World Cup 2018: #2 TV Preview BBC

This event deserves expert comment, analysis and insight and our unrivalled line up of presenters, pundits and commentators are sure to engage viewers and listeners as excitement builds throughout the tournament [Barbara Slater, Director of BBC Sport]

2014 may just go down as a landmark year for BBC football. The World Cup in Brazil was a clear change of approach from the Beeb, full of new faces and a far better editorial attitude. Compare that to their 2010 output, with Alan Hansen in semi-retirement mode, Lee Dixon openly mocked by his fellow pundit for bothering to do research, and Colin Murray spinning 360° in his chair purely to win a bet. The whole thing was lazy, outdated and very much the old boys club. Since 2014 it’s a whole new ball game, to borrow a famous football television slogan.

The 2018 World Cup team the BBC has assembled shows no sign of halting this great improvement. Lead as ever by Gary Lineker, now anchoring his 10th major football championships for the channel, he is better than ever. He has a real comfortable presence in front of the camera and gets so much more out of his guests by asking more pertinent questions because he played at the highest level. His increased workload thanks to fronting the Champions League on BT Sport has only made him stronger. It’s no wonder he gets the vast majority of the live games at tournaments.

Lineker is ably backed up by a raft of decent presenters to pick up the remaining live games, highlights shows and preview programmes. Dan Walker and Mark Chapman will be the more prominent but I’d expect Manish Bhasin and Jason Mohammad to also crop up here and there. Gabby Logan reprises her usual role in the England camp, where she does a good job. It’s a slight shame she’s only in that role, on most other channels she’d be higher up the pecking order but she is the face of athletics and major events so she does get a decent profile the rest of the time.

The biggest improvement eight years on is alongside Gary in the studio. Alan Shearer has grown into a good lead pundit, capable of insightful analysis and strong opinions. When paired with another stand-out analyst it’s great viewing. An example would be Frank Lampard, who has been outstanding on BT and Match of the Day this season. Other regulars Jermaine Jenas, Kevin Kilbane, Phil Neville and Rio Ferdinand all shine in the studio and form a very strong core. Ferdinand is particularly enjoyable and has been part of an excellent trio with Lampard and Steven Gerrard on BT. Sadly Gerrard’s services weren’t secured to replicate that in the summer.

As is now customary, there is much anticipation about which international stars will be loaned in. Jurgen Klinsmann leads the way here as the most experienced non-staffer. He’s usually strong and brings a sense of fun to proceedings, though not always available due to managing at the tournament. Whilst he isn’t doing that this time, star of BBC 2014 Thierry Henry will be; as assistant to occasional pundit Roberto Martinez with Belgium. Though with them in England’s group I’m sure there’ll be plenty of opportunity for interviews and maybe an occasional appearance if they get knocked out early doors. Elsewhere Didier Drogba and ex-West Ham and Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta will make their punditry debuts and they are total wildcards, I honestly have no idea how they will do but I’m sure they’ll do an ok job, if unspectacular. Like Larsson and Evra on ITV this time, or Fabio Cannavaro and Edgar Davids of World Cup TV past.

Newly-retired Arsenal ladies captain Alex Scott will play a fairly prominent part it seems. She’s appeared on all sorts in the last season, from hosting MOTD Kickabout on CBBC, punditing on Final Score and Football Focus, through to live match reporting on Sky’s Premier League coverage. She’s keen, she’s versatile and most importantly she’s very good. In 2016 on ITV Eni Aluko was kept on highlights, I would expect her and Scott to be on the odd live game this time round. And it’s not just the studio where there are female breakthroughs, the BBC will have a commentator for the first time at a tournament. Vicki Sparks has been semi-regular on MOTD this season, particularly on the FA Cup, and she gets her chance here behind the more established voices.

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Since 2010 Guy Mowbray has been the undisputed BBC number one post-John Motson however this summer it isn’t quite as clear. Steve Wilson just called the FA Cup Final for the first time so is he in for a run as the lead? Probably not. More likely is we have the situation like in the early 90’s when Motson was their long-time top dog but the excellent Barry Davies was occasionally given a Cup final to keep him sweet and the pair of them on their toes. That situation now would probably be the best for all; share out the big games a bit more among their fantastic crop of regulars, including Jonathan Pearce, Steve Bower and Simon Brotherton, all of whom will be in Russia for them. My money would still be on Mowbray to call the final but it’s certainly made it more interesting.

The last area to comment on is, like ITV’s, most definitely their weakest. That is the co-commentator. Danny Murphy, the stand out from four years ago, has done FA Cup Finals and the Euro 2016 culmination but Martin Keown did this year’s Cup. It doesn’t seem as clear cut in this area than others as to who their main man is but those two definitely lead the way. Mark Lawrenson unfortunately will also be there still despite having his workload significantly reduced in recent years. And elsewhere some of the studio pundits will probably lend their voice to live comms too, namely Jenas and Kilbane. And why not. The interesting choice will be who gets the Beeb’s two live England games. Keown is probably favourite after he did this two years ago but quite frankly he’s horrendously negative and just plain wrong and bizarre with his analysis so I’m hoping Murphy gets them. He’s inconsistent but more hit than miss. Let’s hope assignments are made on form.

The depth of the squad this year makes this the BBC’s strongest line up on paper for any tournament. But football broadcasting isn’t done on paper. We’re definitely in for a treat though and I can’t wait to get it all started. There’s a bonus preview show on World Cup eve. The countdown is on.

WATCH The BBC World Cup 2018 promo

READ The BBC Press Pack here

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

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