The gap between football rich and poor

It was only the third game of newly-promoted Burnley’s Premier League season.

They would be facing a team in transition – Manchester United.

United, England’s most successful club, had named British record signing Angel di Maria in their starting line-up as the Argentine made his debut after joining for £59.7m from Real Madrid.

Di Maria’s price, and the reservoir of funds United have at their fingertips, completely eclipse anything Burnley have spent in their 132-year existence.

The Tykes have only splashed £45m on transfers since their inaugural season in 1882 but, facing a Manchester United XI assembled for £214.2m they earned a creditable 0-0 draw.

With this level of spending, United are hoping they will tempt the best players in the world to the club so they can return to Champions League football – something they missed out on this season under David Moyes’ leadership in 2013-14.

Burnley’s shoestring budget illustrates just how difficult it is to compete with the big spending giants of the Premier League, despite receiving £48m over four years since their relegation from the top flight in 2010.

Not only this, the three promoted clubs in 2014 gained a £60m revenue boost – £55m of which is from broadcasting fees.

Despite this combined stream of £108m for ‘yo-yo-ing’ between the Premier League and Championship, Burnley – and most of the league – still can’t hope to match the biggest clubs in the transfer market.

UEFA, European football’s governing body, sought to help rectify the current imbalance by introducing Financial Fair Play rules, but so far only Manchester City and Paris Saint-German have been stung.

This financial ‘sting’ is mere peanuts when compared to their financial clout, but each team competing in either the Champions League or Europa League received a share of their fines, amounting to €265,000 going to each of the 70 clubs involved in European football this season.

UEFA, though, are profiting hugely from Champions League and Europa League broadcasting revenues.

They expect their revenues to rise a whopping 30% to €1.75bn in the 2015-18 commercial sales cycle.

This is partly due to the extortionate fees that broadcasting companies are prepared to pay in order to show the world’s finest club competitions.

In Britain, BT Sport paid an astonishing £897m for the rights to show live Champions League and Europa League football for three seasons from the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign.

UEFA have been criticised for not giving second, third and fourth tier clubs a proportionate share of these huge sums of money, but the reality is that they probably could.

Before the 30% growth forecast for 2015-18, their income stood at €1.3bn, with €900m of that being shared amongst the clubs who participated in the Champions League and Europa League.

Some financial experts have even suggested that UEFA will look to bring in even greater financial rewards for the clubs that qualify for European competitions.

That potential move is aimed at reducing the gap between football’s super-rich clubs and the rich ones – but it widens the gap between the rich and the poorer ones.

In effect, the move would create a vicious circle.

The clubs with the biggest budgets attract the best players and tend to occupy the top spots in domestic leagues, thus qualifying for European competitions and earning UEFA’s prize money.

This makes them even richer and makes it harder for clubs to break into the clique-like qualifying positions for Europe’s top club competitions.

In short, those clubs who do not and who cannot qualify for European football are being cut further adrift.

It is a problem that UEFA has failed to address and is leading to problems with grassroots football across a host of Europe’s major footballing countries, including England.

A large share of the blame must also fall on domestic leagues.

In England, the Premier League are often ridiculed for their distribution of broadcasting fees.

The most recent round of bidding generated £3bn in broadcasting revenue, with Sky paying £2.3bn for live coverage of 116 games a season and BT Sport paying £738m for 38 live matches each season from the 2012-13 campaign.

£1.1bn of prize money was given to the 20 clubs in the Premier League last season, with clubs earning an additional £750,000 per live game on TV.

Additionally, teams earned £1.2m in merit money for every place gained, meaning Cardiff earned £1.2m for finishing bottom and Manchester City earned £24m for winning the title.

That meant the total merit money distributed by the Premier League came to £252m last season.

In total, that means £1.5bn has been distributed by the Premier League – just half of the three-year cycle of broadcasting fees alone.

So, while Premier League clubs are quite well off, the disparity between the top two divisions – in England and indeed most countries in Europe – is substantial and growing further still.

The question is whether FIFA, UEFA or the domestic governing bodies will do something to address the problem?

For the minute, the current arrangements certainly seem to ensure the football rich get richer and the poorer stay poor.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89
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Who are the best and worst football commentators in 2014/15?

Football commentators are responsible for being the direct link between match and TV screen, but which ones are the best and worst?

Last year I gave my top 10 best and worst commentators or co-commentators but there have been plenty of changes in football broadcasting since then so here is an updated top six for the 2014/15 season.

We’ll start with the good ones (they are a dying breed)…

  1. John Murray – BBC 5Live – new entry for 2014/15

There are plenty of people who believe that commentating on the radio is the hardest job of all because the listeners cannot see the match. What Murray does so effectively is to call a game so snappily that the listener feels as if they are watching every pass unfold. The pace with which he commentates is exciting and all the while he utters few mistakes, meaning Murray propels himself to number six on the 2014/15 list as a new entry.

  1. Martin Fisher – BBC & CBC – new entry

As someone who gets the scraps on Match of the Day, Fisher has made a name for himself as an emerging commentary talent. He is one of the more frenetic commentators but that certainly helps bring a dull game to life and, with his matches often being towards the end of the show, he manages to engage the viewers well. Gradually Fisher is being recognised as a good commentator and was rewarded when Canada’s CBC channel picked him as one of their commentators during the 2014 World Cup – a richly deserved prize.

