The unavoidable hiatus to the broadcast of the BBC’s flagship football programme will not deny viewers the enjoyment of the rapport between Gary Lineker and his regular cohorts.
The Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast arrives to engage Lineker and the similarly prolific former marksmen Ian Wright and Alan Shearer in fierce but friendly debate in attempts to pin down the definitive characters and clubs of the Premier League era.
The first episode of this enjoyably new, undemanding audio presents them the unenviable task of ranking the ten best captains to have ever played in the EPL, from Tony Adams to Vincent Kompany, in a list compiled and locked down by a range of professional commentators for Lineker, Wright, and Shearer to mull over.
With this trio of talismanic English footballers, it shouldn’t be understated to value both their individual and collective status in football punditry, figures whose respective playing career helps to retrospectively examine the period covering the transition into the Premier League era, fundamentally the turning point in the English game. The CVs of each are well-known but important to elevate the opinions they bring to the table, as they engage in chat the average joe football fan has no doubt constantly done down the pub.
Lineker, the first member of the Three Lions to win the Golden Boot at a World Cup, debuted for the Leicester City first team in 1978 and last played professionally in England with Tottenham Hotspur in the last year of the old First Division.
Ian Wright, who didn’t play a professional game until he was 22 was declared Crystal Palace’s Player of the Century and then became Arsenal’s then-record signing in 1991 and subsequently then Gunners record-goalscorer (before being displaced by a Mr Thierry Henry, whose name crops up quite often in the second episode…).
And Alan Shearer, who remains the most prolific marksman in Premier League history, but had already made well over a century of appearances with Southampton before the competition’s new identity.
Their joint ability to cover the spectrum of top tier football in England over the past 30 plus years sets them apart from the majority of their younger contemporaries in the field, such as Jermaine Jenas and Peter Crouch, both of whom are generating praise and respect for their own punditry and enjoying higher profiles in their post-playing careers, though wouldn’t necessarily be able to offer the same insight or informed personal opinion.
Though it remains a BBC publication, tonally it’s overtly more relaxed and more unadulterated. They’re not adverse to the occasional (bleeped-out) f-bomb, usually from Wrighty, while a discussion as to what’s better, scoring a goal or sex, imbues the relaxed, mates at the bar ambience.
Anyone who tuned into Wright’s recent Desert Island Discs episode know he’s a brilliant character to listen to, and again makes his presence at this particular round table especially welcome, from recalling a barb from on-field opponent Roy Keane who informed the Arsenal striker that his trophy cabinet is ‘full of loser's medals’, to conceding to Shearer in eventually placing Steven Gerrard higher than Nemanja Vidic in the captain's ranking ‘because he’s pissing me off’.
The definitions can still be a bit blurred. Within the ‘Top 10 Strikers’ episode, the referral to Drogba’s important Cup goals for Chelsea or the impact of Luis Suarez at Barcelona, is in spite of the previous insistence that ranking definitions should be isolated to the Premier League.
As Lineker quite rightly states, however, just like the continual controversy of the game running order that stigmatises the Match of the Day television programming, people are always going to take umbrage with each episode’s ultimate ranking due to their allegiance with a particular figure or club.
But removing the wanting of ‘definitive’ from the listener, the Match of the Day: Top 10 podcast sustains the opportunity to experience three ex-pros who seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and we should continue to enjoy theirs.