“No, no, never.” My first question is met with a fairly unequivocal response. “Management was never something I was interested in,” Alan Hansen tells me with certainty. Was broadcasting always a passion? Had he dreamed of sitting on the Match of the Day sofa since he was a little boy? Perhaps not: “When you retire at 36 you have to do something. I wanted to stay in football and so broadcasting was the obvious option.”
Whether it had been something he had previously thought about or not, Hansen was hired by Sky Television as a pundit and summariser only months after his retirement and he soon made a name for himself in the business, moving to BBC Radio 5 Live before going on to Match of the Day where he has remained ever since, describing “sensational” and “diabolical” performances alike.
I’ve always wondered how pundits, who are generally required to be neutral, separate their playing days from their current work, but Hansen is quick to quash any suggestion of bias. “You have to say it as you see it. In fact, if anything, my time playing for Liverpool has meant I’ve been hyper-critical of them ever since.” It’s hardly surprising that Hansen has been left frustrated by his old club’s plight ever since his departure. In Hansen’s illustrious playing career for Liverpool he acquired a haul of winners’ medals that any of the current crop could only dream of; including eight league titles, three European Cups, two FA Cups and four League Cups. Since he left, Liverpool have won no Premier League titles. Sorry, but I just had to point that out at least once.
As I so often manage to do, I turned the conversation towards the Scottish national side which Hansen represented surprisingly few times (26), often kept out of the side by the formidable partnership of Aberdeen’s Willie Miller and lex McLeish. The picture he paints for the current side is, unfortunately for me, bleak. “In the 60s, 70s and 80s there really was a conveyor belt of talent. Every boy played football back then, but nowadays it seems like they have other things to do.” This is a statement with which I can certainly identify. My school didn’t have a football team for my age group, but it’s hard to imagine that this would have been the case 30 or 40 years ago. “A poisoned chalice?” I asked, regarding the currently vacant Scotland managerial job. “A difficult one,” he answered, diplomatically.
I moved on to happier things and he seemed pleased that I’d chosen to do so. “That game at the end of last season, that game…” He was beginning to tell me about his favourite match that he’d ever covered as a broadcast journalist and I knew what was coming; I could feel it. “I mean, it was just…” He’s going to say it, he’s going to say it…“sensational!” Yes! I composed myself as he continued. “The different emotions of that day – watching the Manchester United side at Sunderland trying to work out if they’d won the title or not – it really is what the Premier League is all about.” I, personally, wasn’t so keen on reliving that particularly painful moment, but had to agree that the last day of the 2011/12 season really was unrivalled in dramatic terms. Best league in the world? “Perhaps the technical ability in La Liga or Serie A might be better, but for pure excitement you can’t beat the Premier League. You look at the 8-2 game from last season [Manchester United vs Arsenal] or the 1-6 game [Manchester United vs Manchester City] and you certainly can’t say the games between the big teams are cagey any more, like they used to be in the past.” I held back from asking him about the SPL.
Enough looking back. Time for Alan to earn his salt doing what he does best: making some predictions. With my betting slip in hand, I asked him who he thought would be lifting the Premier League trophy come May 2013. “Well, Manchester United are certainly back again, they’re looking absolutely top class. That’s the sign of the best sides, to come back from a setback like last season and be stronger than ever.” I pumped my fist with delight; let’s hear more of this, please, Alan.
“With Rooney and Robin van Persie up front you’ve always got a chance, no matter how well the rest of the team is playing.” Music to my ears. “Are we in for another decade of Manchester United dominance?” I asked Alan hopefully. “There’s a school of thought that Abramovich changed the face of the game.” (‘School of thought’: as a historian these are three words I’d hoped to avoid to avoid during the vacation.) “And Manchester City have followed this model, but they need to kick on again. United have always kicked on after disappointments, and it looks like they’re doing it again this season.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.
So with United safely on my betting slip for the season, who’s for the drop? “Well, it looked like QPR were a certainty, but you can never rule out the ’Arry factor.” How accurate this seems, and since this interview was conducted QPR have recorded a miraculous away victory over European champions Chelsea. Perhaps Mr Redknapp is in line to pull off another miracle. “It’s just very difficult to tell. Norwich looked like they were in trouble for a while but have gone on a great run, and Aston Villa have been up and down too. It’s constantly changing.” I get the message, Alan; I’ll save my money for Hasan’s finest post-Park End kebab on this occasion