Ranking the BBC and ITV pundits by World Cup controversy in Qatar: From Laura Woods to Gary Neville

Will Ford
Keane Neville Woods

Gianni Infantino won’t be alone in thinking this was the best World Cup ever, and we can probably all agree that was the best final ever, but this was also the World Cup for controversy.

Starting with the FIFA despot’s “I am a migrant worker” nonsense and ending with Lionel Messi’s “little robe” via OneLove bans and VAR conspiracy theories, Qatar has been a controversy haven.

Some of the pundits have stayed quiet, but many have spoken out, some genuinely and others with hypocrisy written plain across their faces. We’ve ranked (some of) the ITV and BBC pundits from least controversial to most. Those not included were mousy among (wo)men, or we missed something…


Laura Woods
“I sat there like a fan,” said Laura Woods as she recalled watching Graeme Souness and Roy Keane raging at each other for some reason or other in the ITV studio. It’s always lovely to see someone truly appreciating a job many would give up a kidney for, and Woods’ delight was clear throughout her coverage.

She avoided any great controversy, but was called “cheeky” by Gary Neville after asking him whether Cristiano Ronaldo was returning his phone calls, and made Des Lynam ‘wince’ through her ‘overfamiliarity’ with Ian Wright. The broadcasting dinosaur wrote in The Telegraph that Woods calling Wright ‘Wrighty’ made him a ‘touch uncomfortable’, which led us to conclude: ‘Nobody gives a sh*t what you think, Des.’

We did however notice, and took full advantage of, a Laura Woods Google phenomenon that emerged during the tournament. Days-old articles would suddenly receive a surge of traffic at half-time in ITV games as Woods came on screen. We don’t like to think about why that might be…


Ian Wright
Wrighty (oops, sorry Des) was quick to defend Woods against Lynam on Twitter, insisting ‘I know a hater’s voice when I hear it’ before similarly jumping to Eni Aluko’s aid.

Aluko – who was forced to remind people after the event that she has ‘a first class law degree, 102 caps and a doctorate’ – made an error when discussing Richarlison’s record for Brazil, giving the fat, sweaty, keyboard-bashing slobs the inch they needed to dole out a torrent of abuse on Twitter. ‘I’ve made countless mistakes live on air,’ Wright tweeted. ‘The replies to this are horrible. You man are so pressed by women in football that you take pure pleasure in this. Grow up.’

On the FA’s decision not to go ahead with plans for Harry Kane to wear the OneLove armband, Wright said “there is no protest without risk” before adding: “I’m done with it, bro.”

But Ian Wright the feminist and activist did appear to join Gary Neville and Roy Keane in the first-half passing of the Dutchies during Argentina’s win over Croatia, as the earth-shattering moment on that Tuesday night came not from the dancing feet of Lionel Messi but from ITV’s referee cupboard, as we found ourselves agreeing with Peter Walton.


Rio Ferdinand
“They’ve had a bump in the road and have all folded like a pack of cards,” was Ferdinand’s somewhat surprisingly poetic take on the OneLove debacle, and he spent the rest of the tournament doing a perfectly good job as the BBC’s rave man, eulogising over Jude Bellingham, Kylian Mbappe or whomever else.

But he was apparently dropped from the BBC’s opening game due to concerns that his links with Saudi Arabia would lead to accusations of hypocrisy during their human rights-heavy programme. Ferdinand was a guest of the Ministry of Investment in Saudi Araba – a country which shares some of the issues of Qatar – at a conference last year to promote ‘investment opportunities in the kingdom’.


Jurgen Klinsmann
Klinsmann probably thought he was paying Carlos Queiroz a compliment as he laboured, positively, over Iran’s shithousery in the 2-0 win over Wales.

“They worked the referee,” said Klinsmann. “They work the linesman and fourth official, they are constantly in their ear. There were a lot of incidents we didn’t see. This is their culture, they take you off your game.”

