Last week Agnew faced one of the trickier tasks of his new career so far, interviewing the England coach, David Lloyd, on Sportsnight (BBC 1) after England's failure to remove Duckman Danny in Auckland.
Fronting the programme back in London, Lineker gets much more exposure to the viewing public, and is presumably rewarded accordingly. But Agnew's job is more complex, demanding not only fluency and technical skill but a combination of diplomacy and the reporter's instinct for a story. The stakes are higher, too: if Lineker upsets a footballer he gets called a jellyfish. If Agnew annoys Atherton or Lloyd into curmudgeonly silence he is likely to be called unemployed.
Hence the delicacy of his exchange with Lloyd last week. Agnew's tone was softly insistent, the approach of a doctor imparting bad news to a stubbornly disbelieving patient. His back was to the camera, which focused on Lloyd's face. Rather uncomfortably, in fact, for what we saw was the troubled countenance of a man attempting to make light of almost unbearable pressure.
While he spoke, in those flat, emphatic vowels, his voice carried conviction even if what he said was beyond belief. But it was when he was listening to his questioner that his vulnerability showed through. Each enquiry, each subtly veiled allegation, caused a minute but palpable flinch, as if a fast, short ball had rattled his invisible helmet.
What made the encounter the more poignant were memories of Lloyd sitting alongside Agnew as a Test Match Special summariser, back in the days when the Lancastrian was chirpy rather than chippy, perceptive rather than paranoid. How he must long for those times now.
Lloyd's powerful determination to defend his players does him credit, but his zeal has carried him beyond credibility into a parallel universe where the past conditional is the compulsory tense, where victory "would have been brilliant" if only it had been achieved, and where the press are "mad" to criticise the players. Pity poor David, demented in the line of duty, and give credit to Agnew for not mocking the afflicted.
"It would have been terrific if we had got them out," Lloyd concluded. Back in London, Lineker chuckled smugly. "It certainly would," he said. "And less embarrassing." This from a bloke who dresses up in women's clothing to flog crisps. To paraphrase the saying: "People in class blouses..."
We pass on from former sportsmen to those still plying their trade, and a special international edition of The Footballers' Football Show (Sky), featuring Franck Leboeuf of France and Chelsea, the Dane Mikkel Beck of Middlesbrough, and the Norwegian Jan Fjortoft, late of Boro and now at Sheffield United.
The question that the host, Brian Woolnough, wanted to put to them all was: "Why are you here?" to which the obvious answer would have been "Because Sky pay our wages, you plonquer." But this was a refined discussion - terrifyingly so, given that it was being conducted in the players' second languages - and their reasons for coming to play in this country had nothing to do with anything so grubby as cash.
"Coming to London is good for my children," Leboeuf suggested. "It is good for my coolture." The northern duo, used to a different kind of cool, nodded enviously.
Beck noted that English stadia were much more intimate than the arenas he had been used to when he played in Germany, which often had running tracks between players and fans. How he had managed to notice this through his roller-blind fringe was not revealed; perhaps he can just hear that the fans are closer, or maybe his team-mates have pointed it out.
Turning to Fjortoft, Woolnough once again posed his imaginative question: "So Jan, what was it that brought you to this country?" Pausing for a moment, the striker replied: "Hoorgy bloorgy hoorgy, bloorgy hoorgy boorp," before collapsing into a fit of the giggles. "I just thought I would try some Norwegian on you," he explained, as Woolnough's blood pressure headed back towards normal. Shortly thereafter he proved himself superior to many English speakers (including a fair proportion of the native population) by pronouncing Hednesford correctly. How well do you think Peter Beardsley, for instance, would cope with pronouncing Lrdalsoyri, for instance?
Linguistic skills aside, all three players were witty and thoughtful contributors to the discussion, a worrying notion for the would-be English heirs to Lineker. It's not enough these bloody foreigners coming over here and mucking up our playing careers, they may be thinking: now they've got designs on our retirement jobs as well.Reuse content