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Match of the Day still sets the tone for TV coverage, says Gary Lineker

Lineker claims critics led by Daily Mail and its ‘anti-BBC issue’.

Gary Lineker: Alan Shearer did know who Hatem ben Arfa was.
Gary Lineker: Alan Shearer did know who Hatem ben Arfa was.
Image: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Gary Lineker has launched a passionate defence of Match of the Day by suggesting that the BBC’s often maligned football highlights programme still “sets the tone” and “leads the way” in its coverage of the game. He also voiced his belief that enduring criticism of the programme, which the former England striker began to present in 1999, has been led by the Daily Mail, and “their anti-BBC issue”.
Scrutiny of Match of the Day has intensified since the emergence of Gary Neville as a trenchant football pundit at Sky. Lineker admits “I wish we had [Neville] on Match of the Day”, but points to the fact that the BBC programme is still much more widely watched than Sky’s football shows and that “we generally hit between six to seven million [viewers] every weekend”.
Lineker’s comments, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian, follow the announcement that the BBC’s leading football pundit, Alan Hansen, will leave after the World Cup next summer.
“Match of the Day has fundamentally improved since we got the [TV rights] contract back in 2003,” Lineker said, “but football is so emotive and that’s why people are never going to be entirely satisfied.
“But our audiences have improved year on year. We’re bucking the trends on highlight shows for sport – audiences are down everywhere and, considering the excessive football on TV, it’s remarkable we rarely go below four million on Saturday night, with another couple of million on Sunday morning. We generally hit between six to seven million every weekend, despite the current climate and amount of channels.”
Acknowledging the “exceptional” impact of Sky, Lineker said: “It’s so much easier when you can just spread yourselves but so many more people watch our show than any of theirs. It’s important to remember that. We still set the tone. You see how so much of our analysis will be copied on the Sunday and Monday and you think, ‘Oh yeah ?’ We still lead the way, I think.”
He also resisted the charge that there is widespread dissatisfaction with MOTD. “I don’t think there is. I think it’s a Daily Mail thing and their anti-BBC issue. I get massive feedback on Twitter and the vast majority is incredibly positive. The only thing that has been levelled consistently against MOTD, particularly in the Daily Mail, is that there’s a cozy atmosphere and it’s the same people every week.
“A lot of people like familiarity as well, but we’re changing things now. We’ve already seen about seven different pundits this season. [Last] Saturday we had Danny Murphy and [Everton manager] Roberto Martínez. So we shake it up but there’s no need to change the fundamentals.”
Lineker also defended the programme’s comparative lack of analytical depth. “You cannot get involved in debate on MOTD,” he said. “You can do it on Sky because they’ve got hours and hours. We’ve got a couple of minutes. It’s a very disciplined show. Our primary purpose is to show the action and the analysis is very secondary. We have lots of people who would prefer no analysis. We have lots of people who would prefer more analysis. We have to find a balance.”
In considering Neville’s work as a pundit Lineker said: “The only difficult thing for him is that when it comes to analysing England players he’s involved with them as [an assistant] coach. There have already been a couple of occasions when he’s avoided it. But he’s very good and, well, I wish we’d had him on MOTD.”
Lineker defended Alan Shearer, whose relatively bland persona and knowledge of European football has been questioned consistently. “Personally, I think he’s really good,” Lineker said. “He’s improved a lot. I think the problem is that when players start, with the odd exception, they need a transition and they can be a little guarded. But if you listen to Alan Shearer now compared to four years ago he’s become very strongly opinionated. He’s as strong as anyone and understands the game really well. We do lots of research and he’s generally in the top three of who people rate.”
Lineker also suggested his colleague had been misunderstood when, in 2010, Shearer said of Hatem Ben Arfa “No one really knows a great deal of him” after the France international performed well for Newcastle United. “That was so out of order,” Lineker said. “He obviously meant Newcastle supporters in general. It’s so easy to turn around and say: ‘Oh, he doesn’t know anything about football.’
“He quite clearly meant that we, as a nation, do not know much about Hatem Ben Arfa – outside of us in the game who obviously do lots of research and watch foreign football all the time. Alan’s a competitive soul and he works really hard. All the guys do.”

This article titled “Match of the Day still sets the tone for TV coverage, says Gary Lineker” was written by Donald McRae, for

© Guardian News & Media Limited 2014

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