We’ve gorged ourselves on every single World Cup match this year and have seen more of Gary Lineker, Laura Woods and Mark Pougatch than our own families in the process – but which pundits have impressed us the most?
With every match live on terrestrial television, via BBC or ITV, a core set of pundits have made themselves familiar figures over the past month.
And, with the semi-finals looming and many of their number having returned to the UK, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to rank them from worst to best.
33. Gilberto Silva (BBC)
Sorry Gilberto, you were an excellent player at Arsenal but somebody had to be last and we cannot remember anything you said on screen.
32. Ian Rush (BBC)
Rush was an understandable choice for Wales’ first World Cup in 64 years – and anybody unaware of that fact by now should seek urgent medical attention – but you’d be stretched to call him a natural in front of the cameras.
Saying that, put us on a broadcast watched by millions and we’d dissolve into a sweaty and stuttering puddle. It’s a harder job than it looks.
31. Jermaine Jenas (BBC)
As Takumi Minamino stepped up to take a penalty against Croatia, Jenas was effusive about the Japan midfielder’s career in Germany – a country Minamino had never played in.
Look, we all make mistakes. But Jenas has been heavily pushed by the Beeb – it wouldn’t surprise us if he stepped into Gary Lineker’s shoes one day – and the viewer deserves better than inaccuracies delivered in a flat tone of voice.
30. Jurgen Kilnsmann (BBC)
Klinsmann came into the tournament as the wise, clubbable foreigner on the BBC panel and ended it bodied by Carlos Queiroz after his comments on Iran’s victory over Wales. Ouch.
You took the initiative to call me Carlos, so I believe it is proper to call you Jurgen. Right?
Even not knowing me personally, you question my character with a typical prejudiced judgment of superiority.
— Carlos Queiroz (@Carlos_Queiroz) November 26, 2022
29. Gary Neville (ITV)
Widely recognised as one of British football’s leading pundits, Neville’s reputation has taken a significant knock in Qatar.
Called out for hypocrisy by Ian Hislop pre-tournament for accepting Qatari bunce while decrying their human rights record, Neville’s promise to call out the regime’s abuses on-air was weaker than a pint of Budweiser in reality.
And, whisper it, he’s entered the Hansen stage of allowing his punditry to become a caricature of its peak self.
We hope he can untie himself from his many geo-political knots before the next Super Sunday.
28. Danny Murphy (BBC)
Murphy remains an enigma; he’s capable of amusingly eccentric outbursts but is undermined by a voice the CIA would use in torture sessions.
His tournament highlight came during the excuse of a match Uruguay and South Korea served up in the groups, having an existential crisis about why shots that hit the post aren’t counted as being on target.
Call us pedants but it’s because they’re not on target, Danny.
27. Didier Drogba (BBC)
A curious cameo from Drogba, whose lack of sudden movements and slowness to blink were distinctly reptilian.
26. Micah Richards (BBC)
There is a place for Richards’ sunnyside-up approach to punditry, and he’s certainly bought the best out of Alan Shearer and Roy Keane in the past, but his actual analysis remains somewhat lacking.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – the World Cup attracts millions of casual viewers who’d be turned off by stiff tactical talk – but it does render Richards rather one-dimensional.
25. Dion Dublin (BBC)
Places higher than Richards for lack of over-exposure but suffers from a similar problem; joviality is all well and good but it wears thin when you realise that’s all there is.
Also, he never worked ‘stairs going up to bedrooms’ into his commentary once. Shame on you, Dion.
24. Hal Robson-Kanu (ITV)
With his gentle primary school teacher exterior, Robson-Kanu seemed an unlikely fit for ITV’s boisterous output but managed to hold his own.
However, there was a reason he was generally tasked with covering the lower-key games; he was no match, for analysis or meme material, for the channel’s big beasts.
23. Lee Dixon (ITV)
Paul Scholes, Karl Pilkington… there’s definitely a certain type of Mancunian man that lives under a permanent rain cloud and Dixon falls firmly into that category.
We do think the former Arsenal defender is hamstrung by his pairing with Matterface – the two possess all the chemistry of a couple on a terrible first date – but calling Senegal “a team full of internationals” was the definition of inane.
Superb commentary work by Lee Dixon, pointing out that there were bound to be a few chances for Senegal early on, as the team is 'full of internationals'.
