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Football pundits, eh? Say what you like about them… actually, you can’t.

Not if you are a struggling goalkeeper at Liverpool. Loris Karius has overstepped the mark, it seems, in defending himself – rather than his goal – against Gary Neville.

Stay with me on this one. It’s a he said, Neville-said story.

First, Gary N opined that Karius wasn’t good enough, and was transmitting anxiety through his team – a big criticism. That’s more than just about odd mistakes, it’s being a toxic keeper.

Karius then did an interview with the Mail, noting that Gary “was a top player, then he was a manager for a short bit and now he is back to being an expert again… But he is always very critical. I think he does it to everyone. I just hope that when I do well he will comment on that.”

Clearly stung by what anyone else would see as fair comment, Gary got sarky on Instagram, slighted that he had copped it rather than fellow pundit Jamie Carragher. “My sincere apologies Karius. You’re right. A failed manager hasn’t a clue. I won’t copy your great fan , pundit and club legend again.” A confusing barb, but who knows what goes through the mind of the Neville.

Carragher then said Karius should “shut up and just do your job”. Actually, in full:

“The keeper got criticism last week and has come out and had a pop at Gary Neville and mentioned me and my advice would be: ‘Shut up and just do your job.'”

That’s not all. No no. Gary’s brother Phil then weighed in on MOTD saying that Karius should “Keep your mouth shut, do your job, go home, have your tea and play football”. Only seasoned pros, he suggested, can speak their minds.

And then Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp got into the row, noting that

“The pundits, former players most of them, forgot completely how it felt when they got criticised. Especially the Neville brothers; the one who was the manager he obviously should know that too much criticism never helps. But he is not interested in helping a Liverpool player, I can imagine, but that makes the things he says not make more sense. He showed he struggled with the job to judge players so why do we let him talk about players on television?”


So why is Gary Neville so huffy about this? After a period as an excellent pundit at Sky, he almost felt obliged to go into management. Before taking the top job at Valencia, he said:

“From my point of view, sitting on television in these last few years talking about coaches, the time has now come for me to stand up. If I had turned down this job I think I could have said goodbye to credibility in football, because this is an unbelievable club with a huge history.”

Credibility, eh? We all know how that turned out. Less than four months later Gary was back to sniping from the sidelines. If he’s going to use the media to take down anyone who mentions his time in management – time, it should be noted, that is more easily measured in days than years – it’s going to be a long, long season.

Liverpool fans may rightly ask, is Karius the best keeper for the team right now? And studio pundits would be remiss to not ask the same. That’s their job, it’s true.

But what seems to really piss the Nevilles and ‘Carra’ off, really get them started, is the cheek, the bloody nerve, of a player to have an opinion at all. Apparently, if you are paid for your opinions on TV (however useless they might be), your targets have no such thing as right of reply. Karius isn’t paid to talk! He’s paid to stop goals! Get back in your 6-yard box. It’s not what he said. It’s that he even said it.

What Neville, Neville and Carragher seem to have missed is that, even though Karius isn’t a “professional” pundit, he’s, you know, a person. With a voice. In a free society, he’s allowed to say what he likes. Saying that Gary Neville is a failed manager who tends to be critical rather than positive is hardly news, even to Gary.

As it happens, Karius might be better off not doing interviews for a while, especially in a constant-feedback-loop-career like professional football. But three angry pundits rounding on him to “shut up” doesn’t look very edifying. In fact, it looks like bullying.

It’s also playing the man, rather than the ball. Oh the irony.

Update: pundit spat continues with Chris Sutton and a hilarious Mitchell brothers comparison, and former Liverpool player (and fellow countryman of Karius, one should maybe note) Dietmar Hamann.

Meanwhile, a few other things to get your cells round:

Back in LA – but the NFL isn’t quite what everyone hoped.

Has defending in football become unfashionable?

Buy this book: it’s by me.

And what are your favourite sports graphics of 2016?