From Gary Lineker to Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton to Robbie Savage, Clare Balding to Gabby Logan, Frank Lampard to Kyle Walker, all have received some form of punditry and presenter ‘coaching’ during their illustrious broadcasting careers.
How to avoid becoming stale. How to avoid sitting on the fence. How to be original. How to read the autocue, interview a player or provide analysis. It is not as straightforward as simply rolling a camera and hoping for the best.
It takes time and training, and Matt Curtis and Rob Nothman are the men who provide that. Together, they train the talent we see on our television screens, and here they explain how and why to Sportsmail’s Kieran Gill.
An increasing number of pundits are taking coaching lessons to improve their broadcasting
Alan Shearer (centre) and Gary Lineker (right) have each taken tips and tricks for the trade
Matt Curtis speaking to Jermaine Jenas, one of the pundits he has worked closely with
‘BECOME JENAS THE PUNDIT RATHER THAN JENAS THE EX-PLAYER’
MC: Jermaine Jenas is a good example of how you can make it work. By his own admission, Jermaine doesn’t have the footballing CV of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Gary Neville, et cetera. But towards the end of his career he knew he wanted to do what he does now. I don’t think I’d ever come across an ex-footballer who worked at it as much as Jermaine. Troy Deeney and Andros Townsend are fantastic for broadcasters right now.
KG: Because they’re currently active?
MC: Yes, and for a year or two after they pack up because they have great relevance. They know what it’s like to play in the Premier League in 2020. Their names are remembered enough to be relevant.
Pundit coaches told Jermaine Jenas to be the Jenas the pundit, not the ex-footballer
But that goes quickly. In the year or two while you’re trying to become established, you have to become Jermaine Jenas the pundit rather than Jermaine Jenas the ex-Tottenham and England midfielder. Audiences are much more demanding these days. They will take a good pundit over a pundit who had a better footballing CV.
RN: I worked with the BBC’s horse racing commentator Peter Bromley. He came from a military background and the phrase he would always say to me was: ‘Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.’
That maxim has always been in the back of my mind. The more preparation you do, the more confident you will feel and the better you will communicate. Another who does a lot of preparation is Chris Sutton.
Chris Sutton has been commended for the amount of preparation he does for games he covers
I remember going to see him in Norwich, right at the start of his punditry career and I had been told by people in the game that he was, quote, a ‘prickly character’. But I have found him to be one of the hardest working and committed pundits out there.
MC: The top line of everything we do is preparation and research. Having a knowledge of what certain people around you do in a television studio or gallery will make you more comfortable.
Robbie Savage is another really good example. Find out what a floor manager does, a director does, a producer does. Get to know the camera operators.
RN: It can be an intimidating experience – an uncomfortable environment. You can be unsettled by the amount of people. What do they all do? Who is hearing what in their ear? How long should I talk for? All of these questions can spread a degree of discomfort in the brain and the mind needs to be clear if we’re to communicate well.
‘LAMPARD WANTED TO KNOW HOW TO INTERVIEW HAZARD AND BECOME THE BEST AT HIS JOB… IT’S A DREAM TO HAVE PUNDITS WITH THAT ATTITUDE’
MC: If you say something good it will be put on that channel’s social media. It will be retweeted. So you can’t then go on a show the next day and say the same thing. Originality is huge. Jenas couldn’t go on the radio on a Friday night and say ‘Harry Kane is the best English footballer of all time’ and then go on Football Focus on Saturday lunchtime and say the same thing.
You have to be able to take it a stage further. You cannot be repetitive or people will get bored. ‘Oh here’s so and so coming on and saying the same old thing…’
RN: We talk to them to make sure they understand, especially after they’ve ended their careers, that they’ve crossed and are now on the other side. We would encourage them to be fair, sincere but not to sit on the fence.
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard was eager to become a top pundit during his time in the industry
Any pundit who believes that they can get away without offending or upsetting anyone is going to find it extremely difficult. They will compromise their reputation.
