbie Savage and Rio Ferdinand, who was the subject of Shearer’s newly sharp tongue on Saturday after the Queen’s Park Rangers defender’s gaffe cost his side against Hull.

“Rio told us in Brazil he isn’t a fan of zonal marking, but Rio, Rio, Rio...” Shearer said over a slow-motion replay of Ferdinand’s mistake. “He isn’t a fan of  man-marking either.” It will be interesting when they share the sofa.

So MOTD heads into the wrong side of 50 respectably. A little bit bolshie (as is the right of any 50-year-old), a tad grumpy (ditto), but with enough intelligence and humour to keep us interested.

And, thankfully, not at all embarrassing. That may all change of course if (or when) Savage bounds on stage sporting Grazia’s must-have autumn hairdo with in-your-face punditry equivalent to a pair of ill-fitting budgie-smugglers. We shall see.