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TV Wrap - 'Truce' as united Sky pundits savage breakaway plans on night of compelling TV

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville rounded on their own clubs, called for ‘scavenger’ Glazers to be booted out of the game and heard from a bristling Liverpool manager.

THE ONLY THING necessary for the triumph of evil is that good football pundits do nothing.

Thus Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football tossed aside their VR Headsets to better enable them to move to the right side of history, with presenter David Jones opening with a state-of-the-nation-style address down the camera on the latest developments of the European Super League, using the firm, low-octave tone Sky used to reserve for matters such as whether Peter Odemwingie might complete a late move to West Brom.

But everything just got a whole lot more serious, and Sky gave over their broadcast of Leeds United versus Liverpool to an hours-long condemnation of The Super League.

“Good evening. Welcome to a Monday Night Football like no other…”, began Jones. 

It was a compelling if not massively controversial broadcast, but that was more to do with the subject matter. 

Ramming through most of football’s bad ideas to this point has relied on what Clive James called the Barry Manilow Law -”Everyone you know thinks Barry Manilow is absolutely terrible, but everyone you don’t know thinks he’s great” – but it seems there is genuinely nobody willing to support the Super League aside from the small millionaire clan eager to profit from it.

As Gary Neville said, “They’ve managed to unite Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.”

It was a pretty astonishing opening, as punditry was parked for proselytising. Carragher called for the football world to unite; Neville sailed close to clamouring for the seizure of the means of production.

“Football fans, pundits, players, managers, all of us: get together and stop this, because it can be stopped. Going forward we need marches on stadiums, supporters getting together. This cannot be allowed to happen”, began Carragher.

Neville took aim against Joel Glazer at Manchester United. “He’s parked his weasels and he’s come out. When I saw his name on it, I got really worried.

“I feel slightly complicit. I’ve stayed pretty quiet on the Glazer family over the years. I believe in a free market generally in life, but I thought, ‘What’s the answer to the Glazers? Who takes them out? Russia, China, State money?’ I’ve stayed quiet because I can still watch the lads play, and if they take dividends out, I can live with that.

“What I can’t live with is attacking every single football fan in this country. They have stepped over the mark. They are scavengers and they need booting out of the football club and they need booting out of this country.”

Frustratingly, the conversation was subsequently steered back to the dreadful Super League idea, rather than follow the path Neville had started down.

The deeper issue here is less the Bad Idea than the fact a handful of absentee landlords can simply decide to make it; the Super League is a symptom of the underlying condition of all of this, which is the private ownership of football clubs.

This eventually descended into a kind of cognitive dissonance, with Neville later calling on the Abu Dhabi royal family to renege on the deal and sink this power grab with Manchester City’s non-compliance. Unhappy the land that is in need of a sportswashing hero.

But then again, this land has been utterly dysfunctional for decades. Money has placed an insane contradiction at the heart of elite football: the grab for cash to stay afloat has bred untrammelled self-interest in an industry that relies on someone losing.

A sport that only works if someone agrees to lose is run by an industry in which nobody accepts even the possibility of anyone below them winning. 

Carragher rightly addressed this with Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish, who appeared on Zoom from what appeared to be his wine cellar as what may be Britain’s last-surviving landline rang in the background.

Parish is, of course, against the breakaway league, but as Carragher pointed out, last year he turned away from lower-league clubs asking for a bailout by saying, “The supermarkets aren’t instructed to help the corner shops.”

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It was hard to divorce the entire discussion from Sky’s potential self-interest, too: are they simply condemning the Super League because they may not have the financial muscle to be in the mix to broadcast it?

Carragher, in fairness, eventually addressed the Sky issue by wondering aloud whether they may be part of the problem, given they were integral to the breakaway Premier League and putting football behind a paywall.

To point these potential conflicts of interests out is not to invalidate what Parish, Carragher and Neville were saying, however. The self-interested can always pick at the background of an opposition argument and dredge up some allegation of deep irony or hypocrisy, particularly in a world as small as elite football.

But two things can be true at the same time: it may be hypocritical of Sky Sports to condemn a breakaway league, but their condemnation can also be appropriate. It may be ironic that Salford City owner Gary Neville lambasts high-spending private owners, but the content of his argument can still be proper.

You can argue all you like for a purity of opposition, but in the football industry, you’re unlikely to find it.

Jurgen Klopp was left in an invidious position last night, cast as the sole voice of a club pushing plans with which he doesn’t agree and about which he knows little. He nonetheless gave a bad interview post-game, snapping and attacking Neville for criticising Liverpool.

“I don’t know why I’m living in his head, to be honest with you”, replied Neville. “We’re on the same page, but he cannot say what he wants to say, and I can.”

It was an imperfect, admirable but, above all, utterly compelling broadcast.

And if the galaxy brains behind the breakaway are doing so to create great television, they’ve just seen how it’s done.

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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