For many the biggest question over the entire length of the World Cup is which channel to watch it on. BBC? ITV? Sky? or how about RTE?
Don't know who RTE are?
As a football fan you should be ashamed of yourself. RTE, without a shadow of a doubt provide the best analysis on football anywhere on the planet.
Radio Telifis Eireann, or the Radio and Television of Ireland have for many years now cornered the market in top class punditry. From the English Premier League, to the Champions League, to the European Championships, to the World Cup. There is really only one place to watch football, and that is the mecca of punditry.
With the simplest of formats, one host, Bill O'Herilhy, a man who is expert at playing the fool and letting his panel do what they do best, analyse and most importantly, give honest comments. Eamon Dunphy and John Giles are the pundits of choice and they manage to bring the very best out of their guests who frequently join them in the shiny studio.
One of the biggest turn offs when watching Sky is the lack of criticism. Even when the match is an absolute stinker, Andy Gray usually refers to the match as being low on quality but high on guts and determination. This is the usual kind of drivel we have to put up with as Sky are quite careful not to put their best commodity down, and there are often close links between pundits and the clubs they are covering.
Likewise the BBC.
Take away Football Focus, and the Beeb's analysis of football is somewhere between watching paint dry and reading a phone directory, and that really says something when you realise how superior they are to ITV, who just defy logic with their choice of pundits, their sycophantic questions during interviews, and basic boredom.
However, there is a silver lining to the cloud of World Cup analysis.
Simply put, John Giles, Eamon Dunphy and co. provide the best analysis on football anywhere to such an extent that they are often more entertaining than the match they are covering.
For those of you who don't know who they are, Giles was one of the original Busby Babes before he moved on to Leeds United, becoming the pivot upon which they moved as they dominated English football in the last 60s and early 70s. He then went on to manage West Brom before taking over and professionalising the way the international team was selected in Ireland.
Eamon Dunphy was no where near the same class of player as Giles, who is regarded as being one of the best midfielders in England of all time, but he also started his career under Matt Busby at Manchester United.
He was more an honest journey-man footballer, eking out a living in Division 2 with a good Millwall team before moving onto York City. He was also part of the group of Irish players who led Giles to moving Ireland away from using a selection committee to pick the team, to one where the manager had full power.
Ironically, Dunphy received every one of his caps under the old selection system...
When he left football he trained himself as a journalist and provided insight into anything and everything from politics to economics to clerical child abuse to football.
When RTE first started showing football in the early 80s, they only used O'Herilhy with Dunphy as the sole analyst.
After the 1984 European Championships in which France won, Dunphy realised that he needed someone to balance his outspoken views on the game, he needed someone to be the straight man, but who would also provide good and above all honest analysis.
His ephinany came after France beat Yugoslavia during the tournament, with Dunphy proclaiming that this would be the night that Platini would be found out. That he was no where near the level of player that some people claimed he was.
Platini went out and scored a perfect hat-trick...
A distraught Dunphy called his friend, Giles, on the phone after the game asking "Was I mad to say what I said?" Giles replied "No, I understood what you meant, but you were a fucking eejit for putting it the way you did!"
With that in mind and with the World Cup in Mexico looming, Dunphy approached RTE and fought tooth and nail to have Giles installed as his co analyst. At first Giles did not take the job too seriously but something happened in Irish football in 1986 that only caused a small ripple amongst the football world, but in a way set the path in motion for the best analytical team in football.
Jack Charlton took over as manager of Ireland.
All of a sudden viewing figures for Ireland games were going through the roof, with Giles and Dunphy offering some blistering criticism on Charlton's tactics and running of the team.
Ireland progressed to Euro 88 and Giles and Dunphy were now not only analysing Ireland but the other seven teams in the competition too. This would be the first time they would be tested and compared to their contemporaries across the water.
They did not shirk their duty. Holland were applauded and England were roasted while the old boys club's on BBC and ITV did everything in their power to analyse England positively and criticism was pushed to one side.
Charlton's Ireland also received their fair share of criticism and praise during the tournament and everyone watching knew that you were getting honesty.
