The quality of punditry on British television has long been the subject of great debate. Lawro is widely regarded as the worst thing to have happened to punditry since records began, and the rage directed in the direction of Jamie Redknapp seems never ending, but the depths to which the quality has dropped in this World Cup is galling.
Alan Hansen is regularly praised to high heaven by viewers of MotD for his unreserved criticism of defending and generally "telling it like it is", and in his defence his tactical analysis whilst being a little shallow is often spot on. On ITV, Hansen's contemporary Andy Townsend is without doubt significantly worse. Those of us who have had to sit through Champions League games and listen to the blindingly obvious being pointed out by the former Ireland international knew full well what to expect from the ITV team.
But the other night something occurred which genuinely took me aback. During the post-match "analysis" of the Italy v Paraguay game being televised by the BBC, the discussion fell to the impact performance of Italy's 2nd half substitute striker Di Natale. The scorer of 29 goals in Serie A, making him the top goal scorer. He came 7 clear of Milito despite playing for a significantly weaker team, and at 32 it's not as if he's an unknown either. This though wasn't enough for the MotD team and Clarence Seedorf had to reach for a piece of paper to find his name. When scanning the team-sheet it became apparent that Clarence had picked up the Dutch team-sheet (that it took him about 5 seconds to notice is another surprise) prompting laughter from Lineker and Hansen and general hilarity ensued. Di Natale's name never came up.
There are things that should roll off the tongue when being on a pundit on the national coverage of the biggest tournament in football; the top goal scorer in England, Spain, Italy and at a push Germany and France. Incidentally all bar 2 of those players are at the World Cup.
The more you watch, the more it becomes apparent that little to no research is done by the pundits -- I don't doubt that there are producers for the show who know their onions, yet how can Shearer et al get away without knowing theirs? If I turned up to a meeting and was unable to answer a very straightforward question on a subject which is my forte then I would be taken to one side and given a very stern talking to. I'm not expecting them to have Football Manager-esque levels of knowledge, but I do expect them to know that Hamsik is a massive talent and that he plays for Napoli.
If you were to read a newspaper article reviewing last night's Spain game, yet the journalist in question wrote something along the lines of "..and late in the 2nd half that chap with the ginger beard rattled the post with a long range effort" and couldn't remember who he played for or his name you would be outraged and stop reading the article there and then. So why is it acceptable for national television pundits to not know the ins and outs of their craft? Do we forgive them because it's live and the journalists have time to do some reading? Anyone who agrees with that needs to listen to the superb Guardian Football Weekly podcast (or the The Game podcast for those who are a little less liberal), where off the cuff discussion of the leagues covering Europe is a regular, and where research is done prior to each recording with pieces of paper at hand to backup arguments with stats and importantly, players' names.
Compare it to the cricket commentary, the tennis or even the F1 and the football falls far far behind.
I don't expect this to change any time soon. Or perhaps ever. I have come to accept that the punditry on British television is not aimed at the savvy viewer, but I find it very hard to contain my frustration at a job that frankly a lot of people could do better at.