— Anthony McGowan (@anthony_mcgowan) December 4, 2022
22. Eni Aluko (ITV)
The pile-on for her minor mathematical error during Brazil’s win over South Korea was unedifying, but Aluko suffers from a similar problem to Robson-Kanu; other ITV pundits are just better.
21. Nigel de Jong (ITV)
Another fluent English speaker to come out of the Netherlands, De Jong has provided competent analysis that matched his country’s competent progress to the quarter-finals.
Which is all well and good. But, considering this is the guy who unleashed his inner Jackie Chan in a World Cup final, we were hoping for something a little more memorable.
20. Martin Keown (BBC)
Possibly the most intense person in the Western Hemisphere, Keown has been supplanted by Jenas as the BBC’s main co-comms guy in 2022. Make of that what you will.
After his memorable outburst against book readers at Russia 2018 – “Get a life!” – it’s been a more low-key tournament for the former Arsenal defender this time around.
Although we were tickled by his proclomation that ‘the whole of Argentina’ was in the stadium for the Netherlands game. All 45million of them…
19. Nadia Nadim (ITV)
Nadim’s tournament was tragically overshadowed by the death of her mother during a live broadcast.
The 34-year-old had left ITV’s coverage of the 0-0 draw between Denmark and Tunisia before full-time and later revealed her mother had died after being hit by a truck on the way back from the gym.
“My mum, unfortunately, passed away last Tuesday very unexpectedly in an accident,” Nadim said.
Speaking during ITV’s build-up to the game between the Netherlands and Qatar, Nadim added: “She was a very strong woman who not only inspired me but a lot of people around her.
“Obviously I am sad but she raised us to be strong and I think this is how I will show her to be strong.”
18. Mauricio Pochettino (BBC)
The BBC’s big-name signing before the World Cup was a slightly underwhelming presence in the studio, despite the presence of his crisp shirts and his machismo Argentinian accent.
It was also hard to shake the feeling that, like a Take Me Out contestant, Poch was preening himself for bigger things.
17. Ashley Williams (BBC)
Fine, solid analysis from the well-groomed Williams although he vanished from our screens after Wales were knocked out.
16. John Hartson (ITV)
We accept Hartson wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea and he does have the energy of somebody that scoffs a bowl of Coco Pops for breakfast every day.
But some of his anecdotes were the perfect antidote to some meandering group games and he possesses the voice of a Valleys preacher. We hope he’s back for Euro 2024.
15. Joe Cole (ITV)
Cole has been largely good but he totally misjudged the mood on Uruguay’s temper tantrum; while we didn’t expect him to rub his hands with glee on national television, the former England midfielder ended up making Helen Lovejoy sound like Eddie Hearn.
Perhaps reuniting with Carlton Cole, the other half of the ‘Coley brothers’ act from West Ham-Europa League fame, will inject some levity back into Joey’s punditry.
14. Graeme Souness (ITV)
It’s hard to escape the feeling that Souness will be put out to pasture soon – or, in industry terms, Lawrensoned – but the former Scotland midfielder remains compulsive viewing.
His spat with Roy Keane during Argentina’s shock defeat to Saudi Arabia had the nation reaching for its popcorn and his incandescent reaction to Japan’s winner against Spain was glorious.
And he looks sensational for a man who’ll enter his eighth decade next year; we reckon it’s all the olive oil he necked in Italy.
"Why have we not seen the evidence!!" 🤔
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) December 1, 2022
13. Rio Ferdinand (BBC)
While his Messi worship has become increasingly nauseating, Ferdinand recognises talent and expresses his awe in the same manner as millions of fans worldwide.
The former England defender also brings the same high energy to every game he covers; the BBC have learned their lesson after once pairing Lawrenson with Alan Green on 5Live, a combination that gave elite sport the same vibe as a pile-up on the M5.
12. Danny Gabbidon (BBC)
He may sound unerringly like Tom Kerridge – at least to those who cannot tell the difference between a Welsh and a West Country accent – but, unlike the Wales side, Gabbidon was firmly at home on the World Cup stage.
A pleasing combination of softly-spoken and insightful, the former defender coped manfully with Wales’ early exit and his amazement at Mexico’s late rally against Saudi Arabia matched those of viewers at home.
