Attention always falls upon the different terrestrial channels as the World Cup rolls around the corner and how they will fight to entertain, inform and excite the coveted World Cup viewership for the month.
British viewers must ponder over a choice of Gary Lineker or Adrian Chiles (succeeding Des Lynam), Alan Shearer or Andy Townsend, or John Motson and Clive Tyldesley. Meanwhile Irish football fans have a bit more choice for their viewing pleasure. A favourite is to stay local and hear the ramblings of the three old coots who have been romantically reunited, before making a quick dash to channel 141/142 to hear the familiar voice of Motty or Jonathan Pearce. There’s also the infuriating but unmissable lesser games when Peter Collins, Kenny Cunningham and team appear to provide their opinions, usually for the early kick-off, but it’s nowhere near the standard of Eamon Dunphy, Johnny Giles or the third musketeer, Liam Brady.
The BBC boast a fresh line-up that includes a mix of old names, some familiar but new faces to the hotseat and a touch of young, international flavour. The most familiar channel on television has however been severely weakened with the loss of Ray Stubbs to newcomers ESPN, while Marcel Desailly, who provided an insightful view from the touchline at Euro 2008, has switched alliegances to rivals ITV for an undisclosed fee. However they do include a strong list of managers, namely Gordon Strachen, Roy Hodgson, Jurgen Klinsmann and Harry Redknapp. Emmanuel Adebayor – not to mention Clarence Seedorf – could be the secret weapon here, the players are the youngest out of all line-ups and will have an interesting insight into the football culture of Africa and their fellow professionals.
The RTE have also revamped their set up, with the shock signing of Dietmar Hamann, former Liverpool and German international, and Ossie Ardiles who is the only one on the team with previous World Cup experience with his 1978 Argentina medal. Kenny Cunningham has been dropped from the early games to be replaced by youngster Richard Sadlier, who has been slowly rising through the ranks on Premier Soccer Saturday. I will admit, I will miss Kenny’s concentration-grabbing eyebrows. Graeme Souness, on loan from Sky, will be making another appearance at this World Cup after successful stints at Euro 2008, World Cup 2006 as well as some Champions League appearances.
The return of Liam Brady to the line-up is one which has been met with great favour. Arguably one of the best players never to play in a World Cup, Brady has been working with Giovani Trapattoni’s Ireland team as well as spending time with the Arsenal Youth Academy. A huge positive to Ireland’s absence in South Africa. During his spell away, Brady was replaced by the misguided and deluded former Liverpool legend Ronnie Whelan who was a foil for Gilesy and Dunph, and he surprisingly keeps his place in the team. It is unknown whether or not RTE will switch to a foursome during the big games, or to put Whelan on the second string.
ITV could appear as dark horses for British and Irish viewers this summer. Despite stepping down in presenter quality with Adrian Chiles, their commentary and punditry team is strong. The acquisition of Chiles reportedly set them back £1.5million, surely a signing that will follow in flop standards of Alberto Aquilani. Kevin Keegan has switched from ESPN for the month, while Lucas Radebe, Edgar Davids and Manchester City’s Patrick Vieira are amongst the fresh faces to add to old Robbie Earle, Gareth Southgate and Jim Beglin. A huge signing for them is Jon Champion, previously of Setanta and ESPN, who will no doubt be dropping his Countdown vocab on the viewers. Their inclusion of Francois Pienaar, from a different sporting code, is bizarre. ITV will only be screening 32 live games, so it’s an expensive squad with few fixtures to play. Despite the massive outlay, they don’t have heavyweights in the calibre of RTE or the Beeb.
The BBC will be airing many of the group stage games and will have exclusive rights to the Last 16 and quarter-finals, while RTE will have every single game.
BBC: Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer, Lee Dixon, Gordon Strachen, Jurgen Klinsmann, Clarence Seedorf, Emmanuel Adebayor, Harry Redknapp, Roy Hodgson, Mark Lawrenson. On the bench: Mick McCarthy, Martin Keown, Mark Bright, Johnathan Pearce.
RTE: Bill O’ Herlihy, Eamon Dunphy, John Giles, Liam Brady, Graeme Souness, Ronnie Whelan, Dietmar Hamann, Ossie Ardiles, Denis Irwin, George Hamilton. On the bench: Richard Sadlier, Matt Holland, Peter Collins, Kevin Kilbane, Ray Houghton, Trevor Stephen.
ITV: Adrian Chiles, Matt Smith, Marcel Desailly, Patrick Vieira, Lucas Radebe, Edgar Davids, Gareth Southgate, Kevin Keegan, Andy Townsend, Robbie Earle, Jim Beglin. On the bench: Craig Burley, Francois Pienaar, Clive Tyldesley, Petery Drury, Jon Champion.
Who to watch for analysis and coverage: A fresh, but experienced and always entertaining line-up.
For commentary: ITV might have the younger, intelligent commentators in Tylsedely and Champion, but choose BBC if you’re a Motty and Match of the Day fan.
For the rest: BBC will have the best in online and interactive coverage (via the red button, remember).