  1. Darren Fletcher – BT Sport – new entry

As the mainstream broadcasters rested on their laurels and fell behind in popularity, BT Sport were busy cherry-picking the commentators they knew would help get their new channel off to an excellent start. Fletcher, who had previously worked for BBC Radio 5Live, has made the transition to TV look seamless with his concise, clear and precise calling of BT Sport’s handpicked Premier League matches.

  1. Gary Neville – Sky Sports – new entry

Despite being more at home as a pundit as opposed to a commentator, Gary Neville is still one of the better callers of the unseen happenings during a game with his best observations usually made on tactics and defensive positioning. What lets him down is the fact he is too patient to have his say, often waiting until the lead commentator has finished speaking or when a there is a break in play.

  1. Danny Murphy – BBC – new entry

With regular stints on Match of the Day as a pundit, few would have predicted the success that Murphy enjoyed crossing over to the co-commentator’s microphone during the World Cup. Murphy freshened up the commentary by making quick observations and crucially saying them as soon as he had the chance, rather than the usual co-commentators dithering after a TV replay. This, added to his insightful, relaxed and often humorous reading of the game has made him a valuable addition to the BBC. Let’s hope he retains his co-commentary role when the BBC host live FA Cup matches this season.

  1. Steve Wilson – BBC – up 3 places on 2013/14

If ever there was an all-rounder’s position in football commentary, Steve Wilson would fit in nice and snug. He has picked up the mantle of statistician guru from John Motson, makes very few mistakes and is a very good reader of the difficult decisions and situations in games. What Wilson does spectacularly well is to keep up with play, often meaning he is more concise. Another of his talents is to let the sound of goal celebrations do a lot of the work for him. What helps him do that is a David Coleman-like announcement of the score, such as “1-0!” All things considered, Wilson is the yardstick as the most complete commentator out there.

Now we move on to the worst commentators. You’ll never guess who’s top…

  1. Guy Mowbray – BBC – up 4 places on 2013/14

It continues to baffle me why the BBC persist with Guy Mowbray. His outdated, cliché-ridden and mistake-laden commentary is evidently good enough for the BBC as he was given the World Cup final. He has in the past wished injury on Ignazio Abate during the 2012 Euros and has been guilty of blatant sexism while commentating on women’s FA Cup matches. In mitigation he is responsible for the occasional brilliant one-liner, but his overall commentary leaves a lot to be desired.

  1. Sam Matterface – ITV & Talksport – new entry

ITV are grooming Matterface for big things, but his commentary should not have warranted a space on the World Cup airwaves this summer. His disinterested style, coupled with a knack of stating the obvious, has been boring ITV viewers ever since he came to prominence. Talksport are the other unfortunate beneficiaries of Matterface’s commentary and, when you compare him to the BBC 5Live team, you can see why he works for Talksport. Finally, this is perhaps his worst line ever: “Well here we are above Goodison where there are some lovely fluffy blue clouds.” Get the picture?

  1. Niall Quinn – Sky Sports – new entry

Quinn gets the occasional gig on Sky Sports when they have a triple-header of live games on Sunday. Some football fans would argue that that is still far too often to endure Quinn’s nightmarish co-commentary which regularly underwhelms and irritates. Offering close to no technical insight at all, Quinn is shamefully biased – particularly in matches involving Manchester City and Sunderland – two of his former clubs.

  1. Andy Townsend – ITV – same position

Along with Mowbray, the other long-term commentary mystery is Andy Townsend. Why ITV  have continued to partner him with Clive Tyldesley is unknown, but if football fans had their wish he would disappear far quicker than he could give some insightful commentary. Perhaps ITV just keep him for the publicity? Or maybe it’s the fact he chooses to sit on the fence with almost every debatable decision? Either way, it doesn’t look like Townsend and his lack of flair will be going anywhere soon.

  1. Phil Neville – BBC – new entry

With the BBC receiving 445 complaints about his commentary of England’s 2-1 defeat against Italy at the World Cup, Neville’s drab style is clearly not agreeable. He also has a hard act to follow as Gary, his brother, has been a revolutionary pundit for Sky Sports. Phil’s monotone and sleep-inducing style did not endear himself to very many people but, in fairness, he looks more at home as a pundit rather than as a co-commentator. One infamous tweet of his came after the community shield when a second-string Manchester City side were beaten 3-0 by Arsenal: “Put Aguero, Kompany, Zabaleta and Hart in this City team and they will look different.” Amen to that, Phil.

  1. Michael Owen – BT Sport – new entry

We finish on a bad note with Michael Owen. With no previous commentary experience, BT Sport elected to bring in Michael Owen as the co-commentator for their new Premier League coverage last season. That was an ignominious mistake. So bad is Owen’s commentary he often trends on Twitter when he commentates, with one of his awful lines being: “It’s a good run but it’s a poor run, if you know what I mean?”. Owen’s commentary is full of obvious conclusions, mis-pronunciations and a lack of knowledge. But the last words have to go to the man himself, who once quipped: “To stay in the game, you have to stay in the game.”

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

The lowdown on BT Sport’s free weekend

As battles go, this was as one-sided as they come.

BT Sport certainly picked a good weekend to open up their channels to everyone in what they billed as their ‘free weekend’.

By comparison, their archrivals Sky Sports, the other protagonists in this war of the sport broadcasters, had a meek splattering of goods on offer for their customers – who at £60 per month are being stripped of £720 per year. That sum would be sufficient to buy a season ticket at most Premier League grounds.

Even so, for at least a decade Sky have held the throne as the Kings of all things sport in the UK, but this season the tide looks to be turning.

