World Cup 2018: #1 TV Preview ITV

Even in an era of super clubs and global interest in the Champions League and Premier League, the World Cup remains simply the biggest show in football.” [ITV Commentator Clive Tyldesley]

We live in a golden age of football broadcasting. Punditry has never been as engaging, detailed or enjoyable. The depth of commentary is huge. Presenting and reporting is of such a good standard that it’s rare to see a bad job done. Seemingly gone are the days of ex-pros turning up having proudly done no research and phoning it in. Just in time to perform at the highest level; the FIFA World Cup.

Both broadcasters – BBC and ITV – announced their summer line ups, a real sign that the domestic season is pretty much done and all eyes turn towards Russia. The best thing about recent tournaments from a viewers perspective has been the dedicated sports channels loaning out some of their top talent. This year is no exception.

ITV went public with their squad first. The current regulars are all in there; Lee Dixon, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs and Ian Wright. Joining them is ITV’s stellar signing, widely renowned as the best pundit in the business, Sky Sports’ Gary Neville. GNev has worked for ITV before, whilst still as a player at World Cup 2002 and again briefly during Euro 2008. But since joining Sky straight after retirement he has transformed the art of analysis tremendously. He’ll hopefully be heavily involved this time around.

One of the stars of the 2014 World Cup studio was Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill, a man never short of an entertaining opinion. As ROI didn’t qualify this year he’ll link up with his assistant Keane to deliver the goods once again. The surprise star guest of Euro 2016 was the former West Ham and Croatia manager Slaven Bilic. His casual blend of engaging, intelligent and insightful analysis delivered in an entertainingly unpredictable way was must see TV. I’m delighted he’s been snapped up again.

There are always a couple of international wildcards on these panels. In 2014 ITV had Fabio Cannavaro. This year it’s Patrice Evra. The ex-Man Utd full back is lively and fun on social media, always positive and known for his catchphrase “I love this game!” If that can translate to the studio then he could be a great guest. He won’t be there to give forensic analysis but no doubting he’s got good tactical knowledge. The same goes for their other surprise; Henrik Larsson. He was a phenomenal player for Celtic and won the lot at Barcelona so his CV is impressive but his limited media appearances are slightly dull so I’m not expecting much. It’s a shame Lothar Matthaus isn’t returning.

Someone who is returning from the Euros is Chelsea ladies striker Eni Aluko. She became the first female pundit at a men’s major tournament with her appearances on the highlights shows two years ago. This time round you’d expect a couple of live games too. She did a solid job and is more comfortable in front of the camera now so could be one to watch. Completing the main studio line up will be former referee Mark Clattenburg. This could be the trump card with the introduction of VAR, Video Assistant Referees, at this Cup. The trials conducted in the FA Cup this season have been nothing short of disastrous and I’m expecting similar here. Confusion, indecision, inconsistency, we’ve seen it all. It makes total sense to be able to call upon a referee to help interpret the decisions in play and in Clattenburg they have a man who has already performed this role on BT Sport before. The Beeb don’t seem to have this option.

Anchoring proceedings from the studio in Moscow will be Mark Pougatch, as in 2016. We know exactly what we’re gonna get with him, a strong, safe pair of hands. But unspectacular. And that’s where the forgotten man Adrian Chiles really excelled. Personally he’ll be a great miss as the World Cup affords longer studio time and indulges personality-based hosts more than the regular season highlights shows can. Another huge loss from four years ago is Matt Smith. Jacqui Oatley is the current understudy and again she too lacks a lot of the charm, warmth and wit of her predecessor. The pundits are going to have to do a little heavy lifting during ITV’s pre and post match coverage it would seem.

ITV World Cup 18

The commentary is largely unchanged from the last few years with Clive Tyldesley leading the line for the tenth major tournament in succession. He’s backed up by Sam Matterface and Joe Speight, both decent reserves. The good news is the excellent Jon Champion returns after working elsewhere in recent years. He adds a certain level of gravitas, authority, broadcasting ability and knowledge that’s been missing. Even if he will only be used sparingly on live matches.

Accompanying them in the box will be Glenn Hoddle on the main games and England matches. Iain Dowie is set to partner Matterface after a successful Euros following Northern Ireland around. And a warm welcome back to former ITV stalwart Ally McCoist. He was their joint lead pundit at the turn of the century, alongside the now departed Andy Townsend, before going into management. He’ll be alongside Champion predominantly, the duo I’m most looking forward to hearing. There’s not much excitement here compared to a promising studio line up but there are still some gems amongst them.

Completing the team travelling around the vast expanse of Russia will be the outstanding, and currently underused, reporter Gabriel Clarke, and relative newcomer Seema Jaswal. She’s better known to the rest of the world for her work on Premier League TV but has cropped up on just about all the terrestrial channels in recent months. They can capture what I’m hoping will still be a fun and enjoyable tournament from the fans perspective. It better be seeing as it’s my first World Cup! Forget what’s gone on before, it’s about the now and it all starts soon.

WATCH The ITV World Cup 2018 promo

READ The ITV Press Pack here

About Mark O'MEARA
I am Mark O'MEARA.

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