Robin Scott-Elliot: Forever the bridesmaid: Sky Sports takes to the bench for national duty
View from the sofa
Saturday 08 October 2011
If any former footballer could carry off a bridesmaid's dress then I suspect Jamie Redknapp is the one.
It would put him one up on David Beckham for a start. Run through Sky Sports roster of pundits and Redknapp is unchallenged; Ray Wilkins – doesn't have the legs. Gary Neville – what would you do with the hair? Graeme Souness – would you ask him? Glenn Hoddle – just too weird. Poor Sky – not an easy concept either – but they do all the hard miles, trips to Bulgaria, Podgorica and, er, Cardiff, and all without ever getting down the aisle.
They are the biennial bridesmaids, forced to watch as the BBC and ITV breeze in once qualification is done to deliver the finals to an eager nation. One day they will win the rights to the European Championship finals or World Cup finals – money ultimately always wins in football – but for the moment their interest ends after the final qualifier. So this was it, but they had a job to do and went out and did it, as Redknapp might have said.
Last night's frontman David Jones is one of those ushered into to fill Richard Keys' loafers and is a safe choice, with that slickness Sky expect in a presenter – they will never do an Ortis, as it deserves to be known since Channel 4's car crash in Daegu. Jones is a typical Sky choice, safe, solid, professional and difficult to warm to.
With Jones, Redknapp and Hoddle sporting headsets, perched on stools, a raucous and peculiar looking stadium behind them, and a funeral march for an anthem (one that even out-doured "God Save the Queen") there was an old-fashioned air to the night – tricky opponents in a tricky venue in a far-flung corner. "As we say in England," somebody helpfully suggested to Fabio Capello pre-match, "you're not counting your chickens." At times Capello has the air of a man who is counting the days until he can airfreight his chickens back home to Italy and there will be some happy to see him go.
Would you like to see Fabio stay, Jones wondered. "No, not really," said Redknapp. The personable Redknapp, the Alfie of the studio, can be the master of the obvious – "England have to keep the ball when they can" – but occasionally he can let it all hang out, and he did it again at the end when discussing Wayne Rooney. Redknapp was energised last night and produced what counts as pundit poetry when speaking of a nation finding itself while analysing the home side's equaliser.
There appears to be an England effect on pundits. After Capello's side went out of the last World Cup, Alan Shearer had his finest moment on Match of the Day and Hoddle, who can speak with the air of a self-help guru and often spouts about as much sense, caught a touch of the Shearer furies at half-time over England's defence. Hoddle's outburst – as an Englishman he was jolly cross was the gist of it – came as almost as much of a surprise as the first Montenegro goal.
In the first half Martin Tyler, who remains masterly understated, kept it low key even when England scored. He is no rabble rouser, which makes him a rarity in today's commentary boxes. After half-time, with Hoddle round the back doing yoga to regain his self-control, Tyler expertly picked up the tempo to match the sudden appearance of a contest. "It's a qualified success for England," he summed up and that could equally apply to Sky as, for once, there was no way they could emerge the winner.
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