Pundits say stupid things a lot. If all you do is talk for hours on end in front of a microphone, it’s inevitable that you will say a few dumb things every now and then. Gary Neville, of managing Valencia for 28 matches fame, says quite a lot of dumb things. He may, however, have outdone himself yesterday.
In the run-up to Arsenal’s 2-2 draw against Manchester City at The Emirates, BBC Sport’s finest said the Gunners’ German playmaker “plays football looking like he's down a coal mine.”
Wow, that’s an interesting take. Let’s see if context helps Neville out any. Here’s the full quote:
I don't like the Sanchez situation, but I think on the pitch I can live with it because it looks like he fights for every single thing in the world.
"With Mesut Ozil, I can't be watching him play football sometimes -- and that sounds disrespectful from someone who was a clobber as a football player.
"But when you watch [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, who give their all in every single match, I won't sit here and accept that someone plays football looking like he's down a coal mine [emphasis added].
Oh wow, it’s somehow worse. Forget about the fact Özil consistently runs more in matches than Alexis. The idea that Messi and Ronaldo are out there doing any sort of defensive work is hilarious. This man gets paid to talk about football but he clearly hasn’t watched any Barcelona and Real Madrid in the past few years.
Sorry about the tangent. Let’s get back to Neville’s analogy, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Seems like there are a few different ways it could be taken.
First would be a literal meaning. Neville would be claiming that when he supposed to be playing football, Mesut Özil is pantomiming the act of descending down into a mine shaft and mining for a fossil fuel. I’ve watched nearly every match Mesut has played for Arsenal since joining the club and I can’t say I’ve ever seen him off in the corner playacting the coal mining process. Nor does he wear a headlamp when he works. I think we can safely put this explanation aside.
Next, we should look at the context of Neville’s comments. Neville’s thesis is that Alexis, Messi, and Ronaldo give their all and work hard on the football pitch, and Özil does not. The phrase “plays football looking like he’s down a coal mine” in context is unavoidably defined as “plays football like he is not exerting physical effort.” I’m not sure what schooling Neville had, as he was an elite athlete who was playing for a top club in Europe at the age of 17. In case he honestly doesn’t know, coal mining is very hard and dangerous! You would be hard pressed to name ten tougher jobs than coal mining. Surely, Neville didn’t mean that.
Lastly, I think it’s fair to wonder if Neville simply can’t speak well and mixed up his language. Perhaps he was trying to equate body language to effort and just bungled his wording? Whenever there is a pause in action and the camera is on Özil, he looks spent. Regardless of those shots though, he is always moving and often involved in end to end action. It should be the job of the pundit to watch a match and not make shallow, baseless assertions, but alas, such idealistic hopes have been well beaten out of football fans.
Neville failed to clearly express what he meant and was just flat out wrong. He scored the Bad Pundit’s Brace. Here’s to hoping Özil re-signs, and pundits can keep making the same mistakes for years to come.