BT Sport have them worried, and why not?

They’re offering free viewing to all customers with BT Broadband and, for those without the broadband deal, a fee of just £12 per month to view 38 first-pick Premier League games, an array of top Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 matches, plus comprehensive coverage of the Aviva Premiership.

That’s just for starters. If you’re a self-confessed sport addict then BT Sport could prove to be the perfect place for you.

Allied to the sport mentioned above, there’s football action from the MLS, A-League and Brazilian top flight plus other bits and bobs such as tennis, UFC, Major League Baseball and a generous helping of some innovative, interactive and engaging panel shows – the best of which is fronted by Tim Lovejoy and Matt Dawson on a Saturday morning.

On Saturday, BT Sport trumped Sky with their coverage of Crystal Palace against Arsenal. They also delighted in showing Inter Milan’s entertaining 4-2 win over Verona, while there was also a very watchable 3-0 victory for Wolfsburg against Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

If Sky can’t match the variety of BT Sport, then they can certainly pack a big punch of their own with the most anticipated fixture in La Liga – El Clasico.

It was rather unfortunate for Sky then, that the match was under-par by El Clasico standards – a 2-1 win for Barcelona failed, judging by various social media outbursts, to get the pulse racing.

Gareth Bale was largely anonymous and Lionel Messi was overshadowed by Neymar. That said, the goals scored by Barcelona were of high quality, particularly Neymar’s opener in which he embarrassed two Real Madrid defenders before finding the net.

The fact that the match disappointed wasn’t Sky’s fault, but what is evident is that if you put all your eggs in one basket – as Sky have done with their lack of variety – then the occasional anti-climax will inevitably happen.

But Sky’s tonic to that frustration is their Formula One coverage, which this weekend encompassed Sebastian Vettel’s title-clinching victory in the Indian Grand Prix.

Sky also screened the fifth one day international between India vs. Australia – or would have done had play not been abandoned because of rain.

Aside from that, Sky had very little to offer last weekend. Various repeats were screened and events like the CIMB Classic golf tournament from Kuala Lumpur did little to wrestle the attention away from BT Sport.

Sunday was slightly better for Sky, with the Tyne and Wear derby preceding the clash between Chelsea and Manchester City – once again their ability to show the top football matches in the Premier League proved the main draw to their coverage.

The second NFL London game between the Jaguars and the 49ers was also available to Sky customers, but they lost out on millions of spectators as it was also on offer to terrestrial viewers over on Channel 4, who have maintained their growing grasp on the sport in this country.

It was, at this point on Sunday teatime, as if BT Sport had their opponents on the ropes. It wasn’t long before they delivered a final blow.

France’s two cash-rich clubs, Monaco and PSG, kicked off one after the other – enabling viewers to gorge themselves on Ligue 1 action that is quickly being elevated to a higher level thanks to players such as Monaco’s Radamel Falcao and PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If that wasn’t enough, then a brilliant panel show featuring top football journalists from France, Italy and Germany, presented by the insuperable James Richardson, gave viewers a comprehensive and informative round-up of the best Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 action.

In critical terms, Sky’s service to sport fans has been bettered by BT Sport – and by some way.

The diehard Premier League fans will always flock to Sky, but BT Sport are slowly cranking up the pressure in that department as they bid to show more and more games per season.

Then there is the issue of costing. Would you pay £60 per month for Sky or £12 per month for BT Sport? True, Sky will have autumn international rugby Tests and the Ashes coming up soon, but when they’re all done and the viewers are sat down in February, what else is there to watch?

BT Sport will always be there with a good variety of sport, and it’s a strategy which is intrinsic to their quest to surpass Sky as the country’s leading sports broadcaster.

On the evidence of the last weekend at least, BT Sport have won the battle. Give them a few more years and they may well have won the broadcasting war.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

The Cricketing Enigma

How many cricket fans in England know that the biggest (supposedly) domestic Twenty20 cricket tournament is currently being played in India? Not many.

The Champions League Twenty20 brings the winning teams from various Twenty20 tournaments across the globe together in a clash worthy of its name.

Yet, unbeknownst to English cricket fans, MS Dhoni plundered one of the fastest fifties in history yesterday when his 16-ball half-century helped Chennai Super Kings to a 12-run victory over fellow IPL graduates Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Dhoni’s innings went largely unnoticed in England, partly due to the fact that the BBC rarely covers the IPL and other Twenty20 tournaments, and also due to Eurosport winning the contract for the televised rights.

Truthfully, viewership was always likely to suffer in the UK once Eurosport got their hands on the deal. They are not Sky Sports, or BT Sport for that matter, and consequently advertisement for the CLT20 was so scarce it was almost ghostly.

This isn’t Eurosport’s fault though, they won the rights to the tournament fairly and their dedicated following will have been treated to some quality cricket as the tournament edges towards its second half, with the final being played a week on Sunday (Oct 6).

It is perhaps the fault of ITV4, though. Logically, as they hold broadcasting rights for the IPL, they should have done more to secure the rights for what is technically a bigger tournament.

However, the absence of any English teams in the competition provides some idea as to why Eurosport were effectively unchallenged for the screening rights.

Being held in mid-September, the CLT20 clashes with the conclusion of the County Championship in England. This means that county sides are reluctant to participate in the tournament when promotion or relegation is on the line.

This is particularly true of Northamptonshire who, after winning the Friends Life T20 this summer, couldn’t travel to India because of their four-day commitments.

