Prepare For British Invasion Of Soccer Pundits and Commentators


When ESPN announced late last year its roster of talent the network would feature during World Cup 2010 games, the Disney-owned company definitely raised the bar with high-profile names such as Martin Tyler, Efan Ekoku, Steve McManaman, Roberto Martinez, Ruud Gullit, John Harkes and Alexi Lalas.

But very few people, myself included, expected Fox Soccer Channel to fire a shot across the bow at ESPN by hiring Andy Gray and Richard Keys to play a key role in its daily analysis and preview show from the World Cup, entitled “Ticket To South Africa.”

As much as I love the quality of British television pundits, I’m beginning to wonder whether enough’s enough.

There’s no doubt, in my opinion, that Tyler, Gray, Ekoku, McManaman, Martinez and Keys are world-class professionals. Martinez is relatively new to the punditry profession, but the times I’ve seen him on ESPN and in his interviews on other media outlets, he’s been very eloquent and it’s very evident that he’s a great tactician of the game. Gullit, Harkes and Lalas leave a lot to be desired, although there’s no doubt all three will improve their game with the professionals around them.

The 2010 World Cup will be feature the most intelligent soccer coverage a World Cup has ever experienced on US television. By hiring educated soccer talent, they’ll be able to add a touch of prestige and a high level of analysis to the World Cup games we watch.

However, I really feel enough’s enough and that no additional UK analysts or commentators should be hired. Otherwise, things will be going overboard. After all, the coverage is based in the United States on American TV networks, and we want viewers (especially new viewers) to relate to the games and not feel as if it’s some foreign export. Sure, there’ll be space and time for Rob Stone, Julie Foudy, Christopher Sullivan, Bob Ley, Chris Fowler and Mike Tirico to get airtime, but what is ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel doing to promote its home-grown soccer talent?

Other than the above-mentioned FSC names, Fox has Christian Miles, Keith Costigan (Irish), Nick Webster (English), Mark Rogondino, Bobby McMahon (Scottish), John Herz and a few others. Other than the previously mentioned names, ESPN has JP Dellacamera, Tommy Smyth (Irish), Adrian Healey (English), Robbie Mustoe (English), Rob Stone, Janusz Michallik (Polish). Shaka Hislop (Trinidad & Tobago) and, presumably, Shep Messing, Allen Hopkins and others.

My question for Fox and ESPN executives is what are they doing to promote and mentor its American presenters and commentators? After the current wave of professionals “hang up their boots,” where’s the new wave of talent to come through?

Don’t get me wrong. ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel are raising the game of soccer coverage in the United States with some of the biggest names in the world. I would just like to see more American faces and voices involved such as soccer veterans including Phil Schoen, Lindsey Dean, Sean Wheelock, Jack Edwards, Seamus Malin and others.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your opinion in the comments section below.

35 thoughts on “Prepare For British Invasion Of Soccer Pundits and Commentators”

  1. Sean Wheelock is quality. For those that haven’t heard him before, he can usually be heard on The Beeb’s 5-Live world football phone-in. I believe that podcast is available late Friday night or early Saturday morning through iTunes.

    1. John, I should have qualified that by saying he’s relatively new to being a pundit on Premier League matters.

      I forgot about his work with Sky regarding La Liga. Now if I can only get a Sky feed in the US, I’d be set! 😉

      The Gaffer

  2. At the risk of raising your BP, this is just one lowly viewer’s opinion, but I absolutely disagree with your call for more US pundits. I happen to enjoy the Euro guys and am more likely to tune in to what they have to say than anything a US commentator says. It’s just a personal prejudice and I suspect there has to be some feeling on the part of the execs who put them on that viewers agree with me otherwise it wouldn’t be done – it’s all about ratings and money to these guys. Getting home grown talent or filling some kind of quota or trying to promote US vs foreign talent might be a nice idea but if it’s not what the viewers want then its not gonna happen. For me I just feel like they’re “closer” to the source of the action, most of them having been there, done that at the highest level and I prefer to hear what they have to say. Before Setanta went kaput I thouroughly enjoyed their talk programming and only really started tuning into Fox as a last resort, I’m still barely able to stomach even the US lead in to some of the games on the weekend.

  3. Like Kate, I prefer the British commentators. For the WC in America I think having a few Americas around is a good idea, so long as they’re no tokens. I want quality commentary to match the quality on the pitch.

  4. The only American “pundit” that has been worth a damn was fired by ESPN a couple of years ago and now works for FSC doing that dumb call in show. I don’t blame them for bringing in Brits to cover the sport.

  5. I will take foreign commentators any day of the week over Christian Miles, Alexei Lalas, and Rob Stone (?)….useless when it comes to discussing the matches. I still wont watch Fox Matchday because of Miles!

