The Dundee manager rightly defended his team, but his choice of words inadvertently lashed out at the whole business of football punditry, as Craig Fowler writes
Generally a manager or player will react to criticism by the opposition or members of the media by making some quick, sardonic comment that attempts undercut the reputability of the source. The rancour is there, but it’s fleeting. The individual has better things to be getting on with than indulging in a tit-for-tat feud with another football personality.
When it came to Paul Hartley responding to comments made by Pat Nevin, however, the Dundee boss chose not to brush it off and, instead, absolutely savaged the Sportscene pundit.
• “Some of the stuff he was speaking about was absolute garbage.”
• “He wasn’t a defender. He has never coached or managed a team.”
• “He doesn’t know what he is talking about – and it’s the same every week.”
He then turned his attention to show itself, stating it was the “worst programme” he’d seen and one which had “no credibility”.
We’ll look at this from both sides, starting with Nevin. He wasn’t completely wrong in what he said.
Hartley was adamant the pundit could not have watched the full 90 minutes from Dundee’s 1-0 loss to Aberdeen on Friday night. Perhaps he didn’t, but this writer did, and the visitors didn’t cover themselves in glory defensively.
Sure, losing by a single goal at Pittodrie is by no means a troubling result, and Dundee could have nicked a point at the end, but the visitors had a real susceptibility to crosses throughout the match. Dons centre back Ash Taylor, up at set-pieces, could have netted a first half hat-trick were it not for the powers of Scott Bain in goal. Later on, Adam Rooney missed a gilt-edged chance in the second half to add to his strike from earlier in the game, both of which came from whipped balls into the penalty area.
From Hartley’s perspective, he can rightly feel slighted for two reasons. Firstly, there were positives in the performance, seeing as they travelled to the second best team in the league and stayed competitive until the final whistle.
Secondly, Nevin and his co-analyst Steven Thompson laughed it up at Dundee’s expense on the same programme where Kilmarnock were shown to have conceded four first half goals (five in total) to Dundee United, a team bottom of the league. A team that are, oh yeah, Dundee’s biggest rivals.
Hartley was defending his players, his club and himself. That’s fair enough. However, it was the words he chose to deride Nevin, most notably the ‘he’s never managed or coached a team’ jibe, that cut right to the heart of sporting analysis.
“What do they know?” is a dismissive response you often hear. If you’ve not played the game, your opinion is not valid. The same goes if you’re an ex-player criticising managers. You have to have experienced it to truly understand it. Even if you subscribe to such a theory (unsurprisingly, I don’t) it doesn’t leave the fans with much left in the way of analysts to provide entertainment on these shows.
Nevin played the game at very high level, even higher than Hartley (on the domestic front anyway – Hartley played in the Champions League) and picked up three more caps for Scotland. Unlike his new nemesis, however, he never went into management. But if you’re disregarding those that never managed, then what about those that did and failed? Surely they fall into the same category? You cannot question a man who’s currently in a job you yourself couldn’t keep. And obviously journalists are out of the equation too. They never even laced up their studs!
So, what are we left with? Only successful managers are allowed to provide football analysis? The problem is that successful managers tend to be in employment and don’t have time to go on to football highlights programmes. And those that do tend to say nothing even remotely controversial for fear of giving a future opponent extra motivation. A trait shared by almost every active player.
That’s the other troubling aspect of this fall-out. Hartley lashed out at one of the better pundits in Scottish football, which maybe isn’t such a surprise. There are many people out there who really don’t like Sportscene or Nevin, but he actually tries his best to analyse the teams and not just fall back into simple clichés. He rubs some people the wrong way but that’s always the case in football. We tend to remember the criticism and forget the praise, meaning there’s not one single writer or broadcaster that is universally liked or even respected. There are others who Hartley wouldn’t have reacted in such a manner against, but then they wouldn’t have said anything interesting enough to potentially offend.
Regardless of what Hartley thinks of Sportscene, football highlights and analysis programmes are infinitely better when those who appear on them feel free to state their opinion. Hopefully Nevin feels unburdened by the experience and keeping trying to analyse our games, because at least he is actually trying.
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