Top, top analysis: Ranking English football’s best Premier League pundits
After Neville had a pop at fans and Ferdinand criticised players, we decided to order the top-flight talkers…
It used to be just players who made the news, but now the pundits do, too.
This growing trend in modern football has exploded over the last seven days, first with Rio Ferdinand’s criticism of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, followed by Gary Neville brandishing an Arsenal fan as "stupid".
These incidents – plus Sky Sports’ absorbing analysis of Leicester City and Arsene Wenger in their most recent Super Sunday broadcast – prompted a question in the Betway Insider writers’ WhatsApp group: who is the best Premier League, and why?
From there, we decided to rank five most prominent pundits from the three channels that broadcast English top-flight football – Sky, BT and the BBC – according to a system which, while fair, should be considered more pub conversation than science experiment.
The three categories, which are all marked out of five, are as follows:
- Genuine insight
- Character and personality
- Broadcast expertise
This is who we went for. What do you make of our selections? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments section below.
Gary Neville – 15 (5/5/5)
Neville’s failure at Valencia is now used against him, which is both predictable and ridiculous.
In reality, his chastening experience in Spain has only improved his knowledge and understanding of the game – how could it not?
Neville remains the game’s eminent pundit, coupling his significant experience as a player, coach and businessman with forthright and intelligent analysis.
He appears on Sky Sports less than he used to, which is a shame, really. When he talks about your team, you listen carefully.
Just ask Arsenal supporters.
Jamie Carragher – 15 (5/5/5)
Since joining Sky Sports, Carragher has been the only pundit to maintain – and sometimes even surpass – Neville’s impeccable standards.
The 39-year-old’s genuine edge with Neville – shown famously in their Paul Scholes-Steven Gerrard debate, but as recently as this week when discussing Wenger – adds energy to the coverage.
So, too, does Carragher’s wit and forthright speaking, which is always backed up with excellent knowledge.
Carragher is the main man on Monday Night Football now, a show that remains as anticipated as it was when it belonged to Neville.
Jermaine Jenas – 13 (4/5/4)
Jenas is a conduit between the dressing room and fans, having played alongside or against most of the individuals he is paid to talk about.
Match of the Day’s youngest-ever pundit had a good enough career to be considered an authority, but not so good that he can get by on reputation alone. He works hard and it shows.
The 33-year-old is articulate, warm and balanced.
"Not everything is a disgrace, not every chance is easy," he told the Daily Mail this year – a refreshing approach shared by too few of his peers.
Graeme Souness – 12 (3/4/5)
The steely, smouldering Souness is the antithesis to the excitable and academic Neville and Carragher, which is why he compliments them so nicely.
He doesn’t go near the Sky Pad, probably because the Super Sunday producers have never asked him to. They already know what the answer would be.
That is not to say Souness is not insightful.
His take downs of Arsenal make for compelling television, while his admiration for "proper players" and "senior pros" is a cliche not without foundation.
Thierry Henry – 11 (2/5/4)
Henry gets by on charisma and status rather than insight.
The Frenchman’s early-season interview with Paul Pogba hardly brimmed with journalistic integrity, but made for enjoyable viewing because the Manchester United midfielder had clearly grown up idolising him.
That doesn’t always work, though, with his sit down with Zlatan Ibrahimovic earlier this year revealing nothing.
Henry communicates in his second language better than most people do in their first, but, for reportedly television’s best-paid pundit, he could probably offer a bit more.
Alan Shearer – 10 (3/3/4)
Shearer is a veteran now, having sat on the Match of the Day sofa for more than 10 years.
And even though he has replaced Alan Hansen as Gary Lineker’s most dependable panellist, his punditry is nowhere near as iconic.
That’s not especially a criticism, though.
Shearer has improved significantly over the years, offering a pleasant mixture of forthright opinions and not-laddish quips.
That is exactly what is required from terrestrial football highlights, which require short and sharp soundbites.
Jamie Redknapp – 10 (3/4/3)
He gets stick for his English – his misuse of 'literally', while a thing of the past, will always stick – but Redknapp is an engaging and enthusiastic talker.
