Buckle up, folks, it’s almost time.
We are just days away from the start of the European Championships, and after a bizarre season that has seen more televised football than ever before, what better way to detox than by spending a month glued to the box watching many of the same players do it all over again?
There’s something intangibly beautiful and enthralling about international tournaments, and after a year’s delay, the anticipation that’s building for this summer’s competition feels, in some ways, more heightened than usual.
And it would appear that ITV are going out of their way to make it as memorable as they can by recruiting some of the biggest and best names from across the world of punditry.
The broadcaster will be splitting the TV rights for the Euros with the BBC, but judging by the star-studded roster of former players and analysts they’ve assembled, they fully intend to outshine their rivals.
Just look at this lineup: Ian Wright, Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Patrick Vieira, Graeme Souness, Ashley Cole, Eni Aluko, Robert Earnshaw, Emma Hayes, Nigel de Jong, John Collins, Joe Ledley, Nadia Nadim, Scott Brown and Andros Townsend – plus co-commentary from Lee Dixon, Ally McCoist and John Hartson.
Seriously, it’s like the punditry Avengers. There are more big names on that list than in a Beverly Hills phonebook.
Nabbing Neville and Souness from Sky Sports feel like a masterstroke, while the simmering love-hate courtship between Keane and Vieira – complete with revelation from Gareth Southgate that they’d even gone as far as to share a Cornetto on a day out in Warsaw – was one of the most intriguing subplots of Euro 2012.
Ian Wright is always, without exception, as golden as his smile, and luring him away from Match of the Day sidekick Alan Shearer is a coup, while insight from punditry whippersnappers like Cole, Brown, and de Jong could prove to be fascinating.
Oh, and then there’s Ally McCoist. Having the affable Scot in the gantry is like playing as Oddjob in Goldeneye 007 on the N64 – you simply cannot lose.
His love for the game is so infectious that it practically radiates from the screen, and his commitment and passion for researching local history usually leads to at least one mildly interesting titbit about a castle or a despotic ruler per 90 minutes. That’s the highest xMIT (expected Mildly Interesting Titbit) of any co-commentator in the game today.
Taking all that into account, you would presume that the BBC will be quaking in their boots a little.
For their part the Beeb have put together a decent enough team, fronted, of course, by Gary Lineker.
Everyone’s favourite crisp salesman will be joined in the studio by the aforementioned Shearer, as well as Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Jurgen Klinsmann, Alex Scott, Rio Ferdinand, Micah Richards, James McFadden, Charlie Adam, Shelley Kerr, Ashley Williams, and Mark Hughes.
On the gantry, Karen Carney, Dion Dublin, Chris Waddle, Pat Nevin, Erin Cuthbert, James Collins, Robbie Savage, Jermaine Jenas, Martin Keown, and Danny Murphy will be lending their dulcet tones.
Undoubtedly, there’s some top talent in there – you'd be hard pushed to find a more charismatic pundit than Richards, or a more knowledgeable voice in the current scene than Scott.
But if we’re being blunt here, there’s some deadwood too.
Dublin, intentionally or otherwise, can often produce moments of Alan Partridge-esque hilarity on Homes Under the Hammer, but his insight on two-up two-downs is probably better than his unoriginal ramblings on a 4-4-2 these days, while the paint-dryingly dull Keown could bag himself a sponsorship deal with Night Nurse, such is the excitement he injects into his musings. Pitting him against McCoist is like sending a Reliant Robin round the Nurburgring next to a Lamborghini.
Following on from more than 12 months of football saturation, audiences need something fresh and intriguing to make the bits before and after a game as watchable as the 90 minutes of action itself, or to prevent them from reaching for the mute button entirely.
ITV seem to have realised this. The BBC, perhaps not so much...