The only thing more boring than an international friendly week is an argument over international…
Kris Boyd is a Scottish football legend. Nobody scored more in the SPL era than he did, not Kenny Miller, not John Hartson, not even Henrik Larsson. He’s won league championships, cups and, at his peak, was an important figure for the national team. Nobody really talks about all these things, though. That’s because Boyd can’t stop talking about other things. All things. Everything.
If there’s a story in Scottish football, there’s a good chance Boyd has an opinion on it. On the call up of Kenny McLean and Graeme Shinnie to the national team – a decision that made Scotland a “laughing stock,” according to Boyd. On Dundee United’s decline, claiming that they have paid for their “stance” on Rangers. “Be careful what you wish for,” he said. And on Rangers’ pursuit of Derek McInnes, which Boyd claimed would definitely end with the Aberdeen boss pitching up at Ibrox. “There is no way Derek McInnes would turn down the Rangers job,” he wrote in a newspaper column.
He is a chuntering hot-take machine, desperate to ruffle someone, anyone’s, feathers. As part of Sky Sports’ recently re-imagined Scottish football coverage fronted by Hayley McQueen and flanked by Kris Commons, and as a frequent guest on BBC Scotland’s Sportsound, Boyd has been handed a lofty platform. He’s wasted no time in using it to air every bullish opinion in his head.
But surely Boyd doesn’t need to be this way? He is a great of his generation, demonstrated by his scoring record over the years. Even at 34 with little pace and even less hair, Boyd is still capable of deciding matches at the Scottish Premiership level, as he showed with his late double against Rangers before Christmas. In fact, the Killie striker finds himself in something of a purple patch right now, scoring six times in his last five outings. He has 12 goals for the season, making him one of the most prolific attackers in the Scottish game. Still.
“Dundee United are another club since, when you go back to the Rangers scenario, Dundee United have been in decline since then as well. It’s one of those ones where you need to be careful what you wish for. Stephen Thompson was a big part of that” – Boyd on Dundee United.
Few players are born with such a natural goalscoring instinct, with such a reflex for finding the back of the net, yet Boyd seems intent on masking these qualities. The more he talks, the more he blurts out half-baked arguments on all things Scottish football, he diminishes his status as a Scottish football great. Few talk about his considerable feats on the pitch, but rather they rage about his off the field remarks. Even at a time like this, when he is in fantastic form.
Boyd, it would seem, is attempting to align himself with the likes of Chris Sutton, Stephen Craigan and Michael Stewart. They are the epitome of a new type of firebrand punditry in Scottish football. Sutton, in particular, has fronted this progression in the broadcasting of our sport, with the former Celtic striker effectively shaking things up through his bluster and boil style on BT Sport, and Boyd wants to follow a similar trajectory.
Yet while there’s a certain mischief to Sutton’s remarks, an on-camera persona when it comes to his personal duel with Craigan, a smirk to his delivery, Boyd is devoid of nuance as a pundit. While Sutton understands that sometimes Scottish football takes itself too seriously, Boyd addresses all with a furrowed brow. As a viewer, it’s tiring.
“He’s not good enough. Tell me where he’s going to play? Play him in the middle of the park? Why not? Because I watched Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor run all over the top of him last week” – Boyd on Shinnie’s Scotland call-up.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a stain on Boyd as a person. The Killie striker spends much of his spare time coaching kids and, as the face of the Rugby Park club, engaging in countless charitable activities. He has even established his own mental health foundation after his own brother Scott took his own life last year. That is something that, by all accounts, had an understandably profound effect on Boyd, shaping him as the person he is today. But there is a disconnect between the character he is to those who know him personally and the character that comes across when the microphone is passed his way.
We, as football fans, are well accustomed to shock-jock pundits. They’re everywhere, in pretty much every area of the media. Some of them say more inflammatory things than ‘McLean and Shinnie shouldn’t be in the Scotland squad.’ Boyd is no Milo Yiannopoulos. But what grates about Boyd’s manner is the position from which he makes such comments.
Boyd is still on the payroll of a Scottish Premiership club. Furthermore, he is still a key player for Kilmarnock. Is it really appropriate for him to offer unfiltered scrutiny of his fellow professionals?
"Not good enough."
Kris Boyd doesn't think Graeme Shinnie is international quality. Do you?
— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) November 7, 2017
This raises an interesting debate around the role of current professionals in football broadcasting. There’s a reason broadcasters tend to favour former players and managers as pundits; they are not bound by the natural restrictions of their employment. They can say what they like without the risk of retribution, whether on a professional or personal level. Even then, there are ex-pros who are reluctant to criticise their buddies who still work in the game.
But what happens when a current pro doesn’t conform to the usual convention? This is the territory Boyd has strayed into over the past year or so, scrutinising and criticising fellow players, managers of other teams, even owners and board members of rival clubs. Within Kilmarnock, there is surely an unease over Boyd’s new position as a shoot-from-the-hip, hot-take merchant. Words have surely been had at some level.
It’s understandable that with retirement in sight Boyd is looking to gain a head-start on a punditry career. He certainly isn’t the first active player to have done that. With that intention to gain a head-start comes the reflex to make an impression, perhaps explaining why Boyd is so keen to set the agenda. And make no mistake, he has succeeded in that regard over the past 12 months or so.
“I don’t see him as a dominant figure and someone who can tell it straight to players before, during or after matches. I don’t see a confident, charismatic top level coach when I look at him. I just think of the shy lad who hardly spoke to anyone when we were on the same coaching course” – Boyd on Cathro.
His comments on the appointment of Ian Cathro at Hearts last December sparked an existential debate across Scottish football. It proved to be a defining moment in Boyd’s career as a pundit, personally attacking the 31-year-old by doubting whether he had “the character to be able to handle players” in a dressing room environment. “He’s probably not been this excited since FIFA 17 came out on PlayStation,” wrote Boyd in a newspaper column dripping in derision.
Cathro’s ill-fated stint as Hearts boss was defined by the debate around his background as a coach. While there were many reasons for his downfall at Tynecastle, the discourse established by Boyd was undoubtedly a factor. This is the power the Kilmarnock striker now wields. Regardless of whether, as an active professional, he should be setting the agenda, he is. Boyd’s quality as a player was always doubted by many, but there was no doubting his effectiveness at making an impression. In that sense, there is considerable crossover between his career as a player and that as a pundit.