In profile: Alan Hansen, former footballer turned television pundit

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HE is the scourge of poor defenders everywhere, the nation’s most irascible, no-nonsense football pundit. His television persona is so dour that he was once described as a scar-faced misery addict, a description players on the receiving end of his scathing analysis would embrace.

Last week, however, Alan Hansen had good reason to be miserable. The revelation that he is the third best-paid BBC personality behind Graham Norton and Match of the Day colleague Gary Lineker, who both earn £2 million a year, has been greeted with incredulity. The figures don’t quite put him in the same rogue’s gallery as Sir Fred Goodwin, but Hansen is copping the same sort of flak.

Hansen’s salary of £1.5m breaks down as £40,000 a show or £3,000 a minute. In addition, he gets taxied 200 miles between his Merseyside home and the London studios at a cost of £470 each way. Coming at a time when the BBC is cutting jobs – 2,000 redundancies to save £670m – the revelation has generated a tsunami of indignation.

The 56-year-old, raised in working-class Alloa, is actually one of very few players of his era to have gleaned such riches. Back then players dreamed of having enough at careers’ end to buy a pub; Hansen could now buy ten a year if he chose to. Yet for the teenage Hansen, whose family life was dominated by his sports-mad father, being a sportsman was not about the money but about sating his desire to win at everything and emulating his adored elder brother John.

A talented volleyball player and golfer – Hansen is still a member of Hillside Golf Club in Alloa and has a low single-figure handicap – the lanky Rangers-supporting youth was desperate to follow John into professional football. If he harboured any doubts they were dispelled in 1971 when he watched from the Hampden terraces as John’s Partick Thistle team beat Celtic 4-1 in the Scottish League Cup final. Even the offer of a place at Aberdeen University couldn’t sway him, and in 1973 he joined Partick Thistle, coming to the attention of Liverpool manager Bob Paisley.

What followed was a storied club career of virtually unparalleled success, with Liverpool teammate Kenny Dalglish the only Scot who can match his English and European triumphs. It was a career that gave him the ability to criticise others, and, despite having been upset by media criticism as a player, he has used that opportunity to the full, enriching himself to an unimaginable degree. A smart house in leafy Southport, a supermodel daughter and golf trips to Pebble Beach are all now standard Hansen accessories.

The most obvious question, of course, remains: is he worth £1.5m a year? Hansen’s USP is a hawkish intelligence allied to a willingness to stick the boot in that is in stark (and usually joyous) contrast to the fence-sitting ex-pros who perch precariously on the MOTD sofa. His acerbic analysis of defensive failings – it’s always failings – is streets ahead of platitude-monger Mark Lawrenson or anodyne cliché merchant Alan Shearer.

Yet Hansen has faults, not least an overweening self-confidence bordering on smugness (he called his autobiography Tall, Dark and Hansen), plus a sneering demeanour that rankles when compared to fellow pundit Lee Dixon’s earnest honesty. That contrast became apparent during last year’s World Cup when Hansen chortled when Dixon was able to identify Slovakia left-back Marek Hamsik. Hansen derided him for being a swot; not one of the Scot’s failings. He once worked in an insurance office for six weeks and loathed it, and apparently the thought of doing any homework for his £40,000 fee is no more appealing now than filing was then.

Hansen has also become a parody of himself, banging on about pace in every MOTD. You can almost hear him: “Pace, power, pace, power, defenders hate pace and he’s got it in abundance”.

If the curmudgeonly Hansen doesn’t exactly sit on the fence, then nor does he go out of his way to provide thought-provoking analysis or the entertainingly forthright opinions of, for instance, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady.

If Hansen can be reticent, it’s no surprise after two outbursts famously came back to bite him. The first, after Manchester United were beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa on the first day of the 1995-6 season, was that “you win nothing with kids” only to see Alex Ferguson’s young side go on to win the title. The second came the day after Colombian defender Andres Escobar was shot dead for scoring an own goal in the 1994 World Cup: Hansen said an Argentine defender “warrants shooting for a mistake like that”, forcing a hasty BBC apology.

If Hansen has always been a controversial figure for MOTD’s English audience, Scots are even more suspicious. His recently developed habit of referring to England, as “we” hasn’t helped. Despite a stellar 14-season career with Liverpool, most Scotland fans favoured the defensive partnership of Aberdeen’s Willie Miller and Alex McLeish, and in 1982 it appeared they were right to when Hansen collided with Miller to allow USSR striker Ramaz Shengelia to score the goal which sent Scotland out of the World Cup. One of the most talented Scottish defenders of all time, Hansen only played for Scotland 26 times and was left out of the 1986 World Cup squad by Alex Ferguson due to his poor record.

Many believed Hansen would go into management – it was rumoured he wanted the Liverpool job that went to Dalglish – yet he was never tempted. Too young to do nothing after retirement in 1991, his wife Janet pointed out the phone had not rung in the three months after he hung up his boots, so Hansen started calling the sports TV stations. Sky were the first to bite, but he quickly ascended to MOTD via Radio 5 Live.

He has been MOTD’s resident grump ever since. In private, however, he is apparently self-deprecating and giving of his time on charity golf days. He has also worked tirelessly for fans’ causes, has spoken of his devastation after Heysel and even attended the funerals of 12 fans after Hillsborough.

Football punditry is not the only string to his commercial bow. He writes a column for the Daily Telegraph and has appeared in ads for Carlsberg and Morrisons. He is also a regular B-list motivational speaker, enlightening with a talk entitled “The Sum is Greater Than the Parts”, focusing on “leadership, path to achievement, personal reinvention, the power of motivation, teamwork” for £5,000-£10,000 a pop. That, of course, is just grist to the mill for a man who is never short of opinions and, it seems, ways to turn a buck or three.

The facts of life

• The scar on Hansen’s forehead was caused when he and his schoolmates were late for a volleyball tournament and, rushing to the changing-rooms, he ran through plate glass. He was in hospital for four hours and got 27 stitches. He later sued the local council and won.

• Hansen’s 26-year-old daughter Lucy is a model with Kate Moss’s agency Storm who has worked for Estée Lauder and Topshop.

• Growing up in Alloa, he used to go on holiday each year to Ayr. Now he goes shopping each year in New York, and his dream holiday is to play golf at Pebble Beach in California.

• His worst travel experience was being stuck in an airport in Bucharest for eight hours after playing for Scotland against Romania in 1975.

• Hansen’s nickname in Scottish football was “Stretch”, which he hated, but changed to “Jockey”, which he didn’t, when he moved to Liverpool.