Jeff Stelling names his dream Sky Sports Soccer Saturday line-up with the presenter set to leave come the end of the 2021/22 season.
It think we can all agree that Saturday afternoons won’t be the same whether watching the show be it from the comfort of our own home or inside stadiums as the scores come on.
Since 1994, the presenter has anchored the show with his unique wit and encyclopedic footballing knowledge which has made it what it is today, although with some of his fellow mates leaving a few years ago, it’s now in steady decline.
And now after 27 years, Jeff Stelling has announced this season would be his last in the host’s seat, with speculation continuing over who his replacement will be.
“I have loved every moment of my 30 years with Sky, but like every Saturday afternoon the time eventually comes to blow the final whistle,” he said on Sky Sports last month.
“I am proud to have been part of such a winning team for so long and look forward to the many more special moments on Soccer Saturday for the rest of this season – and perhaps even another promotion push from Hartlepool United.”
Stelling hasn’t confirmed the reason behind his exit, and he has since hit out at reports that suggested it stems from the decision to axe his co-hosts as part of a major shakeup – with pundits Matt Le Tissier, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas were all moved on in August 2020.
The trio, along with Stelling and Paul Merson had a long-running line-up, with the former admitting their departure was one of his “saddest days” with the broadcaster.
“They have been part of a team that for me was the best,” Stelling posted on social media shortly after the news broke.
But Stelling’s dream punditry line-up could even give that great quintet a run for their money.
Appearing on Sky Sports’ Super 6 podcast in 2020, Jeff names his dream Sky Sports Soccer Saturday line-up.
“Brian Clough would be one,” Stelling began. “Cloughie was on some of our early shows you know, but he was so dangerous to have him on.
“You never knew what he was going to say or what kind of language he was going to say it in. He was brilliant, brilliant value.”
With his first choice done, he then picked 13-time Premier League winner Sir Alex Ferguson and one of his biggest rivals Arsene Wenger.
“He’s amazing. He knows everything that you need to know,” he explained. “He’s a man of the people as well and everybody respects him.
“And just to make it really interesting, sitting next to Sir Alex, I’d have to have Arsene Wenger. I think the two of them – they’d be very much like when Rodney Marsh used to sit next to Frank McClintock and Rodney would call Frank ‘a dopey defender’.
“It was great because there was a clash between them, they were friends, as I think Arsene and Sir Alex are now, but they had different philosophies.”
Picking the last member, Stelling admitted he had not selected any of his old colleagues because if he left anyone out they “would all hammer him”.
So with a selection the man himself admitted was “controversial”, Stelling picked a “politician, who knows his football, but is incredibly opinionated. Alastair Campbell”.
“He’s a massive Burnley fan,” Stelling explained. “He went to a Hartlepool game with Lord Mandelson, who was president of Hartlepool at the time and Tony Blair.
“As the teams came out, Tony Blair said to Lord Mandelson: ‘Which ones are Hartlepool?’, and the president of the club didn’t know!”
Also in 2020, Jeff admitted that it will be difficult for women to appear on the show due to the sickening abuse they receive.
When asked by the Guardian whether women would struggle on the show he said: ‘Oh God, yes. The response on social media is horrendous. Whether it be Sue Smith or Alex Scott the criticism is horrendous and totally unjustified.
‘When we had Soccer Specials, some of the women who’d come in had been very reluctant.
‘They knew what the response would be, regardless of how good they were. There’s this blinkered idea – ‘It’s a woman, what can she know about football?’
‘Twenty years ago I was also sceptical. But my view has changed and obviously we’ve had very good reporters like Michelle Owen, Bianca Westwood and Jacqui Oatley. They’re really experienced.’
Stelling was also asked at the time whether he considered resigning after his ‘best mates’ were sacked.
‘It would be honest to say that,’ he added. ‘Yes, of course. Whether I want to effectively start again is another question.
‘We’ve done it with the first team we had – Bestie [George Best], Marshy [Rodney Marsh], Frank [McLintock] and Clive [Allen] and then we built another team [with his three sacked friends and Paul Merson]. I’m 65. I’ve had a fantastic run.’
A year later, he made the call to leave, saying in October 2021: “I have come to the incredibly difficult decision that this will be my last season.
“This is my decision – there has been no pressure. Sky have been absolutely brilliant with me, as they always have been.
“I am not intending to retire but it is time to let somebody else have a go at what is the best job in the world.”
“I have loved every moment of my 30 years with Sky, but like every Saturday afternoon the time eventually comes to blow the final whistle,” added Jeff. “I am proud to have been part of such a winning team for so long and look forward to the many more special moments on Soccer Saturday for the rest of this season – and perhaps even another promotion push from Hartlepool United.”
Jonathan Licht, the Managing Director of Sky Sports, added: “Jeff is a true broadcasting legend and has been a big part of Sky Sports’ growth and popularity over the last 30 years. Jeff’s pure passion and dedication to the game has set him apart and made Soccer Saturday a fixture for millions of fans every Saturday afternoon. The goals, the laughs, the red cards and the missed red cards have helped create one of the most popular TV shows in sport and Jeff has been the centrepiece of that.
“Jeff will be sorely missed, but we are delighted that he will leading the team through to the end of the season. There will rightly be many tributes to Jeff, and Sky Sports will be giving him the great send off in May that his remarkable and enduring contribution deserves.”
WHAT THE BOOKIES SAYING?
Betfred released odds on who they think Stelling’s replacement will be, with Sky Sports News presenter Julian Warren unsurprisingly leading the betting at 11/10.
Looking for a bit of a longer shot? Warren’s Sky Sports colleague Dave Jones is a 7/2 shout. Jones currently hosts Super Sunday and Monday Night Football, however, and it seems unlikely that he would either give up that position to move to Soccer Saturday or do it alongside his current presenting commitments.
Following up in the market is Hayley McQueen (6/1) and Laura Woods (8/1), both of whom have enjoyed hugely successful careers at Sky Sports.
Kelly Cates is one of the most well-known and respected presenters at the broadcaster and regularly hosts some of the biggest Premier League matches for the London-based broadcaster.
The 46-year-old is 12/1 to take over from Stelling, before a break in the betting sees BBC Sport’s Gabby Logan introduced at 25/1 – the same price as David Garrido; Adam Leventhal; Tom White; Pete Graves and Kirsty Gallacher.
Soccer Saturday veteran Chris Kamara is a 66/1 outsider, while Match of the Day stalwart Gary Lineker is 100/1 alongside ex-players turned pundits Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville.
As Jeff Stelling names his dream Sky Sports Soccer Saturday line-up, who would you have? Let us know via our socials!