And whether it’s comparing Arsene Wenger to Basil Fawlty or claiming an embarrassed defender should have to pay to be readmitted to the stadium, he is always good for a decent line or two.
Redknapp’s personality made him an obvious choice for Sky’s Friday Night Football, and he should commended for keeping the League of Their Own lad banter largely separate from the day job.
Rio Ferdinand – 9 (3/4/2)
Ferdinand should be better than he is, given his stellar playing career and intelligence and conscientiousness off the pitch.
When he talks about specifics: the art of defending, how players communicate on the pitch, what the Manchester United dressing room was like moments before a crucial game, he is compelling.
Sadly, there seems to be a preference at BT Sport to focus on intangible stuff like ‘mentality’ and ‘focus’.
Probably because the pundits’ answers are more evocative and, in turn, likelier to be shared on social media.
Steven Gerrard – 9 (2/4/3)
Like a teenager going through adolescence, Gerrard is in the process of making that awkward transition from player to pundit.
He hasn’t found his voice yet, so much so that football impressionist Darren Farley could sit in his place and you probably wouldn’t notice the difference.
That’s to be expected, though. The former Liverpool captain is articulate and has enough gravitas to excel with experience.
Gerrard’s recent interview with John Terry, for example, wouldn’t have been as poignant had it been a reporter asking the questions.
Steve McManaman – 8 (2/3/3)
While probably not anyone’s favourite pundit, McManaman has been employed by Setanta Sports, ESPN and now BT Sport, meaning he must have something.
His refusal to acknowledge Plymouth’s brilliant defensive performance as they drew 0-0 at Anfield a few weeks ago, however, not only misjudged the sense of occasion, but also suggested a lack of nous tactically.
The 44-year-old is enthusiastic and charismatic, though, which makes his presence either in the commentary box or studio enjoyable.
Robbie Savage – 8 (2/2/4)
Because he judges everything as black and white, Savage often rushes into statements that are probably not carefully considered.
While that is his persona, it does cloud over the good points that he makes.
Never afraid to recount his own experiences – he regularly cites his move to Blackburn as an example of when he forced through a transfer – he is good value.
That he operates in the commentary box, TV studio and radio booth is proof of his broadcasting expertise, too.
Danny Murphy – 8 (2/2/4)
Murphy is a good talker, speaking eloquently and calmly on Match of the Day.
But while he has made himself at home on the BBC highlights show, it feels like his ease in the role often covers for the fact that his knowledge is generally limited to the league’s best-known sides and players.
Indeed, sets of fans at certain clubs are known to take many of his observations with a pinch of salt.
Ian Wright – 8 (2/3/3)
Wright is on television a lot – across three separate channels – meaning his original charm has been compromised.
Perhaps it’s just because Shaun Wright-Phillips is no longer playing, but the man himself is also much less excitable than he used to be.
The ex-Arsenal striker is always worth listening to when discussing Arsene Wenger, but his level of insight probably doesn’t justify multiple appearances over the same weekend.
Wright is excellent on the radio, however, and is the perfect co-host of BBC 5 live phone-in, 606.
Chris Sutton – 7 (2/2/3)
Despite retiring 10 years ago, Sutton is curiously only just enjoying his breakthrough season as a pundit.
His no-nonsense approach is popular with broadcasters, though he should beware normalising his generally negative opinions to stop it from becoming tedious.
His recent reference to Arsenal as "the insufferables" and the dressing down of Mark Warburton are examples of such.
Sutton does have an amusing way with words at times, though, and is solid addition to BT’s Saturday newest programme, Sport Score.
Phil Neville 7 (2/2/3)
Phil’s a solid option, but nowhere near as good as big brother Gary.
That was the case when the pair were players, and the same is true of their punditry, too.
Neville doesn’t resort to cynicism to give an opinion – which is an undervalued quality – but his support for young players especially often prevents him from saying things of actual value.
See last month, for example, when he and Shearer squabbled about the differences between a "top, top player" and a "top, top defender".