Tonight's the night. At 7pm, England kick off their World Cup campaign in a game against Tunisia. Millions of people will tune in, and millions of opinions on the country's chances will be opined - but who should you listen to? Is Ian more Wright than Wrong when he says that England need to push forward and create more chances? Should Gary Linker stick to hawking crisps rather than opining on England's chances? How can we tell who to listen to?
One good rule of thumb (or heuristic), it turns out, could be that the younger pundits on the TV coverage probably know better than the old guard. Why? Because data.
Last week our sister site TechRadar published this piece I wrote about how data is collected and used in football. I spoke to people from two of the largest sports data companies, Opta and Stats.com - who work with clubs, leagues and the media to provide all of that information about which team has taken the most shots, or has the most possession and so on. And during the conversation, Peter Deeley from Opta made an incredibly interesting point about the people on TV who tell us what to think about each game.
"With a pundit on, say, the BBC or Sky, they've often played the game and understand it from that point of view. and depending on their age they may not have grown up somewhere where they would have had access to data", he explained to me. "Someone like an Alan Shearer or Gary Lineker were playing before data became a big part of the game. But if you look at some of the guys who maybe only came five years after them, data was a part of the game when they were professionals."
"So if you look at the BBC setup, at somebody like Jermaine Jenas, who is part of the Match of the Day team and will be in the World Cup team, because he is 10 years younger than Alan shearer and Gary linker, he is more used to data being part of the game."
In other words - what I'm taking from this is that when it comes to making sense of what they've just watched in the game, younger pundits like Jenas will be better placed to look at the data streaming in from companies like Opta, and will be more able to make sense of it, as they will have performed data analysis as an integral part of their playing career. When he sees the numbers on who has made the most successful passes, or who has moved the ball the furthest distance, he will be better able to intuit what this means.
Conversely, old man Shearer, who was playing back when we thought £15m was a big transfer fee, and old man Lineker, who was pooing on the pitch during the digital stone age, are more likely to be going with their gut rather than making any data driven assessments of the action.
By the time Harry Kane retires in 2024 and gets a job as a pundit on Amazon's football streaming service, Peter notes, the data gap is going to be even more obvious, as Kane will have been presented with data on his performance constantly since his early teens.
So the lesson is clear: Ignore what the old men are saying, and listen to the youngsters, like Jermaine Jenas and Alex Scott instead, if you want to hear analysis that is more likely to stand up to scrutiny as the tournament goes on.