The theory behind the BBC’s shift to shock-jock football punditry

the theory behind the bbc’s shift to shock-jock football punditry

Gary Lineker's 'The Rest is Football' podcast captures the lads-down-the-pub-talking-football vibe perfectly

It was something not even Gary Lineker would get away with saying while anchoring the BBC’s European Championship coverage. “It was s---,” was the Match of The Day host’s brutal verdict on England’s dismal 1-1 draw against Denmark as he launched an unprecedented attack on Gareth Southgate on his own The Rest is Football podcast.

But, strip away the profanity, and Lineker’s damning dissection of Southgate’s tactics is not all that different to his scathing post-mortem of the side’s performance while sat in the BBC hotseat earlier that evening. That was after Alan Shearer had led the pile-on against the man with whom he had played at Euro 96, arguably the country’s greatest footballing summer since winning the World Cup 30 years earlier.

It is all a far cry from the cheerleading of which the BBC has for so many years been accused when it comes to British teams and athletes competing at major sporting events.

But what is behind such an apparent shift in tone in the corporation’s coverage of England at Euro 2024? Insiders spoken to by Telegraph Sport on Friday had no knowledge of any recent directive from above ordering those working for the BBC on England games to be more outspoken. The arrival of Alex Kay-Jelski as its new head of sport would appear too recent to have had an immediate impact on such output – although he certainly seems not to have told them to tone it down.

Indeed, the signs of what was to come during England-Denmark were actually there last season, mostly notably after the semi-finals and final of the FA Cup. Witness Shearer pulling up Pep Guardiola to his face about his complaints about fixture congestion after Manchester City laboured to a 1-0 semi victory over Chelsea. Or the tense post-match interview by Lineker and Shearer of Erik ten Hag after Manchester United’s shock 2-1 win in the final against City. “You are very good here in England to push players and managers very high,” Ten Hag said, glaring at Shearer. “And then you hammer them when they have one or two bad performances. I think you should be more calm.”

Both interviews duly went viral.

Of course, the elephant in the room here is that the likes of ITV and Sky Sports have been producing this sort of edgy content for years. Roy Keane and Graeme Souness – and to a degree Gary Neville – have led the move away from stale tactical analysis to withering soundbites suited to the attention span of the average social media user. And it is not as if the BBC has not tried to join in (the less said about Robbie Savage, the better) but its efforts have always fallen somewhat flat.

No, what may really lie behind this upping of the ante by Lineker and Co is the very platform he used to say what he really thought about England’s display against Denmark. The Rest is Football, produced by Lineker’s own Goalhanger Podcasts, only launched at the start of last season as an offshoot of the BBC’s own Match of The Day Top 10 show. Like the latter podcast, it stars Lineker, Shearer and Micah Richards and captures the lads-down-the-pub-talking-football vibe perfectly.

the theory behind the bbc’s shift to shock-jock football punditry

Often sweary, full of crude jokes and repetitive banter, and seemingly willing to plug just about any product going, The Rest is Football is Lineker and Shearer (almost) live and unleashed. Egged on by the larger-than-life Richards, the former England captains regularly put the football world to rights in a way in which has demolished their reputations for being, in Lineker’s case, the sport’s ‘Mr Nice Guy’, and, in Shearer’s, a man for whom the perfect weekend is one spent creosoting his fence. Indeed, it is Richards who has been dubbed on the podcast as ‘Mr Creosote’ for very different reasons.

Given the podcast is a commercial endeavour, there is every incentive for Lineker, Shearer and Richards to conduct proceedings in a way that will boost listener numbers. Generating headlines by branding England “s---” and suggesting Southgate is “tactically inept”, while at the same time hailing him as a “f------ great human being” will certainly get people’s attention.

Yet, if you are the BBC, are you really going to be wanting three of your highest-paid football presenters and pundits saving their most outspoken opinions for a rival platform? With the podcast having followed them on the road to Germany, it is therefore no surprise that much of the strongest rhetoric from the show has found its way into the corporation’s Berlin studio and television gantries at various stadia, or vice-versa.

the theory behind the bbc’s shift to shock-jock football punditry

Much of the strongest rhetoric from 'The Rest is Football' podcast has found its way into the BBC's Berlin studio

The line between outside commercial interests, personal opinions and working for the country’s licence-fee-funded national broadcaster is a fine one, as Lineker and the BBC have often found to their cost. Lineker has already appeared to have broken the corporation’s guidelines by wearing his own range of Next menswear to present coverage of England’s opening win against Serbia. It is also barely a year since he triggered one of the BBC’s worst ever crises by using his X account to compare the Government’s language surrounding its flagship Rwanda policy to that of Nazi Germany, and months since he reposted – he says unwittingly – a call for Israel to be thrown out of international football over its response to the Oct 7 Hamas terrorists attacks there.

But at least he cannot be accused of not “sticking to football” when he expresses similarly outspoken opinions about Southgate and the England team. And whether doing so has been a conscious decision by the likes of Lineker and the BBC or otherwise, its Euro 2024 coverage has been all the better for it.

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