11. Mark Schwarzer (BBC)
Australia were a pleasant surprise this World Cup, battling through their group and putting up a good show against Argentina, and Schwarzer radiated quiet pride at the Socceroos’ exploits.
10. Karen Carney (ITV)
Deservedly chosen for a number of big matches, although shunted off pitchside with Laura Woods for every England game, Carney spoke good sense with a Birmingham twang.
And, alongside Aluko and Seema Jaswal, the former Lioness formed part of the first all-female panel for Poland’s group-stage win over Saudi Arabia.
9. Vincent Kompany (BBC)
The Manchester City legend delivered one of the lines of the tournament when asked whether he’d signed the newly-available Cristiano Ronaldo for Burnley.
“We need players who can run,” Kompany smiled as the studio descended into anarchy behind him.
He clearly knew his stuff but was already home by the time Belgium made their own miserable exit. Still, an effortlessly cool appearance from the big man.
Nah Kompany is mocking it about Ronaldo😭😭😭😭 pic.twitter.com/5ISrGGPZh1
— TS🍇🇧🇷 (@TrujistaSancho) November 22, 2022
8. Alan Shearer (BBC)
Lineker’s right-hand man has come a long way from his early punditry days where he resembled an arresting police officer with his slow wit and condescension.
Having taken feedback on board, and with a concerted effort to do his research, Shearer can back up his strong opinions with facts and was rightly scathing about Qatar before the tournament opener.
We’ve not seen any musical puns to rival ‘Valery’ and ‘Onana’ earlier this year but the former England captain is a reliably solid presence for the Beeb these days.
7. Pablo Zalabeta (BBC)
With an alluring accent that mixes South America with South Manchester, Zabaleta provided a more level-headed outlook on Argentina and found the time to troll Ferdinand as well.
Look at the hand on the knee here; it’s very Henry and Carragher. Wonderful stuff.
Pablo Zabaleta. pic.twitter.com/lqgo1EMatf
— Harry Siddall (@HarryASiddall) November 30, 2022
6. Andros Townsend (ITV)
Having not played for Everton this season due to an ACL injury, Townsend took to co-comms like a duck to water during this World Cup.
Paired with Seb Hutchinson for a string of neutral rubbers, the pair’s chemistry was immediately apparent and Townsend was able to impart numerous nuggets of insight during his ITV stint.
A career in the media surely beckons.
5. Laura Georges (BBC)
Blessed with authority, and proving our theory that English spoken in a French accent is very easy on the ear, Georges has become the breakout star of the BBC’s coverage.
Bringing real energy to the studio, Georges has been a hit for her innately good takes and aura of somebody you’d definitely want in your corner. Give a bonus to whoever commissioned her appearance.
4. Ian Wright (ITV)
Far from the court jester of his early television appearances, Wright has become a national treasure for his earnestness, ability to both love football and realise its true importance in life and his championing of black and female players.
He’s not a bad analyst either; his comments after England’s draw with the USA were insightful without being too reactionary.
And he quashed criticism of himself and Laura Woods with a majestic: “You know what Lozza, it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to call me Ian. Look how long we’ve known each other. Call me Wrighty like you normally do.”
3. Alex Scott (BBC)
Forthright, principled and always giving the impression of heavily researching the teams she’s covering, Scott has enjoyed another good tournament and now feels like an essential part of the BBC’s big-match coverage.
And her decision to wear the OneLove armband, after the England side had quivered away from such a gesture, was one of our moments of the entire World Cup.
2. Roy Keane (ITV)
Keane may now be a hate figure in Brazil, not that he’ll give a solitary eff, but it’s undoubtedly been Roy’s tournament, making every match he covers compulsive viewing…
1. Ally McCoist (ITV)
But it’s not quite enough for Roy to claim top spot as McCoist has captured our hearts once more.
Four-and-a-half years after becoming the breakout star, along with Jon Champion, at Russia 2018, the former Rangers striker has bought his unique brand of enthusiasm, joviality and insight to the World Cup.
And his catchphrases are catching on – witness Danny Murphy saying ‘it really is’ repeatedly during a recent broadcast – but the thing that sets McCoist apart is his ability to summarise the wonder of football through a singular noise of delight.
Tellingly, he worked equally well whether alongside Champion, Clive Tyldsley or Matterface.
But, paired with Champion, the whole vibe screamed TMS and there’s no justice if they’re not given the final. Get to it, ITV.