BT Sport has put people on the pitch as it tries to take over, and there were moments last night when Jamie Carragher, leaping out from behind his desk to demonstrate how difficult it is to get tight on Robin van Persie, looked in need of one of his own in Sky’s studio.
BT has made noisy play of its pitch and its hordes of pundits roaming free in the largest studio in Britain, big enough for Steve McManaman to swing a giraffe apparently, but the broadcasting signing of the season will prove to be Jamie Carragher.
It was no risk on Sky’s part to take the boy out of Liverpool as there is so much of the old Liverpool boot room that will always remain part of Carragher. This is a man obsessed with football and – in contrast to the club-house chumminess that sometimes settles on the Match of the Day studio – it comes with due diligence. But Sky knew that anyway.
Carragher’s work rate as a player is already well known in his new line of work. During his stint with ITV at last summer’s Euros, Carragher arrived in Warsaw and insisted on promptly watching a DVD of the match he had missed during his flight. He didn’t miss a kick, and then dished out a few during five-a-side matches among the production team.
He also got on well with Roy Keane, which should make building a relationship with Gary Neville a damn sight easier than operating one of Sky’s analysis screens. Neville wore the button-pressing trousers last night, stepping in for his partner to do the necessary while they chewed over the line-ups pre-match.
There were signs of the newcomer about Carragher, the faint air of alarm whenever he had to use the touch-screens, and the roaming hands. Neville has tamed his since his own early days and now keeps them closer together, as if he was helping granny wind her knitting. In contrast, Carragher’s chop and slash about as if he is trying to get out of the all-enveloping woolly sweater granny’s knitting produced.
But – and this is what Sky gets whether in cricket or football, never mind the gimmicks, the technology and replays as super-slow as a sloth in two minds – it is what is said that counts and Carragher is worth listening to. There is knowledge and there is a pure passion for his sport, one that comes with his voice clambering up an octave when he gets frustrated with what he is seeing. By half-time he was pitch-perfect soprano over Newcastle’s numerous failings.
The job of a football pundit is to tell you something you don’t know. Simple, but too many don’t. Look, Carragher said, when reviewing the weekend’s action, when Everton score both their full-backs are in the six-yard box – Roberto Martinez has already changed their style from David Moyes’ time.
Neville is a teller and now he is sharing a studio with someone of his ilk. There was a little bit of a laugh as well – not always noticeable in Sky’s life-and-death treatment of the Premier League – with a brisk exchange of one-liners.
Neville, on that trouble with marking Van Persie: “He’s like a burglar, you don’t know where he is.” Carragher: “You’d be under the bed.” Neville: “You’d be the burglar.” The only thing being stolen last night was BT’s thunder. Life’s a lot more than a pitch.