Richard Keys: 'Sky have done their money. The novelty of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher will wear off and then what?'

The Al Jazeera presenter tells Jack Pitt-Brooke where Sky are going wrong, why he loves life in Qatar and how Andy Gray is 'the best, the Daddy of them all'

 

Back working alongside Andy Gray – "the best, the Daddy of them all, the guy who invented it", back presenting Premier League and Champions League football, but now for Al Jazeera, in Qatar, Keys is firmly committed to his new employer and his new home. "And I have no intention whatsoever of leaving here. None at all. And my target is 2022. And I know Andy feels the same."

The enthusiasm for his new life is real, certainly, but it is still difficult to shake the sense of Keys as English football broadcasting's deposed king in exile, still very aware of changes in his old domain, and wondering out loud whether things might be better were he still in charge.

There is a new generation on Sky Sports now, men in their 30s who have taken over Gray's and Keys' old seats. Sky believe they have moved on. Keys, though, is not reluctant to offer advice to his old employers or to the men they replaced him with.

"When [Sky Sports] were signing left, right and centre, I said, 'I wouldn't do that'. Sky have done their money. They've done their money on [Gary] Neville and [Jamie] Carragher and [Graeme] Souness and they haven't got the money to pay anyone else. And with the regularity of those three, the novelty will wear off."

Not that this upsets Keys; that leaves more guests to go on Al Jazeera. "We have had a whole host of people come and see us. Keegan, Shearer. Hoddle is coming. We've had Peter Reid. We've had David Platt. Peter Schmeichel is coming. Terry Venables is coming," Keys says. "David O'Leary has just come back. Mark Hateley has been here. You name them. If they haven't been, they will be coming."

Keys makes clear that there is nothing personal to his critique of the new regime. Neville is a "terrific fella" and "very, very good at what he does". Carragher is a "terrific fella and a football student". Indeed, he cannot quite fully distance himself from them.

Neville, according to Keys, owes him his television career. "He was my idea. Me and Geoff Shreeves. We sat with him in Manchester over a bowl of chips. We went and saw Giggsy over the same weekend and said to them both, 'Whichever one of you retires first, come and join us'. I went to [then-Sky managing director of sport and news] Vic Wakeling – Shreevesy was as much a part of it – saying, 'One or other of those two would be perfect'."

Keys says he is "delighted" for Neville, but not so much that he holds back from questioning his objectivity. "I don't think he can serve both masters – Sky and England," he says. "He was having a little pop at David De Gea and seven days later Joe Hart was every bit as bad and worse, and yet he didn't get out his microscope and dissect his performances. If it was because he's the England goalkeeper, only he can tell us. You can't serve both masters honestly, fairly, and without compromise in my opinion. He's got to do one or the other."

The new Monday Night Football set-up, with Neville and Carragher, is shrugged off. "I just don't know if that formula works the way they want it to now. We used to bring guests in occasionally when Andy and I were doing it. It never worked. Too many people in the same place trying to say the same thing."

So too Jamie Redknapp's new Saturday Night Football, with studio audience. "We tried an audience on Monday Night Football 10 years ago. And it failed. It failed miserably. There aren't too many new ideas in television, but they've regurgitated this. I know what they've tried to do. They've tried to emulate the Top Gear format, which is sensational. The boys do that brilliantly. But it's a different show. It's their call."

So it is not desperately surprising when Keys makes clear his sympathies with BT's challenge to his former employer. "I do wish BT all the very best. There are a lot of good guys there," he says, bemoaning the "one-sided battle" between the two.

Keys is a rather unlikely insurgent, though, given how proud he is of his old role protecting Sky from new rivals. But now he is gone, he – with not much regret – imagines that Sky might be newly vulnerable to competition. "One of the things that was overlooked was the fact that of course – and I don't say this with any arrogance, it's just a fact – with any previous challenge, Andy and I have been there, it was the establishment. It saw off challenges almost as if they hadn't happened. Everything has changed now. There is a lot of youth about the place."

This is a favoured theme. "Andy Melvin – who was the genius behind most of what Sky did – he always used to give me the analogy of a 747 pilot. When you wander on to a 747 and you see a grey-haired pilot, it looks like he's got a few miles on his clock, been round the world a few times, you feel safer with him. A youthful pilot might not have encountered the same problems. There is a place for experience. It is a commodity money can't buy. Perhaps they need to think carefully in that respect."

Keys, clearly, is still unhappy with the "outrageous" way his time at Sky ended. "If there is anybody walking the planet now who hasn't put all the pieces together, I'd be very surprised," Keys says. "I said at the time, there were some fairly dark forces operating against whatever I tried to do."

Describing the public reaction at the time as a "furore", Keys is no fan of aspects of the British media. "They say we have a free press in the UK. I'm not sure that we do. We have a press owned by too few, that can manipulate public opinion any which way they like."

Fortunately for Keys, he is in Qatar now, where there is not quite the same media culture. "I am pleased not to be part of that, it's a huge thing for me, to live in a country now where that sort of hypocrisy doesn't exist. It just doesn't exist."

So to speak: Keys phrases

A whole host of people come and see us. Keegan, Shearer, Hoddle, Venables... You name them. If they haven't been, they'll be coming.

On guests for his new show

I just don't know if that formula works... We used to bring guests in occasionally when Andy and I were doing it. It never worked.

On Sky's Monday Night Football Show

Andy and I saw off challenges almost as if they hadn't happened. Everything has changed now. There is a lot of youth about the place.

On the challenge from BT Sport

We tried an audience on Monday Night Football 10 years ago. And it failed. It failed miserably.

On Jamie Redknapp's Saturday show

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