Sidekick Carragher stumbles through Monday Night Football
It would have been very easy to judge Jamie Carragher before the cameras flicked on on Sky Sports’ coverage of Monday Night Football, the final word on the opening weekend of the season.
The former defender’s thick Liverpudlian and intermittent intakes of saliva through his teeth don’t immediately appear to appeal to the small screen but for Sky, nabbing the services of the most recent English Premier League icon to help provide analysis and in depth insight into our most beloved of sports was too big an opportunity to miss.
Sky, over the last two years, have found a phenomenal format for their Monday broadcast of Premier League action before the problems of mid-week European football interrupt our domestic viewing pleasure, and thanks to the efficient and effective hosting of Ed Chamberlin, combined with the in-depth and much admired analysis of football punditry’s new knight in shining armour Gary Neville, Sky Sports have been able to boast the best tactical breakdown of the game on any football show.
There has, of course, been problems in finding a real contender to compete with the dynamic duo and their much loved “SkyPads”, with ITV still parading Adrian Chiles out for Champions League and England International nights as he picks his way through family friendly quips about painted faces in the crowd and tries his best not to agitate Roy Keane into a moment of violence on national television – something many of us have sat their waiting to see since the Irishman first appeared on the ITV Sport set. The BBC, meanwhile, have created a boys clubs of withered old stars who recite the same old criticism of today’s modern football that the majority of them are so removed from that their last pay cheque from a football club probably wouldn’t be enough to buy the boots today’s players wear in training.
ESPN’s failed stumble into Premier League broadcasting was just as dismal as national television’s efforts to engage viewers , but appears like no one really watched intently enough to notice Ray Stubbs, Kevin Keegan and Steve McManaman perched on their stools behind the moveable table, pitch side, at 5.30 on a Saturday night.
Sky have been the kings of the squared screen arena but all has changed this summer as the arrival of BT Vision, while a revamped Match of the Day’s attempts to reinvigorate their traditional Saturday night dose of football highlights with Danny Murphy joining the team to become the BBC's version of Mr Neville..
While BT and MOTD both received, generally, positive reviews on Sunday morning – although BT has insisted on ensuring that every pundit (of which 90% are ex-Liverpool players) on their roster receives some small amount of airtime during a game, with so many different voices flying towards the viewer that we actually have to look away from the action to understand just who’s saying what – Sky were yet to unveil their trump card in the football punditry game until Manchester City’s first clash of the season with Newcastle, with Carragher ready to make his much anticipated debut.
Sky execs may have thought that bringing a former Liverpool player onto their flagship Monday night programme might attract back the most faithful of Liverpool fans, the ones who cancelled their Sky subscriptions at the first sign of a Red Devil arriving to co-anchor the show two years ago. Perhaps they were hoping that Neville and Jamie would banter about in the hot seat, bringing an intelligent footballing brain to contest Neville’s views and spark a real football debate on air.
Whatever the idea, I’m not sure it’s exactly what we got.
The former Liverpool defender spent much of the night searching for words as he tried to wrap his head around his former professional’s decisions on the pitches of the Premier League over the weekend, even struggling to string together the phrase “not good”, when describing Youssouf Mulumbu’s clumsy challenge that lead to Southampton’s match winner at the Hawthorns. We were treated to story after story told in the first person, as Carragher regaled us with tales from the time “I played against him,” before drifting off point with sentences that he often struggled to finish. The former Liverpool captain seemed anxious and confussed at points, and a lot of the time, so was the viewer. Nerves will have come into it but his first live broadcast on the big stage highlighted a step back in Sky’s coverage for the upcoming season.
Neville generally removed himself from passing comment on individual players through personal moments in his career. When many worried he’d favour United on big nights, or sing the praises of Sir Alex and his old teammates throughout his first year, Neville was objectively critical of his old playing partners, understanding that his new role required an impartial eye and that the public would not tolerate anything less than that.
Carragher, though, often referred to Steven Gerard as “Stevie”, or his former side, Liverpool, as “we” which challenged the illusion that he has distanced himself from his former employer enough to bring to the table what Neville has done for the last two years.
We can forgive the thick Scouser accent and the odd fumble with his gadgetry - sometimes technology fails us all and just wait until those cameras in the goal line do the same - but Sky may have failed to find a suitable sidekick for Neville to build a onscreen repartee with. After the reasonable success of BT's opening afternoon of football, while Alan Shearer received high acclaim for finally doing something other than stating the obvious on MOTD, Sky have stumbled for the first time since Richard Keys and Andy Gray were shown the door. The jury’s verdict hasn’t been finalised but Carragher’s second appearance for his new side has to get a lot better than his debut performance.