World Cup 2014: Is Phil Neville the worst pundit in Brazil? A look at the hits and misses

Forget the players at the World Cup, what about the pundits? Will Dean reveals the hits and misses of the former players paid to shoot their mouths off

Will Dean
Monday 16 June 2014 23:57 BST
Chest the job: ITV’s World Cup anchor Adrian Chiles – never knowingly under-Brummied
Chest the job: ITV’s World Cup anchor Adrian Chiles – never knowingly under-Brummied (Corbis)

It's about 5pm on 30 July 1966 and Geoff Hurst's second goal in the World Cup final has just bounced off the German goal line. Kenneth Wolstenholme is as unsure as everyone else: "Can he do it? He has done, yes! No! The linesman says no! It's a goal!"

God help @KenWols1920 when he checks 1966 Twitter to see the live reaction to his dithering: complaints drowning out anyone praising him for his line when Hurst made it 4-2.

Thankfully, even colour television was still a dream for most people when Wolstenholme entered the pantheon. No such luck for Phil Neville and other members of football's commentator/pundit nexus currently decamped en masse to studios on the Copacabana beach.

And, as the World Cup has whirred swiftly into action, so has the public's attitude to giving the ex-pros paid to analyse it an absolute shoeing via the instant media of Twitter, Facebook and yelling wildly in the pub.

Some of it is deserved, but you can't help but wonder if the bile directed from the smartphones of Britain's sofas would be quite as acidic if the commentators and pundits were sitting in a rainy Red Square rather than dodging joggers and Ipaneman girls.

The BBC's coverage, for me (to borrow the punditocracy's favourite superfluous prefix), has been nearly as good as the football – with top marks to Gabby Logan, Gary Lineker, everyone on 5 Live and, heck, even Rio Ferdinand. But a few of its, and ITV's, many faces and voices have borne the brunt of two-footed tackles from the public. And sure, we're lacking someone with the underspoken genius of Barry Davies (who would have no doubt taken a kicking for missing the Hand of God on 1986 Twitter), but things could be worse…

Phil Neville took the brunt of the abuse by virtue of being watched by the most people

Phil Neville

Took the brunt of the abuse by virtue of being watched by the most people while assisting Guy Mowbray during England's defeat by Italy. Not by virtue of saying anything too thick, but because of a delivery style honed through careful study of the assonance of Smiler from Last of the Summer Wine. His efforts spawned 445 complaints to Ofcom (context: Jeremy Clarkson received four in 2006 for calling a Daihatsu Copen "a bit gay").

Yet we forget that his brother, the England coach Gary, took a wave of criticism for his monotonous delivery when he migrated to Sky's studio and commentary booth in 2011. Gary quickly proved himself the best pundit in the business. By the time the final rolls around on 13 July, expect Fizzer to have won the country's whingers over.

Mark Lawrenson

Has been a bad pundit for so long that he almost seems bearable again. Like a flood after a 14-year drought. Lawro remains one of the few pundits willing to call a dull game a spade, but often seems so uninterested that you can almost hear him daydreaming about getting back to the hotel bar for a quick snifter of Martell. His finest moments so far came in a quick exchange with Steve Wilson during Argentina vs Bosnia. First, Lawro idly referred to a seemingly obscure Argentina goal "with 30 passes or something" (Esteban Cambiasso's very famous goal of the tournament in 2006) and seconds later struggled to remember a Maxi Rodriguez screamer in the same tournament.

Wilson reminded Lawro that he must have seen it, because they were at the game together. Doing the commentary.

Jonathan Pearce

One imagines that when JP is at home he asks, "WOULD YOU put the kettle ON?!?", such is his excitability. Pearce's confusion at Karim Benzema's second goal for France against Honduras had even the most mild-mannered fan screaming at the telly. As Fifa's goal-line technology replay showed Benzema's shot at two points, when it hit the post and when it went in, the initial "no goal" signal saw Pearce explode in befuddlement. Millions watching at home understood that the goal robot was merely checking both points where it hit the line. The Independent understands that Pearce's mistrust of robots stems from an unrepaid cash loan to Sir Killalot midway through series three of Robot Wars.

Clarke Carlisle

Over with Chilesy on ITV, trouble came for Clarke Carlisle during Switzerland vs Ecuador, when the smart former Burnley captain was lampooned for expressing surprise that the Porto forward Jackson Martinez couldn't get into the Ecuador team. On account – many pointed out – of his being Colombian. A gaffe, no doubt, but hardly Harald Schumacher's attempted decapitation of Patrick Battiston in the annals of crimes against football.

Chris Waddle

For me, Waddle is one of the best co-commentators and gets bonus points for, while punditing on 5 Live on Sunday morning, taking time out between sentences to eat a coconut he'd just bought on Copacabana beach.

Alan Shearer

May flirt with banality and repetition in the studio with Lineker, but stick him down on the Copacabana in a skintight black V-neck and a pair of Ray-Ban Aviators, as he was before the Uruguay vs Costa Rica clash on Saturday, and he comes to life, self-consciously Vogueing with the best of the Rio beach bodybuilders. He's not looked that good since Euro 96. Phwoar.

Patrick Vieira, Clarence Seedorf, Thierry Henry

Well, it wouldn't be a World Cup without the English getting shown up for their poor technique by some foreigners. The same goes, sadly, in the punditry industrial complex.

Richard Keys and Andy Gray

Kept off UK television screens due to previous indiscretions, Keys and Gray have been hanging out the back of the tournament from a studio in Qatar, where Keys has been documenting his excommunication with a series of behind-the-scenes YouTube videos – Kevin Keegan talking about airports! – which, intentionally or not, are more interesting than most of the half-time action on ITV. They're smashing it.

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