Mournful Mourinho emerges as world-class TV pundit
Super Sunday studio is less cheerful than a funeral – and all the better for it, writes Jim White
The former protagonists serving time on the couch infuriate those in work
For much of the afternoon, watching Sky’s Super Sunday this weekend gave the unsettling feeling that you had tuned in to the wrong programme. Viewing three scary blokes shaking their heads in disappointment, their jaws set, their gaze cold, was uncannily like watching the scene in Peaky Blinders as Tommy and Arthur are interrogating the barman at the Shelby Arms, their conversation infused with quietly delivered dismay at his treacherous behaviour, just before they put a bullet through his throat.
The idea of a panel of reluctant assassins is almost as old as television football coverage itself. It began in the Seventies with Brian Clough and Derek Dougan, bloomed in Ireland in the Eighties as Eamon Dunphy appeared to be addressing a funeral even when his side had just won a game and has now, this season, reached its apex on Sky.
The gathering together of the sighing super group of Graeme Souness, Roy Keane and Jose Mourinho, a trio who could make the lyrics of Dancing Queen sound like they were crafted by Leonard Cohen, suggests we have reached peak miserabilism.
Watching them assess a match is reminiscent of going into the headmaster’s office to be told that you have let down the school, you have let down your parents but, above all, you have let down yourself.
And the most disappointed – and, thus, the most watchable – of the three is Mourinho. What a brilliant pundit he is proving to be. His reading of Manchester United’s woeful performance at West Ham was quite superb: precise, detailed and delivered with a tone of wearied regret. So good was it, you wondered what might have happened had he been allowed to take control of the side. Surely it would not have been like this under his careful, considered direction. Oh, hang on a minute, the game he was talking about was almost an exact rerun of last season’s meek surrender in east London when the man in the United dugout was Jose Mourinho.
That is the thing about punditry: in the studio, reality does not impinge. No wonder it is the former protagonists now serving time on the couch who so infuriate those in work. For managers, it appears that what is written in the newspaper is of so little consequence as to be beneath contempt, but what an analyst says can burrow under the skin.
Jurgen Klopp, for instance, only the other day spent much of his press briefing sarcastically dismissing the critique of a former star at Anfield.
“If only we could all be employed as pundits,” the Liverpool manager sneered. “Easiest job in the world.”
Indeed, when he was still pacing the technical area, Mourinho himself was invariably driven to respond to what was said about him by former pros. After Paul Scholes delivered a broadside on BT Sport following that defeat at the London Stadium last season, he refused to resist a drive-by retaliation, suggesting he could not wait to see how the ginger great fared as a manager. And, in truth, he had a point: Scholes was back on the punditry circuit less than a month after taking his first steps into management.
With every sigh, the gap between the ex-pros in the studio and those who remain in proper employment grows wider. It is now impossible to imagine any chairman will call up Souness or Keane to come in and sort out their club. Their days of failure are behind them. Now they can demonstrate their managerial genius purely in the abstract.
And there is a sense with Mourinho that his very excellence as a pundit – and the inevitable increased exposure that will bring – will slow up his chances of a return to the job at which he once excelled.
If he harbours ambition to get back into the fray, he must hope the rumours of Zinedine Zidane’s imminent exit at the Bernabeu are accurate. Because the longer he stays in the studio, providing withering put-downs of his successors, the less likely it is that he will ever return. Which is good news for us.
Frankly, he is so good he could make Crawley against Stoke in the Carabao Cup the must-see television appointment of the week.
Outspoken: Jose Mourinho’s excellence as a pundit could slow his return to the job at which he once excelled