Promotion to Division One was their objective and, after taking the necessary points during a 115-run defeat to Worcestershire, they achieved that goal by finishing second in the table to Lancashire.

Another reason for the lack of mainstream coverage in the UK is that India is currently plagued by the end of the monsoon season.

Several games in this year’s CLT20 have been rain-affected, while the forecast for the remaining fixtures looks equally bleak.

So, it seems the main terrestrial UK broadcasters have taken the calculated gamble to save money on acquiring the TV rights.

That aside, it means that UK viewers will continue to miss innings of the majesty of Dhoni’s unless they have Eurosport – subscription for which, of course, would make a serious dent in anyone’s wallet.

For that reason, the CLT20 will continue to assume its role as the definitive cricketing enigma. Until the rights are secured by a terrestrial broadcaster, the majority of fans in the UK will be starved of watching a tournament as opulent, but also tragically mysterious, as the Champions League Twenty20.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

My 2013/14 Premier League predictions

Straight away, I’m going to jinx the upcoming Premier League season – I think it’s going to be a cracker.

It’s certainly looking as if it’s going to be the hardest Premier League season to call for a while, and who wouldn’t be up for some unpredictability after Manchester United cantered to the title last time out?

Of course there are the usual rivalries to look forward to, and some new ones too as broadcasting newcomers BT Sport look to sink the all-conquering Sky Sports in the biggest ever battle of its kind.

There is also the addition of goal-line technology to muse over. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were no major goal-line incidents to speak of for the Hawk-Eye system to judge – but that’s show business for you.

Anyway, let’s get started with the serious business. Counting down from 20th place to 1st, here’s my version of what the Premier League table will look like come Sunday 11th May next year.

20. Hull City Tigers (2012/13: Promoted, 2nd in Championship)

Has there ever been a team so hotly-tipped to go down as Hull City? (or Hull City Tigers as they have imaginatively been renamed).

At the managerial helm is Steve Bruce, perennial signer of has-been big-name players. Bruce has lived up to his reputation in the transfer market, signing the under-achieving Tom Huddlestone and Danny Graham, who will need to shoulder the burden of scoring consistently for his new side to give them a chance of staying up.

The acquisition of former Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor is a good bit of business though, and Graham might have an exciting strike partner in the talented Yannick Sagbo. The backbone of the team also has a distinct Man United youth squad look to it, as so many of Bruce’s teams have done in the past.

Criticisms of Bruce’s managerial aptitude aside, Hull have a solid defence which hardly conceded in last season’s Championship, but I expect the step up in class to prove too tough for them on their return to the top flight.

19. Crystal Palace (2012/13: Promoted, Championship play-off winners)

Nearly every football fan in the country rejoiced when Crystal Palace beat Watford 1-0 in the Championship play-off final at Wembley in May. Not because they’re all Eagles fans, but because Ian Holloway would be a regular fixture on Match of the Day once more.

The colourful Bristolian may have lost Wilfried Zaha to Man United this summer but he has bought well to replace him. Jose Campana, just 20, signed from Sevilla for €2m while Marouane Chamakh has also penned a one-year deal.

Holloway’s excellent man-management and motivational skills should get the ailing Chamakh into better goalscoring form than in recent seasons while the exciting talent of Jonathan Williams will provide him with the creativity needed at Premier League level.

Palace, like Hull, proved tough to score against last season but being just as frugal in the Premier League will be much more difficult and consequently relegation looms large for them this season.

18. Sunderland (2012/13: Premier League, 17th)

Yes, you heard it here first. Sunderland to be relegated. Why? Because despite the Paulo di Canio effect the Black Cats very nearly faced the drop last season.

The trouble for Sunderland fans is that di Canio has made a whole host of distinctly average signings in the summer. They have been the Premier League’s most active club, signing ten players in all, but none of them carry formidable reputations and Mackem fans will be wondering if it’s going to be enough for them to stay up this season.

Does di Canio know his best team? And will the raft of new players destabilise the club rather than strengthen it? Time will tell, but I feel it could have a negative impact as di Canio sorts out his best line-up, tactics and alternatives.

That said, the signing of Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus is a good one and, if he can link up well with Steven Fletcher and fellow newcomer Jozy Altidore, Sunderland might just be OK.

Questions still remain over their defence though, and I expect this to be where Sunderland come unstuck this season. Few recognised reinforcements for an aged defence that conceded 1.5 goals on average per game last season is an ominous sign.

17. Fulham (2012/13: Premier League, 12th)

Joining Sunderland in a fight to stay in the top flight are Fulham. Martin Jol’s side finished an unrepresentative 12th last season, jumping four places after a 3-0 defeat of Swansea on the final day.

Jol knew that signings needed to be made and perhaps the most impressive of those is centre-back Fernando Amorebieta. Signed on a free transfer from Athletic Bilbao, the Venezuelan is powerful in the tackle, while his skill on the ball exudes a calming influence on those around him. He will form a strong partnership with Brede Hangeland in central defence.

Fulham still have an older squad than most, which is not necessarily a problem, but a lack of depth beyond those experienced players is certainly evident. Dimitar Berbatov has a new strike partner in Darren Bent, signed on loan from Aston Villa today, while Maarten Stekelenburg has replaced Mark Schwarzer between the posts.

I doubt Fulham will be relegated, but should they suffer a spate of injuries they will be struggling.

16. Cardiff City(2012/13: Promoted as Championship winners)

Of all the promoted sides, Cardiff look best placed to upset a few of the more established Premier League sides this season.

