Niall Quinn was capped 92 times for Ireland and scored 21 goals. He played in three major championships: Euro 88, Italia 90 and Japan/Korea 2002. He joined Arsenal in 1983, served some of his apprenticeship under George Graham, became a fixture at Manchester City and later, Sunderland. He lined up against the good and the great of his generation through nearly 475 Premier League games and scored 141 goals along the way.
For finishing school, Quinn went on to become the chairman of Sunderland football club where he is still revered by fans.
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With a CV like that it’s no surprise that Sky Sports came calling. On top of all the above, Quinn is well spoken and presentable, the kind of unchiselled co-commentator who fans might trust to deliver insight, impart the benefit of his experience, shed light on the complex world of defensive and attacking patterns and generally make any game a more entertaining watch.
Surely, that’s what every analyst is there for right? Because you don’t need a 20-year plus career to roll out clichés or state the obvious, which appears to be the Dubliner’s default position: eye-witness armed with a microphone?
This isn’t a crusade against Niall Quinn the commentator but against a general standard of poor sports broadcasting. Manchester United’s Champion’s League defeat away to Galatasaray is just the last game of soccer I watched and Quinn was in the co-pilot’s seat.
My colleague Ger Donaghy says the culture of soccer commentary is cliché and it is unfair to pick anyone out of a line-up where many are guilty. This is true, but so is it unacceptable and in the case of Niall Quinn, the the banality he peddles pinches that bit tighter because he’s Irish and because of his career achievements, ones which have to be respected.
Of course we’ve been spoilt in the past: Bill McClaren, John Motson, Harry Carpenter, Martin Tyler still, and more. Maybe it’s unfair to draw comparisons with these names but that’s the watermark and few of the current crop beyond Gary Neville could aspire to reaching such a plateau in the future.
I remember watching a documentary where Bill McLaren explained his preparation for a rugby match. He knew no other way than to be thorough. He had an obligation to be that at least. For McClaren the devil was in the detail and he went to great lengths to deliver the kind of broad insight viewer appreciate.
But then his love for what he did was obvious. The same is true for all on that stellar list above.
What they did was once seen as standard. What we are generally getting now is way below. Why? Because there are obviously plenty of producers who feel a household name alone is enough to carry the game.
That attitude means we, the viewers, are the poorer for it, which is a bit rich considering the cost involved and the experience of some of the names doing the commentary.