“We are better than BT Sport”

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Sitting side by side on high stools in the Monday Night Football studio in front of an invited audience fielding questions from presenter Dave Jones, pundits Roy Keane, Micah Richards, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville doesn’t look much like a crack team in – House analysts rallied to brand Sky Sports’ coverage of the upcoming Premier League season as a boy band announcing a comeback tour prompted by more mid-life crises or a big bill from HMRC.

With Kelly Cates, Emma Saunders and Guardian columnist Karen Carney unavailable due to previous engagements, the empty stool at one end is reserved for one of the original Spice Boys, Jamie Redknapp, who arrives late in an unlikely condition that he will enjoy. bearded Irish bandmate. To be fair, Keane seems in good spirits and looks fit, tanned and extremely lean.

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In fact, so jovial does he appear to be, that when questions are thrown to the floor, it seems as good a time as any to ask if his well-documented, violent, on-pitch “past” with Alfie Haaland could in any way be overshadowed. his judgment when, at some point in the very near future, he is asked to lavish praise or criticism on Erling, the former Manchester City midfielder’s son. As that famous tackle on Haaland the elder demonstrated, Keane is, after all, a man who clearly knows how to hold a grudge.

During an earlier group discussion about City’s new star signing, Keane had been silent as his colleagues took turns discussing the pros and cons of the club’s decision to sign the superstar striker from Borussia Dortmund, but he was quick, first with an eye-catching narrowing. of the eyes, to spoil the notion that he can be anything other than scrupulously fair in future assessments of the player’s Premier League performances.

“I’ll judge by what I see,” he said. “In the game last week Jamie mentioned he missed one or two chances but I thought his movement was absolutely fantastic. He is an absolutely fantastic player; There is no doubt in my mind that he will be a success at Man City and he will score bags of goals. When Phil Foden got the shot last week, if you look at his reactions, he was way ahead of everyone else. So there is no problem for me to talk about a player because I may have had history with his father. I just want to hopefully give him a fair assessment, as I do with all my comments.”

The eventual arrival of an apologetic Redknapp (airport issue) coincides with a discussion of Cristiano Ronaldo’s future whereabouts, and no one on the panel seems any wiser than the rest of us about the player’s short- or long-term future. To a man, they expect him to get regular playing time for United if he fails to force a move. Curiously, the question of the undeniably gifted but aging and increasingly immobile striker’s complete unsuitability for Erik ten Hag’s high-intensity pressing style was resolutely left unaddressed.

With Keane, Richards and Redknapp excused, the remaining trio are left to discuss the Sky Sports institution that is Monday Night Football. The difficulty of coming up with new themes that can be supported or picked apart in the slot after the weekend is increased. In an age where there is an often overwhelming amount of forensic analysis of the game’s often excruciating details available on multiple platforms, it can be difficult to come up with new topics to discuss.

Neville explains that the opening tactical discussion slot on the first episode of Monday Night Football in just over two weeks’ time will be devoted to Manchester United’s new manager and cannot stress enough that it is crucial that he and Carragher do better than anyone else.

During a cost-of-living crisis when many are struggling to make ends meet, I ask what they might say to someone—with apologies to those in far more dire financial straits—who can no longer afford two overpriced TV subscriptions and are forced to choose between Sky and BT Sport.

“We’re better than BT Sport,” says Carragher matter-of-factly. Maybe, but you don’t have the Champions League, comes the counter. “You can see it in the pub,” says Neville, apparently unaware that that particular option will no longer be affordable for many when the multi-thousand pound energy bills start arriving in the post.

“To be fair, this shouldn’t be about BT or Sky,” says Neville. “What they have done in the last seven or eight years is fantastic. They have good pundits, but so do we. I watch Super Sunday on Sky when I’m at home and just think, ‘Wow!’ We have 128 Premier League games and I know I sound like a business now but you have to watch the Premier League. You have to see it.

“It’s every week, it’s at home, so you’d always pick Sky Sports because of that. And it’s not me being anti-BT because I’m not anti-BT.”

His comment prompts a risqué quip from the decidedly unincorporated Carragher, prompting loud laughter, intervention from one of Sky’s PR people and the extract of a reluctant but solemn promise from the Guardian that it would not be reproduced here. “You can quote me on that – isn’t that what Fergie said?” insists Carragher, prompting one of the gag’s two subjects, MNF ringmaster Jones, to emphasize that he would really prefer it if we didn’t.

Sky Sports will broadcast 128 Premier League games exclusively live, starting on Friday

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