They already had Premier League experience in Craig Bellamy and Fraizer Campbell and the addition of Steven Caulker to bolster their defence has bucked the trend of their fellow promotees.

Having also signed Chile international Gary Medel from Sevilla, Malky Mackay’s side look in decent shape and should avoid the drop.

15. Stoke City (2012/13: Premier League, 13th)

Not many teams have signed a Barcelona player this summer, but Stoke City have. They welcome Marc Muniesa, a 21-year-old centre-back, to the Britannia this season.

He joins Dutch left-back Erik Pieters in the Potters squad as new manager Mark Hughes looks to improve upon 13th last season.

That placing flattered Stoke somewhat, particularly because they had been in relegation peril towards the end of the season, but they have a strong enough squad to survive the drop again this time round.

14. Aston Villa (2012/13: Premier League, 15th)

Villa have done well this summer to tie star striker Christian Benteke down on a new contract. Up top last season Villa looked as dangerous as any of the top sides in the division as Benteke was partnered by Andreas Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor, but their defence remains shaky.

Awash with youngsters, it was very nearly Villa’s undoing as they conceded 69 goals with the biggest slump in form coming in an 8-0 drubbing away to Chelsea.

Still, Villa’s forward line should get Paul Lambert’s men over the line and they can continue to build their side after the World Cup in Brazil in what is undoubtedly a long-term project for the Midlanders.

13. Southampton (2012/13: Premier League, 14th)

Mauricio Pochettino has been fairly inactive in the transfer market, but his two signings to date have been big ones.

Southampton have splashed the cash on Victor Wanyama (£12m) and Dejan Lovren (£8.5m), fees which are widely held to be well above what each player is worth.

£12m for Wanyama looks particularly expensive considering Wilfried Bony, Mesut Özil and Shinji Kagawa also commanded £12m fees, but Saints have nonetheless made a statement in signing the Kenya international.

Their form last season following Pochettino’s move was good, but a poor finish to the season belied a decent middle stint where Manchester City were among their scalps. Could be fighting for a top ten finish.

12. West Ham (2012/13: Premier League, 10th)

Sam Allardyce is similar to Steve Bruce in that he often signs players with a big reputation, and he has lived up to that billing by signing Liverpool pair Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing for a combined £21m.

The two players should, in theory at least, link up well with Downing’s crosses seen as the perfect supply for Carroll to destroy teams with his mastery of aerial duels.

With a solid defence and a diligent midfield, West Ham will be well clear of the relegation scrap and should be aiming for a top ten finish, which may just be beyond them given the quality of the teams around them.

11. Newcastle United (2012/13: Premier League, 16th)

A new season and a new start for Alan Pardew after the lucklustre display his side turned in last season.

Pardew has bought sparingly this summer, adding Loïc Remy on loan, and he will hope that the French contingent signed in January will be enough to see his side avoid the doldrums of their last campaign.

Newcastle still need to make a few additions to their squad to be on the safe side, but they have a good enough squad to contend for a top ten place.

10. Norwich City (2012/13: Premier League, 11th)

There are few teams in this division with a pair of strikers of the quality of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper.

That Chris Hughton managed to secure their signatures for a comparatively small fee, suggests that Norwich have good reason to be chipper ahead of the upcoming campaign.

Van Wolfswinkel comes to Carrow Road with big promise and has a natural goalscoring ability which should alleviate the difficulties in front of goal that many Canaries fans had lamented last season.

Hooper has proven his prowess at Celtic and will be looking to kick on at a higher level with the carrot of a call-up to the England squad in World Cup year dangling in front of him.

Norwich can be defensively unsteady at times, and that is where their weakness lies. However, the exciting partnership up top and an underrated midfield including Robert Snodgrass and Wes Hoolahan will be good for a top ten spot.

9. West Brom (2012/13: Premier League, 8th)

The Baggies have prepared for the new season by signing experienced players of the calibre of Nicolas Anelka and Diego Lugano.

Yet, as is well known, both Anelka and Lugano are mercurial – Anelka especially so. Whether he will be consistently putting in 100% at the Hawthorns remains to be seen. If manager Steve Clarke sees him as a replacement for Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku, he could be sorely disappointed.

Lugano, meanwhile, looked past his best at the recent Confederations Cup for Uruguay and, in my opinion at least, represents more of a liability than a reliability.

Despite the relative lack of signings, West Brom should be competitive. An energetic and incisive midfield is their strength and if they can convince Peter Odemwinghie to stay they can aim for a top ten finish.

8. Everton (2012/13: Premier League, 6th)

Everton enter into the new season with a new manager for the first time in over a decade following the departure of David Moyes to Manchester United.

Incoming boss Roberto Martinez is certainly a respected manager and he will look to build upon the watchable style of play that Moyes developed during his tenure.

Key to their success will be the retention of Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini, with the club so far resisting overtures for both men from Manchester United.

New loan signing Gerard Deulofeu comes in from Barcelona to provide strength to the Toffees forward line, which is also bolstered by Arouna Kone, who followed Martinez from Wigan in a permanent deal.

The Goodison Park faithful will have to be patient with the new regime – a European place (fifth) might be out of their reach.

7. Swansea City (2012/13: Premier League, 9th)

Swansea’s season has already started with qualification for the Europa League, and they look well placed to improve on an impressive ninth place finish from last season.

New signing Wilfried Bony looks strong and has linked up well with goalscoring sensation Michu so far. The Ivorian’s presence allows the Spaniard to drift into his favoured position just off the first striker, so Swansea may well benefit from that this season.

