Most fans of English football in the United States have no clue what they are missing. Unless, that is, they are using alternative means to watch soccer matches broadcast on Sky Sports.
Sky Sports coverage is universally applauded for shows such as: Soccer Saturday, The Footballers Football Show, Sunday Supplement, and Goals on Sunday (I would like to add Soccer AM to this list, but I’m not sure how many people understand the comic genius of “The Hairy Strikers” and “Away Days”). But Sky’s most impactful show in recent years has been Monday Night Football.
Sports fans in the States are accustomed to the hosts and analysts on a show being frantic, argumentative, blustery, self-indulgent, and empty. Despite their wealth of coverage, ESPN and FOX have had a tendency to cater their programming to the lowest common denominator. To speak plainly, they dumb down the discussions and stick to tabloid topics. Sometimes it seems as though it’s more important for their commentators to divulge their personal Twitter handles than it is to actually analyze a topic.
There are good programs with solid analysis. ESPN’s Baseball Tonight is filled with frank discussions and solid opinions/analysis from former professionals. FOX’s NASCAR coverage is strong and really does a good job of reflecting the audience in a positive light (for those who are unaware, NASCAR audiences are huge in the US; NASCAR races are an event to be seen in person… they are breathtaking).
But Sky Sports “Ford Monday Night Football” is the benchmark.
The original show was broadcast from 1992-2007 and it was mainly shown on Sunday (Ford Super Sunday). It was revamped and reinvented, then brought back to life in August 2010. During the first few years, Sky tried different announcers in the lead chairs. Richard Keys, Andy Gray, David Jones, Ben Shephard, and Ed Chamberlain have all spent time in the studio. But in August 2011, Ed Chamberlain and Gary Neville took over the positions and flourished. Since then, the program has been a “must see” event for footballing fans.
Chamberlin is an ideal host and complements Neville perfectly. He raises the points of discussion, lets Neville talk, and asks appropriate questions to carry the discussions forward.
Neville has been a revelation to sports punditry. Who knew that the former Manchester United defender would be such a natural analyst? He will be the first to admit that he doesn’t have a face for television, but his opinions and analysis are second to none. He can break down situations on a telestrator while explaining his thoughts as clearly as a first team manager to a television audience. It is easy to see why Neville was snatched up as a coach by the English National Team.
Neville also has shown an ability to make statements that end up being newsworthy without coming off as an attention-seeker. His opinions are just that, his opinions.
“He plays football like he’s being controlled by a 10-year-old on a Playstation” – Neville was quoted as saying about Chelsea’s David Luiz.
“He’s not staring at him because he fancies him. Believe me.” – Neville was describing Nemanja Vidic’s stare at United goalkeeper David de Gea after he conceded a late-tying goal at White Hart Lane.
There is an ease to the program. Chamberlain and Neville complement each other and give the audience a feeling of genuine like between the two. At times they playfully jibe each other while giving the audience no indication that this jibing is forced fun…like many other sports programs.
This season, Sky added former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher to the studio. At first there was a concern that Sky was attempting to bring some fire to the studio by having two former rivals face-to-face. But that was quickly dismissed after the first show.
Carragher has been the perfect addition. The playful interaction between all three in-studio personalities has been turned up a notch while still maintaining a genuine feel. Neville and Carragher take quiet shots at each other’s career while also sharing honest opinions and having solid discussions. All this while Chamberlain leads them through topics, then sits back to let them do the work. Viewers get the feeling that Chamberlain is quietly smiling at how lucky he is to be hearing two former Champions League winners discuss their opinions in front of him.
Today’s show undoubtedly provided some more quality sound bites. Previous shows have never failed at this. For those of you lucky enough to view MNF live on your television, sit back and enjoy something that might never be duplicated (rumor is Neville may have to leave in a year or so because of his National Team duties). The rest of us will have to find “alternative means” to view the show or wait for clips to be posted on YouTube.
For those who want a taste, here are some YouTube clips (some of the quality may not be the best):
The “Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard” discussion
This season’s EPL Preview
The Gary Neville “masterclass” on Diving (quality not great)