The end of the 2013/14 season has also seen the end of a career of a man that has gone hand-in-hand with the country’s love affair with the Premier League.
In his brooding manner and wearing a dour expression, Alan Hansen has been the analytical heart of the Match of the Day team for 22 years. Saturday nights have become synonymous with the Scotsman’s scything critique of Premiership defences.
While the Scotsman will still be on board up until the end of the BBC’s coverage of the coming World Cup, today is the last ever day that Hansen will ever cover Premiership football for the BBC. For many, he embodies the show, having been there longer than even Gary Lineker. Millions of football fans often tuned in to the show simply just to see what Hansen had made of a particularly good/bad performance from their team, such was the quality of his analysis.
His formulaic breakdowns made the art of defending seem more of a science. Speaking of defending in terms of “percentages”, his thinking was always logical, showing defending had a lot to do with footballing intelligence, whereas other positions can be more about instinct and inspiration. One of his favourite phrases was simply “If in doubt – launch” in regards to dealing with the ball in defensive areas. Comedian Alistair McGowan made the nation laugh when parodying Hansen on his show as Britain’s Secretary of Defence, a role in which perhaps that phrase would not be so applicable.
Of course, the phrase that Hansen will always be remembered and also probably never forgiven for is “You’ll never win anything with kids”, which he said about the now famous United team forged from the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. The team did of course go on to win not only that season but for many seasons more. Nevertheless, even though Hansen got it so spectacularly wrong with that particular comment, the best tribute to him would be that it never affected the view of his analysis as a whole. Even when the influx of football pundits meant every newspaper, magazine, radio station and sports TV show had their own set of analysts, Hansen has always been regarded as the king of the pundits.
The reason that Hansen could level criticism at even the best defenders in the league is that during his prime he was one of the very best defenders in the world himself, something which is often understated. A three time European cup winner and eight time league winner, Hansen is one of the most decorated footballers in British history and thus had the kind of standing where he could legitimately criticise anyone.
At times Hansen was deemed overly harsh, with his use of the word “diabolical” becoming so frequent that now thousands of men that had grown up watching him still pronounce the word with a Scottish twinge. But if Hansen was overly harsh it is only because his standards were so high. And as such, the standard of the analysis we expect from our pundits is now just as high.
The role of analyser is slowly being changed to antagoniser, with certain pundits seemingly there just to provoke debate amongst viewers rather than offer a real critique. Yet thanks to the standard that Alan Hansen has set, football fans will always yearn for a deep, analytical insight, from someone who has been there and done that at the highest level.
Hansen has shaped the very way millions of us look at football. Often he was not just giving analysis, he was giving tutorials on the game itself.
For those that have enjoyed everything he has done on Match of the Day, from tearing apart defensive performances to offering scant praise to strikers for what many of us deemed impressive showings and even his banter with the likes of Mark Lawrenson and Des Lynam we can only say one thing.
Thank you Alan Hansen.