Robin Scott-Elliot: Staring in vain to discover a ray of football enlightenment

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The Independent Culture

Big Train, for those outside a handful of aficionados, was a wonderfully surreal sketch show of a decade or so ago. It also frequently had a sporting theme, most notably combining the two with a sketch that featured the artist formerly known as Prince stalking a herd of jockeys in the Serengeti before pouncing to make his kill.

Its most regular sporting feature was the World Staring Championship, with commentary by Barry Davies and someone who sounded very much like Ray "Very Much So" Wilkins. It was the real Barry Davies but unfortunately not the real Ray. Whoever was the voice of the pundit – "That's quality staring, Barry" – had Ray, for it can only have been Ray he was basing his act upon, very much down to a T.

The odd thing about Wilkins, who was on duty in Milan on Tuesday, is that while he never fails to come across as a thoroughly likeable fella, another Rayism, he brings minimal enlightenment to the viewer. It's strange because this is the man of whom it is said his sacking has caused Chelsea's disintegration this season. Perhaps his monotone team talks left the players so desperate to get out of the dressing room they charged on to the pitch and made mincemeat of the opposition.

Wilkins pundits much like he used to play; safely. It is one of the curiosities of watching football on TV that it is often impossible to work out how some pundits managed success as coaches as they offer such limited insight. Kevin Keegan is another example and, given his capacity to make the wrong call, when he backed Everton to win the shoot-out against Chelsea on Saturday there was talk of stopping the contest there and then and sending Chelsea through to the next round.

Putting Keegan on the spot during England's penalty shoot-out against Argentina in 1998 is said to be one of the late Brian Moore's biggest professional regrets. Moore urged Keegan to say whether David Batty would score. "Definitely," said Keegan. On Saturday it was Rebecca Lowe, the Stubbslite of ESPN, who put him on the spot. This time he got it right, but Keegan remains very much so in the in-one-ear-out-the-other pundits XI. Keegan pondered which team had the better keeper: "Cech's a big, big man in goal – I'm not saying Howard isn't because he is."

The nagging problem with criticising Wilkins and Keegan is it feels like scolding a wide-eyed puppy. That is not an issue when it comes to Robbie Savage, although that's not meant as an encouragement to be cruel to Afghan hounds.

Savage is one of the BBC's up-and-coming pundits but combines saying little of note with the belief that he is the funniest man to come out of Wales since Lembit Opik. A Savage joke involves finding it a giggle that Everton's Bilyaletdinov is going off, in fact so amusing it's worth repeating several times.

On ESPN Chris Waddle mentioned repeatedly that Everton players had done a big shift, which gets pretty close to one perception of Savage.

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