World Cup 2014: Coping with commentary criticism - Phil Neville

Phil Neville

My World Cup working for the BBC is over, but it has been a wonderful experience.

I have left Brazil to go back to England, and back to my day job as a coach ahead of the new season.

My first tournament as a co-commentator has been a bit like my first as a player - I got my itinerary beforehand and was looking forward to certain games, but I did not really know what to expect.

The intensity of the group stage means you are travelling or working non-stop and, as soon as one game has finished, you start preparing for the next.

I really enjoyed everything about it. I know I got some stick for my co-commentary on England's first game against Italy at the start of the World Cup, but that actually helped me more than anything. I realised what I was doing wrong, and I tried to improve.

Learning the hard way

That game in Manaus was the first live game I had done but I was not just thrown in at the deep end.

Phil Neville's view from his co-commentary position at England v Italy
The view from my co-commentary position for England's game with Italy at the Arena Amazonia

I had done lots of practising off-screen over the previous two months; unfortunately it just did not go as well on the night as I thought it would.

It was straight after the game that I found out the reaction to it all. I went on social media and it was pretty brutal.

I understand why - it was an England game, late on a Saturday night back home, and emotions were running high. And, doing that job, I am there to be shot at.

As a co-commentator, 60% of your job is to get your content right, to see what is happening in the game and the little patterns that are developing. To spot things and give them to the people watching at home.

And the other 40% is in your delivery, which is something I have obviously learned the hard way.

The content of what I was saying was fine, it was just the tone of my voice that was the problem.

I played it back the next day and it did not sound like it was me commentating. I was trying to be somebody I wasn't, and I knew I could do better than that.

I got vilified for it, but I got nothing but total backing and support from the BBC.

Again, it was a bit like being a player again. If I had a bad game I would get criticised but, as long as my manager was on my side, that was what mattered.

Finding my own style

The BBC told me they believed in me and have given me another three live games to co-commentate on since then. I have felt better and better after each one.

And, as bad as I felt on that Saturday night, the public reaction I have had when I have co-commentated since has been amazingly positive.

Social media can do that to you - it can take you so high, as well as so low.

Other media picked up on the Twitter reaction and I felt the best way to deal with the situation was to do what I did the next time I was on air.

I was a pundit in the studio for the United States versus Ghana game and had a bit of fun about it, saying how I had been a fan of social media - until 24 hours ago.

Looking back, what happened had been blown out of all proportion but it was fuel to make myself improve. I accepted it was not my best night and decided I would try to do better.

I spoke to people who have been co-commentating for years and they just told me to be myself, be conversational and make sure I got the range in my voice right.

One of the people I talked to was my brother Gary, who co-commentates for Sky Sports as well as being an England coach, and he just said 'look, in my first couple of months as a co-commentator, I was getting the same stick'.

It is something that obviously takes time to master. You can listen to people who are very good at it but I want my own style, the same as I did when I started working as a pundit.

Why you need to do your research

Phil Neville in the studio with Neil Lennon, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Lineker
In BBC Sport's Rio de Janeiro studio with fellow pundits and production staff

If you look at the panel of people in the studio, they all have different ways of presenting themselves and the information they give.

I think my style in that role is more analytical - I like to look at the game from a tactical point of view and try to give some insight into that.

And, because I have only just finished playing, I have played against a lot of players who are in this tournament.

Phil Neville at the World Cup opening ceremony in Sao Paulo, ahead of Brazil versus Croatia
The World Cup opening ceremony in Sao Paulo, before Brazil versus Croatia

So I can give some anecdotes of how I got on playing against them, and if they have any little movements or tricks that they try to use.

There are always going to be some players you haven't heard of, and also players where you need to get the pronunciation of their names exactly right.

But you pick things up wherever you go.

I have been a coach at Manchester United for 12 months now and went to watch the Netherlands play Colombia in a friendly early last season. It was a nothing game, like those friendlies often are.

The then Norwich manager Chris Hughton went to the game with me, and he told me that sometimes those games are not about the quality of the football. Instead they are about building up an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the players around the world.

It was wonderful advice and it has been the same at this tournament.

A World Cup to remember

There are so many things that will stick in my mind from this World Cup, starting with the first game I did co-commentary on, Brazil's opening match against Croatia.

Being there to see Brazil's players and fans sing the national anthem together was incredible.

Those spectacular goals by Robin van Persie and James Rodriguez got me off my seat, and Tim Cahill's volley for Australia against the Netherlands stands out too.

World Cup 2014: Tim Cahill nets stunning volley for Australia

Having played with him at Everton, Tim has probably been my closest friend for the past eight years and we still speak pretty much every other day even though he lives in New York now.

To see him score a goal like that was brilliant. I spoke to him after the game and he was on cloud nine. It will go down as one of the great World Cup goals of all-time and I am so pleased for him.

And I was really proud at the England-Italy game to look down from my commentary position and see my brother Gary on the pitch, warming the team up.

Take away the fact I was there working as well, and it was the first time I have been at a game and seen him do that, so it was pretty special.

Phil Neville was talking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan in Rio de Janeiro