  6. Thank you ESPN. I for one will be grateful not to hear the slight pause in the commentary as the US born commentator searches down his/her list for the name of the footballer who has just touched the ball. Last World Cup coverage had pauses, players identified by number only and inane gossipy asides about the marital status of some of the players.

    I ended up prefering to watch games on the Spanish channel – I don’t speak Spanish, but I understand enthusiasm.

    I agree that the addition of explanations helps the new viewer and should be included. I also respected the in-studio commtary by former US team soccer players. But not on the pitch please, unless they really have the talent which comes from years of experience. Send someone to the UK to commentate on games there for the next fours years and then bring him/her back for 2014. Otherwise, it’s as bad as having a basketball commentator cover the Tour de France…

  7. There are a number of people in that list names – whether British or American – who are “pundits” merely because they have good agents.
    Everyone knows that celebrities are celebrities because they are celebrities.
    In the football world today, being a successful player suddenly makes you a footballing genius. We saw the disastrous appointments of Shearer, Souness and Southgate to managerial jobs depite zero experience.
    This ignores the examples of Mourinho and Wenger, who had little or no professional playing experience, or Ferguson, who learned management through a steady climb from bottom level clubs.
    Similarly, when I listen to McManaman, I never hear anything that one could not predict by flipping a coin. This in contrast to Andy Gray, who often has unique insights.
    Sometimes I think we could just use a commentary software program:

    IF score(away team) = 0 AND score(home team) = 0 THEN
    say ” This game needs a goal to get it going. ”

    We could get Martin Tyler to record all those cliche sentences, and then save the broadcasters big bucks by installing the software for them.

  8. I hope to god ESPN doesn’t use Allen Hopkins for World Cup coverage in ANY CAPACITY, the guy is JUST HORRIBLE, his interviews are horrible, he cant talk on camera straight without stuttering and says alot of wrong information on air. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and tries to be as professional as he can BUT i’m sorry its just not good enough, he needs to find a new day job TBH, that or switch to a different sport like fishing where commentary is minimal.

  9. Julie Foudy and Alexei Lalas are wretched enough. PLEASE don’t bring in any more Americans unless they are significantly better than people like that.

  10. Last World Cup i tore my ACL playing college division 1 and was able to watch almost every game and unable to make it to the world cup. About halfway through the tournament i was preferring to watching the games on the Spanish Channel-in a language i didnt understand. The American announcers became the butt of jokes for our soccer team for the remaining summer. I wasn’t the only one. All my friends who werent at the world cup i found to be doing the same, or simply leaving it on mute.

    Listening to Eric Wynalda, Marcelo Balboa, that guy who does the italian games for FSC who only pronounces the the players name as they touch the ball, max bretos, etc is plan awful. We have a running joke that if we ever met any of these guys at a pub we would instantly have to slap him just for making us endure his ridiculous commentary.

    I would rather have Stuart Scott or Dick Vitale doing the games rather than these clowns and has been a subject of convo since the hype of this world cup started developing. When we found out the US was using these feeds it was met with such excitement that i recieved 15 text messages in about an hr from all my fellow footy friends.

  11. I didnt even mention Alexi Lalas. What an awful human being. It enrages me seeing my face. Which is sad considering i grew up idolizing guys like wynalda an lalas.

    Julie Foudy has at least gotten better. I will give her that.

    “I ended up prefering to watch games on the Spanish channel – I don’t speak Spanish, but I understand enthusiasm.” EXACTLY!!!

  12. Any word on how Derek Rae will be spending his World Cup summer? I always enjoyed his Champions League commentary (in spite of Mr Smyth) on ESPN and now try to catch SPL games he announces… Anyone?

  13. Max Bretos is moving to Bristol in the next few weeks for a reported $ 160,000 a year. Expect to see him in ESPN’s World Cup coverage

      1. Seriously, if I hav to listen to Max Bretos on ESPN in any way shape or form I am going to be fuming and start an online petition to have him removed.

        Has this ever been done. Could we start something to have Bretos, Lalas, and Wynielda removed. I feel as though ESPN is only addresing this demographic because of FSC Nielson ratings. You see them hocking soccer left and right now. All of a sudden footy highlights, top ten, coincidence? I think not

  14. The problem with FSC and ESPN both is that they run their commentators through broadcast schools, which instill in them gimmicks to produce a uniform sound. Examples: avoiding the verb to be, dropping small words like “if” and short prepositions, speaking in incomplete sentences, capping thought after thought with “as well”, using the words “huuuge” and “quality” ad nauseam, and saying “opportunity” all the time, and replacing one-syllable words with longer ones. “Initial period” instead of “first half”? The striker “made himself available” instead of “got open”? Come on! You can sometimes hear them stutter as they try to both think of a point and avoid plain speech. To see what I mean, go to Footytube, select a Premier League game, and compare the play-by-play by the BBC, along with the post-game commentary. When you tune back into FSC (or ESPN), you’ll be saying, send OUT the clones.

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