After Jeff Stelling asked Paul Merson the question “Do we want him to change?” In regards to John Stones and his style of play, the Soccer Saturday pundit promptly burst into a near three minute rant in which he highlighted Stones’ lack of positional sense amongst other defensive deficiencies in which Merson thinks Stones is yet to grow out of.
The three minutes seemed chaotic in which Merson blasted Stones and Everton boss Roberto Martinez but in a world where too many pundits sit on the fence it was refreshing to see an impassionate pundit speak with conviction in his own opinion. Merson will always be berated on social media for his off the field past but it cannot be ignored that he was a quality midfielder in his day and still knows an awful lot about football. If the former Arsenal midfielder comes to the conclusion that Stones’ positional play is “atrocious” then it’s hard for any fan to argue logically – Merson played over 500 career games, most of them in the Premier League, it would have been impossible for him to have got that far without knowing about the game.
Merson’s fellow pundits watched on in a mix of intrigue and amusement but the passion that overflowed during Merson’s assessment of Stones and the former Wigan manager was a sign that punditry is not simply a book of regurgitated cliches, non-committal answers and trying to please everybody. Merson will know his antics have gone viral, Twitter and other social media platforms will have their fun with it and many fans will pepper him with the usual abuse. But when Merson says, ” The Swansea goal he’s got the see that quicker, the Aguero goal he’s got to see that quicker.” it’s hard to argue with 561 games of high class experience.
Stones has been receiving rave reviews since the back end of last season and is quickly becoming a mainstay in Roberto Martinez’s back line. There is no doubt the ability is there for all to see but, just as Merson raises the point, Martinez’s infectious positivity often papers over the cracks of many subpart Everton performances. For all of Martinez’s easy-on-the-eye style of play and the group of talent at his disposal Everton sit a very underwhelming 12th in the Premier League having won just six games in the league. Stones has featured in 21 of Everton’s 23 league games so far and has to be held equally as responsible as the rest of the Everton back line for shipping goals and letting leads slip with suicide defending. Stones does display all the reasons why he is worth the £40m plus bid from Chelsea and why he should be part of England’s plans for the next two decades but his deficiencies are often brushed under the carpet.
@SkyFootball he’s 100% right. £50 million for a defender who can’t defend?
— Joe Campbell (@joecam10) January 31, 2016
@SkyFootball Mersonis right! There r times wen defenders need 2 lump it. Stones doesn’t know this. Shawcrossis England’s best defender
— David Meigh(@davidjmeigh) January 31, 2016
@SkyFootball sick of so called ‘experts ‘ sagging stones off hardly helping are they ? Coming from MersonI mean really ???
— tarnred77 (@INTHEEASTSTAND1) January 31, 2016
Merson compared Martinez’s positive post match comments to that of the film Men in Black, “You watch a game, they get beat, you sit there and you think ‘that was a joke, that was shocking’ and then he talks and he must press a button and then when he finishes talking we all go ‘ah it wasn’t that bad was it?'” As amusing and as odd as the analogy was the ex-Portsmouth midfielder made an apt point, Martinez is not getting the best out of his squad and too many times their defending – which has included John Stones – has been substandard.
The rant may well be described as punditry gone mad, unprofessional and so on but Merson is paid, very well, to give and opinion and provide analysis, praise and criticism in equal measure. Merson can often be off the mark with some of his comments: Bastian Schweinsteiger won’t be remembered as a great player being one that sailed way off target but the Soccer Saturday analyst is a man who is paid to have an opinion and does not hesitate to offer one.
It is something in which many pundits could learn a lot from as far too often we are exposed to vanilla answers of the most boring kind in which the audience is not offered a different way of thinking – the touch screens and highlighting players and showing arrows to where runs have to be made is all well and good to provide tactical knowledge but when a pundit is asked for their personal opinion on any matter a series of umms and ahhs follow.
For many the three minute rant will be no more than the latest in Paul Merson laughable moments. But what it did was offer passionate and raw opinion from a man who is well educated in the sport of football. It was something punditry needed.