Swans manager Michael Laudrup has raided Real Betis for Spanish duo Alejandro Pozuelo and Jose Canas, with Pozuelo looking a very promising player in the playmaker role.

Fans at the Liberty Stadium will be hopeful of a good Premier League assault and their team could well deliver a top six place if one of the top six teams falters.

6. Tottenham Hotspur (2012/13: Premier League, 5th)

The crucial question at White Hart Lane this summer is whether prize asset Gareth Bale is going to leave the club.

Real Madrid have reportedly had a world-record bid of £87m turned down, and their interest has since cooled.

Bale has remained silent – some say this means he wants to leave – but chairman Daniel Levy is intent on keeping his star player.

If Bale were to leave, Spurs will rely heavily on £26m striker Roberto Soldado to score goals after Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe endured difficult seasons.

Paulinho, a £17m acquisition from Corinthians, looks a very good addition to the squad but the loss of Bale is expected to take its toll and I think Spurs will miss out on Europe – unless they can win a domestic cup.

5. Liverpool (2012/13: Premier League, 7th)

Liverpool flattered to deceive at times last season. They finished with 71 goals – the fourth highest in the division – but they were inconsistent and eventually paid the price when they missed out on European competition altogether.

They have also resisted Luis Suarez’s attempts to leave the club, with Arsenal having had two bids rejected, and have got their business done early, signing four players fairly cheaply.

Simon Mignolet will be first choice in goal after Pepe Reina left the club (on loan) to link up with former Reds boss Rafael Benitez at Napoli, while the addition of Spanish duo Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto will provide Daniel Sturridge with assistance should Suarez leave.

Philippe Coutinho is being tipped for a superb season alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield, and Reds boss Brendan Rodgers will be hopeful – rightly so – of a Europa League place at least.

4. Arsenal (2012/13: Premier League, 4th)

Much has been made of Arsenal’s lack of activity in the transfer market – but it has not been for want of trying.

The Gunners have twice failed in attempts to sign Luis Suarez and their only signing so far this summer has been French youngster Yaya Sanogo.

A fit again Jack Wilshere will be crucial to Arsene Wenger’s plans to launch an assault on a Champions League automatic qualifying spot, but with the calibre of teams ahead of them I feel fourth place is as good as Arsenal will get – for now.

3. Manchester United (2012/13: Premier League, champions)

Like Arsenal, United have added one player to their squad this summer – young Uruguay full-back Guillermo Varela. Interest in midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas has not resulted in a signing, while a bid for Leighton Baines has also been rejected.

Rumours are now abound that new manager David Moyes is looking to bring in playmaker Mesut Özil, and with time fast running out United fans are beginning to think a marquee signing may never materialise for the Glaswegian.

If it doesn’t chances will fall to exciting youngsters such as Adnan Januzaj and Jesse Lingard, while Nick Powell will be involved once he recovers from a pre-season hamstring injury.

Wilfried Zaha, who was signed in January, has also looked sharp in pre-season and prolific young Chilean striker Angelo Henriquez scored midweek for his country.

Wayne Rooney has been tipped for a move to Chelsea, but the club have rejected two bids and expect him to stay.

Despite the Rooney saga, the future looks bright for United, but they are in a transitional phase after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and an automatic Champions League spot will be Moyes’ realistic end product.

2. Manchester City (2012/13: Premier League, 2nd)

New manager Manuel Pellegrini erased memories of last season by doing his business in rapid fashion early in the summer.

His £90m outlay on Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho and Jesus Navas has strengthened City greatly, and they will be extremely difficult to beat as a result.

City enjoyed the best defensive record in the league last season, conceding just 34 goals. They scored a measly 66 though – and Pellegrini has addressed that problem emphatically.

I think City will just be pipped to the title but it will be a close battle with the usual title suspects.

1. Chelsea (2012/13: Premier League, 3rd)

Jose Mourinho has picked a good time to return to Chelsea.

They have the squad to mount a serious challenge in Europe, let alone domestically.

Romelu Lukaku returns to the club following a successful loan spell at West Brom and he is favourite to beat Fernando Torres to a regular starting spot up top.

Kevin de Bruyne also looks a very good prospect, as does new signing Andre Schürrle, while another young talent – midfielder Marco van Ginkel – has been promised games under the terms of his signature.

Should Chelsea manage to keep David Luiz, they have a defensive backbone to a team that is capable of delivering the title and I fully expect them to be lifting the Premier League trophy next May.

Who are the best and worst football presenters?

The pundits and commentators have had their turn and now, in the last instalment of this three-part blog, the presenters are now in the spotlight.

Arguably the most important part of any live or recorded transmission of a football match, the presenters come under the most scrutiny, so it will be interesting to see whether you agree with my top five best and worst.

As always, I’ll begin with the best:

5. Gary Lineker, BBC

Lineker is perhaps the most prominent presenter on our screens as host of the long-running Match of the Day. He has an affable demeanour on screen and is one of just a handful of ex-players to have successfully made the transition from the pitch to the studio. Lineker rarely makes errors and delivers unbiased judgements on controversial topics – unlike some of his impulsive (and repulsive) colleagues.

4. Ray Stubbs, ESPN

A veteran of football broadcasting, ‘Stubbsy’ is well-known for his calm and engaging presenting style. His on-screen manner is such that he allows the pundits to do their work – rather than cut them off with barbed and empty opinions. Stubbs is almost flawless in his delivery and maintains a time-honoured professionalism throughout his broadcasts, making him a highly-respected football presenter.