You might not agree with their views, but nobody faulted their convictions. Euro 88 gave way to Italia 90 and the boys were on their way.
Some 22 years later and the format is exactly the same with the same three core presenters and pundits. Over the years many others have been added to the mix, the best being Liam Brady who left to take up a post with Giovani Trappatoni and Ireland, and Graeme Souness.
Yes, I mean Graeme Souness.
Souness on Irish television is a very different proposition to Souness on the saccharin sweet couches of Sky Sports. If anything, his time on RTE has influenced him to throw off the shackles of Sky and act like a punditry version of Spartacus as he launches into a critique of something that someone like Jamie Redknapp has just praised.
On his first appearance with Giles and co. his jaw nearly hit the floor when Manchester United were criticised for poor play even though they were leading 2-0 at half-time, on Sky and BBC such negatives would be brushed under the carpet, not so in Ireland.
RTE's punditry is now so revered that the originator of Football 365, Danny Kelly, got every match analysed by Giles and Dunphy recorded and shipped over to him in England following their program.
One of the secrets of RTE's success is the good humour, the rapport of the panel is natural, and there is an obvious respect shown for each other. Quite often the panel can cause a stir, like when Dunphy openly called Ireland's display in Italia 90 against Egypt a disgrace to football or when he and Giles disagreed over a statement Dunphy made over the ex-Leeds player breaking someone up in the 70s, the end result was the pair not talking to each other for a couple of years before they were reunited by a radio station for football analysis.
Can you imagine the pundits on Sky, BBC, or ITV arguing over tactics or anything for that matter?
One of a few nice examples is this discussion on Ferguson and Strachan, Manchester U nited v Celtic, 2006:
Dunphy: “They’re both jocks, and as far as I know jocks come in two types – nice and horrid. And both of these men fall into the horrid category, they’re not one bit forgiving.”
O’Herlihy: “That’s a bit racist, Eamonn.”
Dunphy: “It’s not racist, it’s ethnic stereotyping!”
One particular Champions League match in 2009 that upset a lot of Arsenal fans was when Eamon Dunphy questioned Arsene Wenger's record in the transfer market. (The same questions are being asked today...)
Souness took exception to Dunphy's persistent line of questioning and had a bit of a go at the outspoken one.
Souness: “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Where did you manage?"
Dunphy: "I didn't manage anywhere...but I managed to stay alive for 63 years baby!"
Can you ever imagine such comments or arguments on BBC, Sky, or ITV...
Surprisingly, BBC do have much better analysts that the likes of Hansen, Lineker, and the painful Alan Shearer, but they are all hidden away on radio.
Steve Claridge, Chris Waddle, Danny Mills, Robbie Savage, and Paul Parker have all built excellent reputations for themselves in the world of analysis, with Mills in particular having an great future ahead of him.
The one thing that links all of these, with the exception of Waddle, is that they are all journeymen footballers. None were ever recognised as being top players. It is a stark contrast to the boring trio of Hansen, Lineker, and Shearer, who are all well known greats.
Perhaps the "honest punditry bone" does not exist in great players, with only those legends who sup the Black Stuff excempt from losing their analytical skills.
While on ITV pundits are brought in and brainwashed before hand so that they all end up looking like gormless smiling buffoons. Terry Venables, recognised as one of the great modern coaches often comes out with such rubbish that you actually wonder why he is saying it. Andy Townsend is horrendous, but thatnkfully he doesn't have to drive around in his "Tactics Truck" anymore. Steve Macmanaman is simply unbelievable.
When all is said and done, the football on the pitch will do the talking.
Sky have, without doubt, the best production values available under the sun, BBC have the best commentators, ITV have, ... and RTE have the best analysis.
With the upcoming World Cup having something like 78 games for us to enjoy, I think it is fair to say that on at least one occassion we are going to have to rely the half-time show for entertainment.
So unless you're a Jimmy "different class" Magee fan the best place to listen to the commentary is BBC, but there is only one place to go for analysis.