Alan Hansen, the former Liverpool captain. central defender and much respected and honoured sportsman retired from his job on the BBC's Match of the Day last week as the World Cup ended - a fitting tribute to a long and distinguished career.
Hansen appeared as the voice of considered opinion on the programme, while Gary Lineker seemed to go for the smart soundbites (often failing, I might add) and Lawrenson provided the rough and ready, cheeky chappy, bloke in the pub sort of summary. Hansen was always thoughtful, professional, technical - and fair (except perhaps a little biased towards Liverpool!).
While other pundits sometimes plump for cheap personal criticism of individual players I always felt Hansen preferred to highlight team play, tactics or formation issues rather than target specific players. And when he did (like his unfortunate criticism of Theo Walcott a few years ago) he was big enough to profusely apologise and hold his hands up when proved wrong.
He maintained a positive and constructive presence for the show, highlighting his points with careful and well-illustrated analysis and adding something to the role and armoury of the TV pundit in so doing.
Times have changed
Hansen remarks himself that he felt like he was becoming irrelevant and it is certainly true that the game has changed a considerable amount in the time he has been on the sidelines. His close friend the great Kenny Dalglish found this out when he returned to Liverpool as manager 20 years after leaving the club and 13 years since managing any Premier League club at all. The game had moved on but, unfortunately, King Kenny hadn't kept up with it.
Hansen cites a recent experience with Rio Ferdinand where he acknowledged that the younger man offered a fresh perspective on an aspect of the game that he (Hansen) understood but couldn't express in the same way.
Unwilling to change?
I suspect this might have been coded language for an unwillingness to put spin and street-speak into his analysis. Ferdinand might be a reasonably acute observer but he has nowhere near the insight and intelligence of the older man.
Remember this was a man who turned down a University place to play football, was considered good enough to become a professional golfer and also excelled at other sports like volleyball and handball.
Now he is retired no doubt we will see more of him on Royal Birkdale golf course (which he lives right next to) but I doubt we will see a more perspicacious commentator on the game for quite some time.