MC: You get the odd person who wanted to be the best at their sport – and now they want to be the best pundit. It’s a dream for us to have people like that. The first day I met Brian O’Driscoll, he turned up at BT in a Joy Division T-Shirt.
Literally the first thing he said was: ‘Last week I was a rugby player, now I want to be a broadcaster and I want to be the best broadcaster I can be.’ Frank Lampard was the same. He wanted to be the best. Before the FA Cup final in 2018, we met to go through clips but more pertinently, he was going to go interview Eden Hazard. ‘This is something completely new to me.
‘How do I ask the questions? Get the best out of him?’ He spoke to Jake Humphrey about this as well. But Frank was a fantastic, intelligent, outspoken, opinionated, articulate pundit. That year we had Ferdinand, Gerrard and Lampard in the Champions League, and Lineker as the presenter, it made a TV producer’s job very easy.
Lampard came across as intelligent, outspoken and opinionated, and did well on television
‘CO-COMMENTARY IS THE HARDEST ROLE OF ALL – NOBODY GOES ON TWITTER TO SAY GOOD THINGS ABOUT GARY NEVILLE!’
MC: Any game of football you watch, the co-commentator will be trending on Twitter. Nobody goes on there and says: ‘Wow, Gary Neville is a really good co-commentator.’ They go on there to give them a hard time. It’s a hard role, and you won’t get a lot of praise. But most ex-players who do it say it’s the closest they’ll get after retirement to feeling the emotions of playing.
It has been acknowledged that co-commentary is the toughest area of punditry of all
KG: Jenas was in tears after Ajax-Tottenham in the Champions League.
MC: Neville probably leads the way. Not many want to do it. For the ones who work at it, form a rapport with their commentator, they are the broadcasters who are well thought-of down the line. When you find somebody who can co-commentate, it’s gold.
Co-commentary is the hardest role. I came across Karen Carney and quickly became aware of how well she reads the game. If you can’t do that, you can’t do the job of commentary. On BBC Radio 5 Live, she has been brilliant as a summariser. To see Karen where she is now is fulfilling.
‘PLAYERS HAVE TO REALISE WHEN THEY TALK TO THE MEDIA, THEY’RE TALKING TO THEIR FANS – DON’T BE RUDE OR UNRESPONSIVE’
RN: It is hugely enjoyable to be able to spend time with so many of your genuine heroes. I worked with Gary Lineker on his very first radio programme, just after he arrived from Japan. He was a great example, early on, of somebody who was receptive. He wanted to get better. He had high standards. He knew he had limitations but he wanted to get better. You can take a horse to water but… it’s down to them. It’s about them being able to take feedback.
MC: I remember saying to Chris Sutton: ‘Chris, I don’t think you are this unhappy!’ We’re watching football here. It’s entertainment. It’s fun. When you say something challenging to Robbie Savage or Mark Chapman, whoever, just give us a little wry smile at the end. If anyone watched Chris Sutton in 2016, they’d say he looked miserable. If anyone watched him now, or listened to him on the Monday Night Club, they’d say he’s fun. It’s very important to have your own style.
A growing number of players understand that interviews are a chance to speak to fans
Erling Haaland recently spoke just eleven words in an interview, which had divided some fans
RN: You want to highlight their strengths and perhaps polish a few weaknesses. But it’s about retaining them as individuals and allowing them to be themselves on air.
KG: What about active players?
MC: Manchester City are a club we’ve worked with a lot. Micah Richards has been through the Rob Nothman school a couple of times. City approached me to work with their Under-18s. They wanted them to be comfortable with the interview scenario.
KG: Clips of Erling Braut Haaland’s interviews went viral recently for his short answers.
MC: We, the public, gain our impression of sports stars by how they’re interviewed. If you’re cold, rude or unresponsive, people notice that. Deep down, everyone wants to be liked.
RN: Look at Marcus Rashford, and how well he has come across. It is about the big picture, and players recognising that when they talk to the media they’re talking to their fans.
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Curtis has also worked with Alex Scott, who is one of the UK’s top football pundits