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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: No handshake for Evra and no love lost between the partisan pundits at Sky


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Think about this for a second. How many times do you think you have seen Luis Suarez’s hand this weekend? Ten times? Twenty? A hundred? I’m sure I’ve seen his wandering hand more than I’ve seen my own two in the past 48 hours, such has been the swirling media-frenzy since he refused to settle his differences with Patrice Evra before the big United/Liverpool showdown on Saturday.

The much-anticipated first meeting of Evra and Suarez since their acrimonious falling out certainly lived up to the hype and of course, like a boozy teenager with a camera phone filming an old lady being mugged, the Sky cameras were there to capture all the unpleasantness for posterity. Despite continually preaching the desire to concentrate on the football, the assembled panel for Live Ford Football Special couldn’t help but bang on about Suarez and Evra throughout. Mind you, they were a fiery bunch; Gary Neville continuing with his dastardly plan to infiltrate every Sky Sports programme that is broadcast – I’m telling you, it won’t be long until he’s charging around in a speedboat on Sky Sports 4’s Sea Master Sailing, imploring the shaggy-bearded captains to show more passion.

Joining Red Nev was his former Manchester United team-mate Darren Fletcher, himself not averse to the odd barney or two; and Jamie Redknapp, in this instance with his foot in Liverpool’s camp. And he needed to be with the ‘team United’ boys sitting next to him. I don’t like to use the word ‘biased’ because it carries with it strong connotations of unfair preference which should not be a factor in football broadcasting; instead I’ll use the words ‘very biased’. Because let’s face it, sticking two such staunch United voices against the lone jabbering of Jamie Redknapp is a little like locking a couple of rabid lions up with a lobotomised rabbit and hoping for cogent debate.

And we didn’t really get that. All of the finger pointing and back-and-forth of the pre and post match discussions could be summed up by a couple of statements. Neville’s position was essentially: ‘fighting is good’, Fletcher’s was ‘why am I here?’, and Redknapp’s was: ‘I’m going to disagree with everything those two say, even if it makes me look a fool’. His suggestion that Rio Ferdinand should have been sent off for an obviously good challenge on Suarez in the first half was particularly embarrassing.

There was entertainment elsewhere in the coverage too (curiously again though, not on the football field); the post-match interview with Kenny Dalglish in which yet again he did his uncanny impression of a surly drunk – it’s actually quite incredible that Kenny’s increasingly churlish demeanour is making him look an even bigger arse than Fergie. It should be said here that Sky’s Geoff Shreeves did well not to shirk asking Dalglish the important questions in the interview, even when he was brusquely riposted. Shreeves was handsomely rewarded for his courage though, as he saw his interview replayed later that evening on Match Of The Day.

So, despite all the protestations from Sky’s team to only concentrate on the football match, I haven’t been able to mention anything that happened in the game. Rooney’s goals, Ferdinand’s comedy fall after only twenty seconds and Alan Smith’s default setting of giving Rooney his man of the match award to name a few. Seriously, ‘Wazza’ could lob a firework into the crowd and spend the whole game defecating in the dugout and Smith would still hand him the champagne. No, the match at Old Trafford will be remembered for the off-the-field antics and the rigorous deliberations that followed. Indeed, it was Redknapp who had the last word over the studio tensions between the partisan pundits: ‘we could all sit here like robots’ he argued. He’s obviously been watching Southgate and Chiles on ITV.

Speaking of muppets, we were peculiarly treated to the unexpected sight of Kermit and Miss Piggy opening Saturday lunchtime’s Football Focus and no that’s not a metaphor for Martin Keown and Gabby Logan. It was a strange show all round; with all of the dramatic goings-on unfolding at that very moment at Old Trafford, Dan Walker and his team were right in the thick of the action in… erm, Sunderland.

To be fair though, they were far more interested in the other big footballing story of the week: the resignation of Fabio Capello. Lots of fevered talk ensued in which everyone jumped on the runaway bandwagon adorned with Harry Redknapp’s name, and it’s difficult to argue isn’t it? Perhaps the most compelling argument for Redknapp’s case came from national treasure and autocue admirer Gary Lineker: ‘England should go for an English manager’, he stated. ‘All the other big nations do that’. You see, all this time you’ve been wondering what Glenn Roeder and Bryan Robson are up to now; turns out they’re over there managing Brazil and Spain.

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Chris Pettitt

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