Nick Moore assesses the TV chatter-boxes grinding gears during this World Cup...
WORLD CUP GEAR
Marvellously manicured, unflappable, with a winning smile and an even-more-winning football CV, Cannavaro looked like the ideal Brazil 2014 signing for ITV. But – as became apparent immediately after Adrian Chiles' first question to him ahead of the hosts' game with Croatia – the 2006 World Cup-winning captain’s English is passable at best. He started to learn it three years ago in Dubai to help him develop as a coach, and admits to finding the lingo “tough”. Which is all well and good – he’s admirably better at speaking his fourth or fifth language than most Brits are at any second tongue – but it gives his studio presence the air of a GCSE Italian exchange student awkwardly answering questions with a polite English family. To put the boot in would be churlish on a Neapolitan struggling with Chiles’ Black Country patter, but much like Juninho, who has laboured in a similar manner, you feel that he’d have been better off doing some punditry on one of Berlusconi’s telly channels for now and coming back in four years' time after listening to his Rosetta Stone CDs.
VERDICT: ONE FOR 2018
We live in the age of clickbait: an online phenomenon in which a preposterous human will be paid to say something inflammatory in order to generate website hits and “inspire debate”. In the realm of “news” there is Katie Hopkins, banging on about how the unemployed should be sterilised and horsewhipped through town, licking the streets clean with their tongues. And in the realm of sport there is Robbie Savage, loudly bellowing garbled approximations of sentences about what he’s just seen and how it is either INCREDIBLE or A DISGRACE in opinionated monochrome. Every single time a forward narrowly misses, he informs us that they “have GOT to do better” – ignoring the fact that it’s actually quite difficult to score a goal. Add in his barmy 5 Live rant about how England failed because they didn’t “have a go” – if only Roy Hodgson had thought of “having a go” – and the hypocrisy of the second-most booked Premier League player ever raging about Honduras’s indiscipline, and it all became a little wearying. It’s hard to even blame Robbie, who is ultimately a genial bozo completely out of his depth: his rise to prominence is surely the result of some kind of wager between BBC commissioning editors about who can get the most inane gabbler on the telly. Enough, please.
VERDICT: FIRST PLANE HOME
Something of a find. His pre-tournament World Cup’s Greatest Moments show with Ollie Murs was a horror show comedy-wise, and made us fear the worst for the ex-Manchester United man’s new gig in punditry (although he insists he’s not done with playing yet). But right from the whistle he has proved far more insightful than many of his contemporaries. Clearly from the Jamie Carragher-Gary Neville school of thoughtful ex-players, rather than cockily going through the motions like so many others, Rio was excellent on Spain’s defensive frailties against Holland, and has continued to thrive through the tournament. Regular sofa work awaits, when he wants it.
Did you know there was a third Attenborough brother? John Attenborough, who died two years ago, worked selling Alfa Romeos and later as a financial advisor. Just picture the annual Christmas gathering with the family: Sir David, national treasure, broadcasting legend and greatest living Englishman, and Richard, with his Oscars, BAFTAs and the rest. Been up to much, John? Poor P-Nev must know vaguely how he felt over the last few weeks. Never quite the player his sibling was, his co-commentary debut alongside Guy Mowbray for England vs Italy was… difficult. 445 people with literally nothing better to do called in to the BBC to complain afterwards, while Twitter combusted, likening Neville to a “Dignitas sat-nav” and wondering whether he’d be better suited to droning the Shipping Forecast. Idiotically, some took to abusing an online radiator salesman also called Phillip Neville. Pip himself countered the jibes with admirable good grace (“thanks for the feedback ahahahaha,” he tweeted), and we for one think he deserves a chance to hone his craft before being tossed on the scrapheap. A few intense sessions with his old bunkbed-mate could do the job.
VERDICT: A SHAKY START
So at ease he’s almost horizontal, surprisingly deadpan (when being asked about getting away with a handball, for example) and with a voice as warming as a Red Setter curled up in front of a log fire: Henry’s departure back to the USA for the oddly-timed start of the MLS season was a shame after some superb talk on the BBC couch. Kudos, too, for rocking a £500 royal blue Gucci cardigan with eggshell blue piping in a studio based on a sizzling Copacabana Beach (the garment has inevitably become iconic and now has its own Twitter page). And for being willing to point out what utter nonsense Robbie Savage was talking most of the time.
Britain’s Brainiest Footballer (TM), Countdown conundrum-botherer, former PFA chairman, Question Time panelist and impressive documentary maker, the journeyman centre-back looks on paper the ideal candidate for co-commentary. But simply being smart doesn’t automatically make you talented at what is undoubtedly a tricky profession, and Carlisle needs to work on his research and delivery. A dreadful clanger (wondering why Colombian Jackson Martinez player wasn’t in the Ecuador squad) will no doubt haunt him, and his lack of top-class playing experience will always put him in the firing line for critics. That said, he’s got the nous to turn things around eventually.
VERDICT: OUT IN THE ROUND OF 16
The frustrating thing about Lawro is that you get the impression he could be extremely good if he just tried a teeny little bit. He’s smart. He knows his onions. His tipsy uncle jokes even fit the bill sometimes. Downbeat patter works well in many professions (postman, landlord, bookie), and in a co-commentator can be sometimes preferable to high-decibel over-enthusiasm. But when you can’t even bother to summon an ounce of enthusiasm about being in the Maracana, at one of the best World Cups in memory? We’d think of something pithy to say, but, in tribute to Lawro, we can’t be arsed. Time to give someone else a go.
VERDICT: NOT ENOUGH HUNGER
Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Townsend’s continued existence as a TV football pundit remains testament to the fact that, in a boardroom somewhere at ITV’s Southbank headquarters, an exec in a linen suit has decided that football fans are morons and can’t cope with anything beyond asinine repetition of what we’ve just seen. Cricket fans feast on gloriously rich, perceptive and witty analysis; tennis enthusiasts luxuriate as the likes of John McEnroe explain the things they might not understand; even the snooker has Dennis Taylor and company offering warmth, humour and expertise. They don’t have to tolerate “he’s really stuck his cue on that” or “I’ll tell you what Clive, that’s one hell of an LBW,” the lucky devils. Townsend’s verbal tics are galling (“in and around”… “better”… his endless see-sawing through “he should have taken a touch” and “he should have hit it first time, Clive”). But more galling is ITV’s refusal to try to make him raise his performance levels. In the era of Gary Neville’s excellence – even Alan Shearer seems to have responded and made a bit of an effort – Townsend remains a remnant of the ex-player generation who never had to really bother.
VERDICT: BOTTOM OF THE GROUP
The unfortunate “Dicko” had to sit between Patrick Vieira and Fabio Cannavaro as the duo explained what it’s like to win the World Cup before the tournament’s opening match – and as Vieira gushed about what a great player Fab was without giving his old Arsenal team-mate a cursory mention – but the unglamorous Mancunian is the clear star of the show when it comes to punditry. Opinionated without ever being overdramatic, crystal clear in his assertions and genuinely enlightening, he’s the nearest thing either terrestrial channel has to a G-Nev. A pearl amid swine.