The World Cup in Russia has undoubtedly been an unmitigated success.
The tournament has had it all – goals, drama, tension, moments of magic and upsets which have facilitated an energy and enthusiasm amongst the supporters in the stands.
It has been a joy to watch thus far and even England have got involved with the party as they steadily progress into the latter stages of the competition.
Perhaps one of the only downsides to the World Cup so far, for those of us who have had to watch the action unfold from back home via our TV screens, is the undoubtedly poor level of punditry provided by the BBC and ITV.
Both channels have wheeled out a host of ex-players and managers to cover the action in Russia and yet the level of insight provided by these so-called ‘experts’ has been non-existent.
The pundits have a tendency to state the obvious and they rarely provide any informative comments or progressive discussions.
The exception to that rule has been female stars Alex Scott and Eni Aluko, who have always appeared knowledgeable and well-researched whenever they have appeared.
This was emphasised on Tuesday afternoon prior to the contest between Sweden and Switzerland.
Moments before the players were about to walk out on the pitch Phil Neville launched into a bizarre, ill-informed and factually incorrect rant about Stoke City star Xherdan Shaqiri.
Neville told the audience that he was “not a fan of Shaqiri” and that “he was a disgrace at Stoke, his attitude was shocking”.
Why Phil Neville in wrong
Stoke City’s decade-long stay in the Premier League came to an abrupt end in May when relegation was officially confirmed after a chaotic and disappointing campaign.
It is true that the failure of the team was underpinned by issues with poor attitude among certain elements of the squad, although the wider context of managerial mistakes and poor investment in the transfer market had a much greater influence.
However, it makes little sense for Phil Neville to single out Xherdan Sahaqiri as a scapegoat for The Potters’ woes last season.
The diminutive Swiss star was actually one of the club’s star performers and was forced to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the team’s offensive threat throughout much of the campaign.
He was quite often the only source of creativity on the pitch whilst his knack of scoring goals at crucial moments ultimately prolonged the inevitability of relegation.
He was Stoke’s leading scorer, hitting eight goals from midfield, and he created more chances than any other player in the squad, including seven assists.
In short, the Swiss international was responsible for almost half of Stoke’s goals in the Premier League last season.
If Neville thinks that Shaqiri was a disgrace after making that kind of contribution, then I would love to hear his thoughts on some other members of the squad.
Could Shaqiri have done more to aid the cause over the duration of the campaign? Probably – but name me a single player within the squad that consistently produced performances of the highest level last year.
If Neville wants to talk about Stoke players that are a ‘disgrace’ then I can easily identify a number of more worthy candidates.
Like Jese Rodriguez, who made just a handful of appearances despite The Potters paying a large loan fee and a significant portion of the Paris Saint Germain star’s wages.
The 25-year-old was granted compassionate leave to be with his ill son, although it was later revealed that he had refused to return to training when requested and was spending the vast majority of his time partying in Spain.
Or what about Saido Berahino? The striker has yet to score a competitive goal for the club since arriving for £12 million in January 2017 and was publicly criticised for his lack of fitness.
Paul Lambert eventually chose to demote the 24-year-old to the under-23 squad and put his faith in 18-year-old academy graduate Tyrese Campbell instead.
Then there is Charlie Adam. Although no one will question his attitude or application the Scottish midfielder produced a number of costly blunders in the final months of the season.
He missed a last-minute penalty against Brighton in February, which would have won three vital points, and then got himself needlessly sent off in a crucial six-pointer against Everton in March with of reckless challenge.
A ill-informed rant
The point is that Xherdan Shaqiri contributed more to the Stoke City cause in the previous campaign than all of the three aforementioned players combined – and there are plenty more that could have been highlighted as well.
The Swiss international may not be perfect, but to he was easily one of the club’s best performers and without his goals and assists the side would have been relegated by the turn of the year.
He was the only creative player in the team and he certainly carried that responsibility solely on his shoulders as best as he could.
It is apparent from Phil Neville’s comments on Tuesday night that the so-called ‘expert pundit’ has a negative preconceived opinion of Shaqiri.
One can only assume that he either did not see the midfielder play last year, in which case he should do some research, and that he has not bothered to look at the statistics, in which case he should really do some research.
Ultimately, Neville’s ill-informed rant will be of minimal interest to Stoke supporters – Shaqiri has already made it clear that he is set to leave the club in the summer.
However, it does highlight the current absence of quality, knowledge and research when it comes to punditry.