3. Mark Pougatch, BBC 5live

It’s perhaps a shame that Pougatch is largely restricted to the airwaves (with an occasional appearance on MOTD2), because he is one of the finest presenters around. At home covering either live matches or phone-ins, Pougatch has a crisp and listenable style that has earned him plaudits from many 5live fans. The BBC would do well to promote him into the MOTD2 slot on a regular basis after Colin Murray’s departure.

2. Jeff Stelling, Sky Sports

Who doesn’t like Jeff? Animated, humorous and always worth a watch, he is the star presenter of Sky’s football coverage. He’s forged a reputation of almost legendary proportions on the hugely popular ‘Gillette Soccer Saturday’, and is also responsible for presenting live league cup games. While it’s a little mysterious that he isn’t given Premier League games on Monday Night Football, he will continue to shine on a Saturday afternoon with Messrs Merson, Thompson and Kamara.

1. James Richardson, BBC & ESPN

Something of an enigma these days, Richardson can be found presenting BBC South’s Late Kick-Off show, with seamless class. Always interesting to watch and with a unique presenting style, Richardson carved his lofty status as presenter of Channel 4’s popular Gazzetta Football Italia where he often seen filming at an Italian cafe gazing at a Gazzetta Dello Sport with an ice cream sundae. These days, his presenting of Italian football extends only to ESPN’s Serie A coverage, but he would be more than capable of presenting on Match of the Day or at other high-profile jobs.

The bad:

5. Dan Walker, BBC

Like BBC commentator Steve Bower, Walker is being groomed for the top by the Beeb. Many viewers will wonder why, when Walker has barely earned praise for his plain and naive presenting style. Currently presenting Football Focus, Walker is also heard on 5live irritating listeners with an over-friendly and boyish approach. Has the potential to be a top presenter, but his sudden rise has raised a few eyebrows – perhaps he’s seen as a natural replacement for Jake Humphrey?

4. Colin Murray, BBC

Too chummy with fellow colleagues, possessor of an annoying voice and user of tumbleweed gags – just a few reasons why Colin Murray should take his rightful place on the list of bad presenters. It seems the BBC agrees, with Murray being demoted from the hot seat on Match of the Day 2 to his everyday radio commitments from the 2013/14 season onwards.

3. Matt Smith, ITV

Matt…Smith…has…a…very…distinct…style. If you hadn’t already guessed from my sarcasm, Smith has a strong and irritating fondness for the artistic pause. In fact, his pausing is so obvious you can pretty much predict what he’s going to say before he’s even said it. Despite this, his presenting is largely undramatic and mostly error-free, although many critics have pointed out that his knowledge of the game is lacking in some departments. If he were to iron out the pauses he wouldn’t be on this list.

2. Mark Chapman, BBC

There’s not much that Mark Chapman cannot do when it comes to annoying football fans. Blessed with a voice more akin to that of the Milkybar kid than a front-line football presenter, he is guilty of a series of uninspiring presenting displays. Some elements of Chapman’s presenting are fine – including his thorough knowledge of the game – but he lets himself down with some glaring errors and, like Murray, is often too chummy with pundits on-screen – notably Robbie Savage. With Chapman at the helm, it’s not difficult to see why Final Score looks amateurish in comparison to Soccer Saturday.

1. Adrian Chiles, ITV

Don’t get me wrong, I find Chiles’ sense of humour fairly inoffensive having been brought up by and spent time with several Midlanders in my life, but for the majority of football fans he infuriates rather than delights. Twitter is always a hazardous place for football presenters, but the horrific abuse Chiles gets from fans on the social networking site is sometimes unbelievable. That said, criticisms are not without justice, mainly due to his proneness to big gaffes and his dour, dead-pan style. His most recent error, and perhaps the most amusing, was when he left his backpack on the ITV sofa during the half-time break of the Brazil vs England game. When ITV came back on air, his backpack was in full view. While this is mainly his fault, the ITV producers should also be criticised for not noticing. ITV really could, and should, do better.

Who are the best and worst football commentators?

Football commentators. The people armchair viewers love to hate.

There are plenty of atrocious and infuriating callers of the beautiful game out there, and also a handful of brilliant ones, but who makes my top 10 best and worst?

And before anyone pipes up about Andy Townsend, I’ve included co-commentators in the list too!

Let’s start with the good first:

10. Mike Ingham, BBC 5Live

Ingham is an entertaining commentator for those of you who are avid 5live listeners. Hardly ever culpable of making a mistake, he blends an enthusiastic commentary style with a thorough knowledge of the game. More importantly, he puts his 5live colleagues to shame.

9. Simon Brotherton, BBC

Brotherton is without doubt one of the BBC’s most underrated commentators. Experienced and articulate, he calls some of the biggest games on the Premier League calendar for Match of the Day with great success. Like Ingham, he hardly makes a mistake and is definitely worthy of a place on this countdown.

8. Clive Tyldesley, ITV

I’ve been known to call Tyldesley ‘Alive Clive’ due to his excitable style (he often sounds like a Dalek too), but generally he is a very capable commentator. His greatest work for ITV is probably the 1999 Champions League final, but can be prone to some occasional errors too. He gets bonus points for sitting next to Andy Townsend for two hours.

7. Rob Hawthorne, Sky Sports

Hawthorne is part of Sky’s respected commentary line-up, and has often called some high-profile matches. Not least the memorable Manchester derby where United’s Michael Owen snatched a 96th-minute winner in a 4-3 win. Looking back at Hawthorne’s commentary for that match on YouTube, it’s safe to say he did a fantastic job.

