Football: Bitten by the pro-Keegan bug

When the great man finally falls from his lofty pedestal there's going to be one hell of a mess
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The Independent Online
IF SKY SPORTS had its way, Kevin Keegan would have emerged into the Wembley sunshine on Saturday recumbent on a cushion-strewn litter borne by Nubian slaves. During the match, women in gold-leaf bikinis would have popped peeled grapes into Keegan's mouth, while eunuchs wafted him gently with palm fronds and a shaven-headed warrior in a leather thong retrieved his dropped aitches. "Please have these back, almighty Keegan-ness," he would have said, every time Keegan murmured "I 'ope 'oddle's watching this."

In other, plainer words, Sky overdid the Keegan worship a shade. And let me remind you that I myself praised Keegan to the heavens a week ago, recalling the heroic determination with which he overcame the odds to win a Superstars heat in 1976, and exclusively predicting - well perhaps not exclusively - that he would mastermind a convincing England victory over Poland. So I am all for promoting the KK Cult. But a box in the corner of the screen, counting down the seconds under the words "Time to Keegan kick-off"? A sentimental Princess Diana-style montage of Keegan clips, accompanied by Keegan singing? Mark my words, when the great man finally falls from his lofty pedestal - as fall he inevitably will, for sadly they all do - there's going to be one hell of a mess.

In the run-up to the match, Sky fished far and wide for Keegan compliments, interviewing not only the Swedish manager but even his assistant Lars Lagerback, who knows a thing or two about inspirational qualities, for it is well-known that he reaches the parts other Lagerbacks cannot reach. Les Ferdinand added that Keegan was "without a shadow of a doubt, the best manager I've worked with." I wonder whether George Graham will have a word in Ferdinand's ear, perhaps in the same way that Mike Tyson closed in on Evander Holyfield's ear, at the Spurs training ground this morning?

In the studio, Stuart Pearce and Trevor Francis offered their assessments of Keegan's England. Sky are cultivating Pearce carefully and he is growing into an impressive pundit, although he occasionally makes the mistake of trying to speak posher than what comes natural. Richard Keys - the only man I know whose five o'clock shadow has a five o'clock shadow - wondered whether Sherwood would get forward much. "I must profess that I probably wouldn't know," said Pearce, trying desperately, bless, his reinforced shin-pads, to steer his Estuary English up-river.

Increasingly, football punditry is almost as entertaining as the game itself. During last year's World Cup, I recall Gary Lineker asking David Ginola if he thought the Colombian coach, by sending home Faustino Asprilla, had cut off his nose to spite his face. Ginola's own face was a picture. He hadn't heard there were knives involved.

The only pundit who consistently fails to be entertaining is Trevor Francis, who makes the Speaking Clock sound like Robin Williams live at the Met. Francis has a voice which, responsibly harnessed, could stamp out insomnia all over the world. On Saturday, his most interesting insight was that Keegan used to enjoy a game of cards with his Old England room-mate Trevor Brooking. "Really?" said Richard Keys, enthusiastically, as if Francis had revealed that Keegan and Brooking were partial, just before lights- out, to a spot of nude wrestling. Keys then cued up a commercial break. "When we come back we'll be in the court of King Kevin," he said. And so the veneration continued.

I should add, at this point, that I think Sky's coverage of football is terrific. If anyone doubts their commitment to the game, it is worth recalling the Rochdale v Hull City trailer that popped up during the England v France game, just after Zidane had hit a laser-pass into the path of Anelka. Similarly, on Saturday Keys briefly interrupted his ode to King Kevin to plug the next big footballing occasion on Sky Sports 2, Crewe Alexandra v Birmingham City.

Moreover, in Martin Tyler and Andy Gray, Sky have the Cole-Yorke or even the Keegan-Toshack of commentary-box partnerships. If Tyler has a fault, it is only that he sometimes allows his bias to eclipse his judgement. "Put it this way, a very handy goal for Paul Scholes," he quipped of England's second, which from where I was sitting in the third row of the upper tier of my living-room sofa, was assisted by a hand ball only slightly less outrageous than Diego Maradona's against England in the 1986 World Cup. Of course, crimes have always been talked up by the victim and played down by the perpetrator. It the Poles had scored such a goal to take a 2-0 lead, there would have been hell to pay. But they didn't, and now, roll on Sweden. If we win that one, I'll peel a grape for Keegan myself.