Brian Viner: Talking heads can learn from Townsend's perfect pitch

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The Independent Football

The day after any major international football tournament is always a dark one for those of us who follow every televised match, every piece of punditry, every preview and review, as we become reacquainted with television programmes other than ones featuring David Pleat struggling over the pronunciation of "Lizarazu".

The day after any major international football tournament is always a dark one for those of us who follow every televised match, every piece of punditry, every preview and review, as we become reacquainted with television programmes other than ones featuring David Pleat struggling over the pronunciation of "Lizarazu".

I always think that in the wake of these tournaments, while consideration is properly given to the best players and goals and coaches, more attention should be given to those who, to the best of their sometimes limited ability, have talked us through every inswinging corner, every dubious offside, every disputed penalty. Never mind what kind of tournament Gary Neville had. How did Andy Townsend get on? Clive Tyldesley? Peter Reid? They're the ones we've shared our living-rooms with, not Ashley Cole or Owen Hargreaves.

My occasional dispatches from the sofa might have given some indication where my own preferences lie. I'm sorry to say that Reid had a poor Euro 2004. One of the more enjoyable experiences of my professional life was sitting in a room with him when he was Sunderland manager, listening to a series of wonderful anecdotes, almost five per cent of which were printable.

He's a fine fellow, but he should leave the punditry to those who can offer some insight into either what has happened or what might happen.

Many of you will disagree, for we all have our favourites, but for me the best pundit of the tournament was ITV's Andy Townsend. It is slightly disconcerting to see his face pointing north while his nose points north by north-west, but in the more important business of what comes out of his mouth, I think the boy has class.

Townsend knows that sitting on the fence is for robin redbreasts - and Jamie Redknapp. He has strong opinions and is not slow to proffer them. Such as the one that Sven Goran Eriksson's record in taking England no further than the quarter-finals of the last two major tournaments is hardly consistent with the veneration the Football Association still shows him. To say nothing of a salary to make Croesus weep. That might seem like an obvious conclusion to draw. Yet the pundits, Townsend excluded, seem oddly reluctant to suggest that Sven might not, after all, be worth all that dosh. That Steve McClaren, for instance, might have done no worse.

In the BBC studio, Alan Hansen gave his usual assured performance, only once putting a foot wrong, when before the penalty shoot-out against Portugal he asserted that England deserved to win. Did they heck-as-like. Otherwise, it is striking how similar his punditry is to the football he once played; elegantly authoritative. The same applies to Gary Lineker in the presenter's chair. I thought he played a blinder in Portugal; unflappable and neither more nor less assertive than he needed to be. In the considerable art of saying the right thing at the right time, he has become Michelangelo to Des Lynam's Leonardo. And that assessment should meet with Ian Wright's approval. His favourite Ninja Turtles.

Wright, there is no doubt, enlivened the BBC analysis. But his hysterical response to Urs Meier's decision to disallow Sol Campbell's goal in the England v Portugal match was disgraceful, frankly, even making allowances for his acute disappointment. We were all disappointed.

I don't entirely subscribe to the opinion of my illustrious fellow columnist Ken Jones, who believes that the television studio should be a non-partisan haven of calm, reasoned analysis, but Wright added the BBC's weight to the subsequent tabloid vilification of a referee whose mistake, if it was one, was certainly no worse than our own Mike Riley's error in not giving a blatant penalty to Latvia in their group match against Germany.

Imagine if Riley, even on returning home, needed police protection from outraged Latvia fans, whipped up into a state of vengeful frenzy by Latvian newspapers. I'm not saying that Wright condoned any of that, but he shares some of the blame.

Of the co-commentators, I thought Pleat was the pick, despite his difficulties with "Lazirazizizu". But as I wrote during the tournament, all the co-commentators fell foul of Atkinson's Law, which decrees that opinions confidently expressed behind the microphone will immediately be contradicted by events on the field. Joe Royle suffered from occasional attacks of Atkinson's, as did Sir Bobby Robson, who also seemed to entertain the illusion that he was the principal commentator and the man beside him a serial interrupter.

The two main commentators, John Motson and Clive Tyldesley, both had a so-so tournament. Tyldesley without Big Ron is like Keegan without Toshack; not quite the force he was. And Motty's little chuckle - the single "ha" sometimes making way for the double-barrelled "ha-ha" - is a growing distraction. Still, his observation at the conclusion of the Netherlands v Portugal semi-final that 500 years after Vasco da Gama, Portugal were now entering uncharted territory was, ha, worth the licence fee on its own.

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