6. Jon Champion, ESPN

Perhaps the most respected commentator in the media, Champion is vastly experienced having worked for the BBC, ITV and most recently ESPN. His commentary of Owen’s wondergoal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup will forever live in the memory of England fans.

5. Peter Drury, ITV & Fox Soccer

Often unfairly dubbed ‘Peter Dreary’, Drury is a well-spoken and entertaining commentator. He has a remarkable knowledge of the game and thrives in the big moments during the biggest games. Arguably his most thrilling work was during last season’s Manchester City 3-2 QPR match for Fox Soccer, where Sergio Aguero scored a late title-clinching winner for City.

4. Steve Wilson, BBC

Wilson has often been overlooked for the biggest games on Match of the Day in favour of the much-maligned Guy Mowbray, but his commentary style is perhaps the clearest of them all. He has the ability to keep up with play using quick, engaging and efficient language, and rarely makes mistakes.

3. Martin Tyler, Sky Sports

Head honcho of Sky’s commentary team, Tyler’s career has spanned across numerous eras of football. Usually understated and reserving his enthusiasm for the biggest Premier League and European games, Tyler’s most famous piece of commentary came in Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa in 2009, where 17-year-old Federico “Machedaaaaaa!” scored a last-gasp winner.

2. John Motson, BBC

“Motty” is the godfather of commentary. Having retired from calling the action at international tournaments, Motson typically covers games in London for Match of the Day. He is nudged down from the top spot due to what many critics have correctly said about his increasingly frail and error-laden commentary – but that should not detract from the 67-year-old’s marvellous career.

1. Jonathan Pearce, BBC

Pearce beats his famed BBC colleague to top spot by virtue of some memorable and flawless commentary. Without doubt the BBC’s finest live commentator, some of the most enjoyable work in his career came in 2001 during England’s 5-1 ‘Müllering’ of Germany in Munich, where he worked for Capital Gold Sport. The line “England have gone naff in Germany!” was just one of many gems that night.

And now, the bad (and in Mark Lawrenson’s case, the ugly):

10. Guy Mowbray, BBC

It is baffling to many armchair and pub viewers alike why Guy Mowbray continues to be awarded the biggest gigs in football commentary. He cannot bring himself to make a definitive judgement on many controversial incidents and he is usually off the pace with his languid and dull style. He should be afforded some respite from his many critics for his famous “Agueroooooooo” line in the climax to the 2011-12 Premier League season.

9. Chris Waddle, ESPN

Waddle is not shy of making criticisms of current players, but when you are responsible for one of the most painful moments in English football history, you can hardly hide. Alongside Champion at ESPN, he has a tendency to state the obvious and offers tired, useless analysis of live matches.

8. Alan Green, BBC 5Live

Green is another opinionated commentator who has drawn criticism from far and wide. His style is actually listenable and articulate, but he lets himself down by hovering over his criticisms of players for too long – often to the detriment of his output.

7. Robbie Savage, BBC 5Live

Savage has cultivated a punditry career seemingly out of thin air. He certainly uses up a lot of air too, with his frenzied commentary style for 5Live, and offers little or no original analysis. He has also become the voice of 5Live’s 606, which is the perfect place for his dim comments to be hidden amongst others.

6. Craig Burley, ESPN

One of the more enjoyable co-commentators on the list, Burley gets onto the bad side due to his unprofessional nature. He is often guilty of bullying Champion during live matches and, given Champion’s well-respected and insightful commentary, his obvious misplaced dislike for his colleague makes him appear in a bad light.

5. Steve Bower, BBC

Currently being groomed by the BBC for a commentary place in football’s biggest arenas, Bower is unworthy of such a privilege. He rarely gets enthused by big moments in matches and has a distinctly monotone style which feels out of place on Match of the Day.

4. Martin Keown, BBC

Making the grade for the BBC’s Euro 2012 coverage, Keown should count himself lucky that the Beeb ignore the hundreds of tweets about his commentary every time he picks up a co-commentators mic. Littering his calls with errors, mispronunciation and recycled clichés, Keown’s commentary is every bit as cringeworthy as his punditry.

3. Andy Townsend, ITV

There are few plastic Irishmen in this world, and if they are all like Andy Townsend, I hope none of them get a commentary job in their lives. Constantly stating the obvious, Townsend’s only redeeming feature is that he is not afraid to say if a player is offside, rather than the usual “it’s marginal” sitting-on-the-fence attitude.

2. Mark Lawrenson, BBC

“Lawro”, or rather, ‘LOL-o’ is prone to making awful puns and jokes during live commentary for the BBC. A fond wearer of revolting shirts and a model of the balding mullet, a tirade of abuse was directed his way during the Euro 2012 final for what the Twittersphere correctly perceived to be an abhorrent lesson in commentary. That he was partnered with Mowbray for the same match caused many viewers to switch over to ITV or Flog It on BBC2.

1. Mark Bright, BBC

I have no doubt that ‘Brighty’ is a nice enough bloke, but his commentary is useless. He deflates rather than inspires, confuses rather than enlightens and, more importantly, bores rather than delights. It is perhaps testament to the dearth of co-commentating depth-in-strength possessed by the BBC that Bright continues to journey to World Cups and European Championships. Bright is the strongest reason to ditch ex-player co-commentators, but if we didn’t have them, over half of this list would be null and void and I would not be blogging. So thanks Mark, it appears you do have a use after all.