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19th Jun 2018

Save your applause and surprise, Evra. Just follow Aluko’s well-informed lead

Melissa Reddy

In roughly 30 seconds on Sunday morning, a window cracked open and a crucial panoramic on football punditry was provided…


In this vista, as ITV built up to its World Cup coverage of Costa Rica versus Serbia, you observed Eni Aluko, an England centurion that swapped Chelsea for Juventus this summer, being demonstrably more prepared than her male colleagues; former France captain Patrice Evra and ex-Sweden striker Henrik Larsson.

So far, so par for the course. Women in the industry know it is non-negotiable to, at the very least, work doubly hard in order to be invited to any table let alone the top one.

Aluko, who made history as the first female analyst on Match of the Day in 2014, before working both the 2016 European Championships and the Women’s Euros a year later, had already called it.

“There’s a tendency for some male pundits who have done it for years to rock up and take it for granted,” she said in a Guardian interview last month about covering the tournament in Russia.

“I can’t afford to do that so that’s why I have to geek out on all the stats and facts and make sure I am not seen as a token woman, but that I’m adding to the conversation.”

The accomplished forward has been informative, engaging and a punditry highlight thus far during the showpiece.

What happened over the weekend after Aluko’s detailed take on the strengths and struggles of Costa Rica was the antithesis of her excellent work.

It was, quite simply, pathetic.

“That’s very good,” remarked Larsson on the 31-year-old’s assessment, before Evra – his face layered with shock – repeated that finding and applauded.

Why were either of them surprised at her knowledge? Don’t need more than one guess here.

Why did either of them feel they needed to validate her analysis? Please keep your endorsement, it’s not essential – opportunities are for those under-represented in media.

Would they have offered the same reaction to Slaven Bilic or Gary Neville? Thought not.

Why were neither of them as prepared and well-researched as Aluko? Why would they need to be when, as the status quo stands, they’d continue to be hired regardless?

Whether Larsson and Evra intended to be or not, they were hugely patronising. And carried on as such after her praise of Serbia’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

Evra clapped again with esteemed host Jacqui Oatley asking, “Are you going to sit here applauding Eni’s punditry all day?”

The left-back replied: “This is just amazing. I think we should leave, Henrik, because she knows about more football than us! I’m really impressed, you know.”

There are those who theorise that Evra saying Aluko is more knowledgeable than him and Larsson is a win. A victory for who? When did they become the gold standard? Why should she be glad that he thinks she’s better than them?

Aluko is very good – not because Evra and Larsson determine her to be, but because she has ensured she is.

The sport and entertainment solicitor is grateful for the chance to be an analyst during the World Cup and has rightly poured herself into the job, unlike those who give off the sense that we should feel indebted to hear their often uninformed views while they collect blockbuster fees.

When you tune in as a viewer, you crave enlightenment from those paid to supply it. A variety of well-informed voices is always welcome. Frank Lampard delivers, Alex Scott delivers, Rio Ferdinand delivers, Bilic delivers, Neville delivers, Aluko delivers…

Surely, this simple yet significant factor should be the basis on which pundits are hired?

Forget gender, forget names, and forget anyone whose default mode is set to ‘in my day’.

When that happens, now that would be worth applauding.