But Quieroz flew off the handle, claiming Klinsmann’s comments were a “disgrace to football” before suggesting he resign from his role in the Technical Study Group – which provides analysis on the World Cup action to identify styles and trends which develop – before visiting the Iranian camp.

Klinsmann said he would call the former Manchester United coach to “calm things down” and in our experience the absolute best way to get someone to calm down is to tell them to “calm down”.


Roy Keane
Flew home from Qatar for a few days as his fellow pundits “get on my nerves”, had a go at the Brazilians for their “strictly jig”, but it wasn’t just the typical Keane-isms that have made us warm to Roy Keane even more after this World Cup.

Woods’ story of him narrating Messi “like Attenborough” had us imagining him as the voice in our heads talking us through what would as a result be the beautiful mundanity of life, but he also talked about the controversial topics eloquently and concisely, refusing to waver from beliefs which we find increasingly hard to disagree with.

While other pundits praised the Germans for their hand over mouths gesture, Keane urged them to “use your voice”. And while Neville awkwardly brought up issues in the UK in a weak attempt to draw focus from the criticism of Qatar, Keane said simply: “This World Cup is stained, that’s the bottom line.”

God love him.


Graeme Souness
Every Graeme Souness session starts with 30-year-old’s questioning their life choices as they watch a chiselled, tanned 69-year-old face glaring seductively back at them from their TV screen, and most end with bafflement at how someone so eager to hammer home the point that he’s played the game could know so little about it.

He engaged in a very enjoyable tiff with Roy Keane,  f***ing hates Olivier Giroud for no reason at all and was very predictably very irritated with the Brazilian dancing, but Souness went peak Souness as he claimed “something untoward” was going on in Japan’s win over Spain.

“The longer they don’t produce that picture which shows conclusively that it’s not gone out of play, you’d think there’s something untoward going on. It has to be,” Souness said, having left his tinfoil hat at home with his documented sightings of Nessie.


Gary Lineker
Lineker took just a few seconds to get the controversy ball rolling, starting BBC’s coverage of the World Cup by highlighting the issues surrounding the hosting of the tournament by Qatar, leading virtue-signalling signaller-in-chief Piers Morgan to get all angry at the ‘absurd hypocrisy’ of the BBC and how ‘outrageously disrespectful’ it was not to show the opening ceremony. Apparently the tens of hundreds of viewers to his TalkTV show can’t buy Morgan access to a red button.

Lineker later welcomed Morgan from ‘the bowels of Ronaldo’ as he took issue with the BBC host fan-girling over Messi before ending the tournament questioning why the Qataris made the footballing God wear that “little robe” for the trophy lift.


Alex Scott
‘It seemed to be quite the U-turn,’ remarked one ‘insider’. ‘One minute she’s criticising them, the next she’s in their box enjoying all the luxuries that come with it.’ That insider/random person making this sh*t up for The Daily Mail presumably thinks Scott should have paired her punditry duties with some sort of hunger strike.

The criticism they are referring to was Scott’s decision to wear the OneLove armband while the respective European FAs crumpled in the face of the slightest pressure from FIFA. “The great Nelson Mandela said we can use sport to change the world,” said Scott having displayed those same virtues. “But these two [Qatar and FIFA] are not, when they can. They can push sport forward and make social change happen.”


Gary Neville
It’s very difficult now to separate the Gary Neville in football studios from the Gary Neville laughing nervously like a schoolboy caught in a lie on Have I Got News For You. Ever since he squirmed his way through that hosting gig and failed to answer Ian Hislop’s very simple question about how he can call out human rights issues while taking the Qataris’ money, everything he’s said and done since is tinged with hypocrisy.

While lining his pockets courtesy of beIN Sports, Neville has had a go at FIFA over their late OneLove ban, engaged in some Prince William whataboutery and ended the tournament by comparing the conditions for public sector staff in the UK with migrant worker deaths in Qatar.

But in truth, we don’t really care what he says anymore. We’re not angry, just disappointed.