Ian Wright says goodbye to Match Of The Day – and nearly reduces Lineker and Shearer to tears

Alan Shearer and Ian Wright on Match of the Day
Wright and Shearer both managed to hold it together - just about - in their final Match of the Day alongside each other - BBC Sport

Ian Wright has left Match of the Day with an emotional send off in which Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer came close to tears.

Telegraph Sport understands that Wright had been close to leaving Match of the Day two years ago, the demands on his time too much every Saturday, but was persuaded to stay on by Lineker and Shearer. When they said they would miss him, this was no luvvie moment. Both men have privately been dreading his departure.

Wright also explained that he has a tattoo on his wrist showing his own shirt number (8) alongside those of Shearer (9) and Lineker (10).

“I’m going to miss you guys, I really am,” Wright said, trying not to burst into tears on his final show. “This has been the greatest for me. Match of the Day means the whole world to me, you lot don’t even know. I’ve got my eight, nine, ten [tattoo], my two guys who I love so much on there.

“People laugh at me for getting my eight, nine, ten, Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer but it’s because I love you man. You’re my guys.”

With Shearer shifting uncomfortably in his seat, the hard Geordie exterior melting, Lineker referred to Wright’s upcoming gig as an ITV pundit at the Euros and at Wembley next weekend for the Cup final: “We’ll see you next week at the [FA] Cup final, I know you’ll be about 200 yards from us but we’ll see you then at least.

“But it’s been an absolute pleasure and a delight to work with you for so long. You’re a breath of fresh air and you always have been. Thank you.”

Reflecting on his decision to quit Match of the Day, Wright said in December: “After my debut show whilst still a player in 1997 and many more memorable years, I’ll be stepping back from BBC MOTD at the end of this season.

“I feel very privileged to have had such an incredible run on the most iconic football show in the world.

“Anyone that knows my story knows how much the show has meant to me since I was [a] young boy.

“MOTD is my Holy Grail. On my first ever show, I told Des Lynam, ‘This is my Graceland’. It will always be my Graceland and I will always be watching.

“I’m stepping back having made great friends and many great memories.

“This decision has been coming for a while, maybe my [60th] birthday earlier this year fast-tracked it a little, but ultimately it’s time to do a few more different things with my Saturdays.”

His insight and charm were a unique combination

It is a measure of the esteem with which Wright, the former Crystal Palace, Arsenal and England striker is held within the game, that there is such genuine sadness that he will no longer be doing Match of the Day, 27 years after his first appearance and 22 since he became a regular face.

While subscription television may have taken live Premier League football off its terrestrial competitors, Match of the Day remains the most popular, most loved football show on television. And “Wrighty”, at the age of 60 and who became a regular on the show back in 2002, was its most loved pundit.

By his own admission, Wright was an angry young man, often using that emotion as fuel on the football pitch as a prolific goalscorer who rose to the very top of the game having started his career in non-league football, but his skill as a pundit was his likeability.

He combined knowledge, with a sharp sense of humour, but projected warmth and a genuine love of the game.

He has a unique combination – insight and charm – his observations always delivered with a glint of mischief in his eye. If he made it look effortless, that is because it was. This is who Wright has become, a wise old sage with a childish, infectious ability to tease those around him without ever provoking anger.

Not many people, if any, could call themselves friends with both Shearer and his old rival and sparring partner Roy Keane. Those two still do not like each other, but they both love Wright because he is genuine, funny and for those who know him, one of the most generous and kind people in the game.

He was a comfort blanket on our television screens and while he will continue with his media career, as a regular guest on Gary Neville’s Stick to Football, where he sits next to Keane and even goes round to his house for dinner – an honour most of his former team-mates were never afforded – he will no longer be a regular sight on the BBC.