Armchair Pundit

Battle of the broadcasters

Alex Chick

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Like it or not, the people presenting the World Cup on TV are as much a part of the tournament as the players themselves.

So let's have a look at the team sheets for rival broadcasters BBC and ITV.

The BBC have shown customary restraint in spending the licence-payers' money, sending a team of just 295 to South Africa - 15 per cent fewer than they had in Germany four years ago but still absurdly bloated.

The TV talent is led by Gary Lineker, with regular studio honchos Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Lee Dixon.

Special guests include Emmanuel Adebayor, Harry Redknapp (who until recently refused even to speak to the Corporation), Roy Hodgson and Juergen Klinsmann, whose brand of new-age weirdness makes him a strong favourite to emerge as the star of the show.

Four years ago Brazil legend Leonardo was the man, as his devastating good looks, sophistication and mastery of six languages had the Beeb team cooing like dreamy-eyed teenage girls.

Previously Martin O'Neill's spiky insight proved a big hit, not least when he dealt Robbie Williams the ultimate backhanded compliment, saying he had done very well for a lad without much talent. Another O'Neill staple was expressing vocal frustration when his fellow pundits (usually Ian Wright) were too stupid to grasp the point he was making.

There is no John Motson on commentary - probably for the best. Iconic he might be, but he was past it as long ago as 2002 in Japan and Korea, when he became completely obsessed with the idea of games taking place in the morning, sparking utterances like: "It's coffee with Cafu and breakfast with Beckham."

Even Beckham's penalty against Argentina got the culinary treatment: "Hold the cups and plates back home.... YOU CAN SMASH THEM NOW!!"

Anyway, it is the rather more competent but rather less noteworthy Guy Mowbray, Jonathan Pearce, Steve Wilson, Simon Brotherton and Steve Bower.

ITV have always been the poor relations, frequently trounced in the ratings war when both channels show the same match. They lost the 2006 final head-to-head 13.9m to 3.4m, which rather begs he question what the 3.4m were thinking.

Adrian Chiles's defection from Beeb - a move compared in some parts to Carlos Tevez's acrimonious move from Manchester United to City - will surely help ITV close the gap.

When Desmond Lynam made the same move a decade ago, the security guard at Television Centre clearly asked him to leave his mojo at the door.

But Chiles made an impressive debut for the friendly against Mexico, and ITV producers are clearly eager not to curtail the self-deprecating dry wit that made him such an engaging host on Match of the Day 2.

Joining him are the usual solid citizens (your Townsends, Southgates and Earles - the latter on loan from Eurosport-Yahoo!) plus the excitingly naive Kevin Keegan, the potentially combustible Edgar Davids and the just plain dull Marcel Desailly.

In Clive Tyldesley, ITV have the country's best commentator outside Martin Tyler, and a man who is always better when not getting over-excited about a Manchester United Champions League group game.

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Today's storm in a teacup comes courtesy of referee Carlos Simon, who claims to have been given a list of 20 English swear words to learn ahead of Saturday's England-USA game.

Simon is the ref who grinned like a maniac when sending off Sweden's Teddy Lucic for breathing on Miroslav Klose, and FIFA have denied handing out English homework to officials.

In any case, 20 obscenities seems like a lot when you try to make a mental list.

You have to suppose they have gone beyond the standard f- c- and s-words to more quaintly old-fashioned exclamations.

So if Wayne Rooney wants to yell 'fiddlesticks' or describe the referee's performance as 'codswallop' he had better think again.

The lack of a language barrier actually puts England at a disadvantage. The universality of the English language might make it easier to order a drink at any pub in the world, but it means any verbal pyrotechnics will be understood by the officials.

We can assume the North Koreans do not have the same problem, and can subject the referee to all manner of slurs without risking censure.

Incidentally, while playing for Real Madrid, David Beckham was once sent off for swearing at the referee in Spanish. Becks never spoke the language with any real proficiency, so it seems bizarre that the only words he perfected were the ones guaranteed to earn him a red card.

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Tomorrow morning: A review of the opening concert and a deep sigh of relief as the actual football gets under way.

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