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02nd Oct 2019

In appreciation of Sky Sports’ pundit Mount Rushmore

Kyle Picknell

There they sit, the four dancing horsemen of the apocalypse or the Mount Rushmore of punditry, depending on your own personal preference, arranged around David Jones like he’s the doomsday button in an underground war room

They, of course, are the panel deciding whether the earth lives or dies. Carragher, Souness, Mourinho and Keane. Four names deeply entrenched in the modern footballing hive mind, appearing on our televisions every weekend to tell us who is running hard enough, who isn’t, why the Manchester United players are still terrible (the answer? They just are) and to, above all else, semi-politely argue amongst themselves.

I mean, this is why we watch isn’t it? In the lingering hope that Carragher and Souness will kick off, or Keane and Souness, or Mourinho and Souness, or Keane and Keane, Keane with himself, Roy Keane just scowling and muttering and slowly pulsating in the Sky Studios swivel chair, growing an ever-deepening shade of scarlet, a man who can seemingly only react to things with varying degrees of disgust, an emotional spectrum that ventures from mild to complete disgust with nothing but a quiet, simmering fury in between.

Is it analysis we are watching or in fact a kind of punditry pantomime, a Samuel Beckett play about four men trapped in a timeless chasm of a room, grinding each other down with their respective idiosyncrasies? The words “quality” and “mentality” every other sentence; Mourinho’s slow, philosophical drawl in the corner and the four bulging, popping eyes of Keane and Souness, two gigantic feral badgers locked in with them.

Sky know what people like and what people like is: Graeme Souness’s head falling off because Paul Pogba can’t carry Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay for 90 minutes in central midfield. What people like is: Jose Mourinho being a bit sulky, a bit surly, a bit wise. What people like is: Mourinho slagging off his former club in that lyrical, abstract poetry that drips from his mouth.

What people like is: four football men huffing and puffing and interrupting and sighing and exhaling through their nose and shifting uncomfortably in their grey and navy suits and trying to resolve the unresolvable through faux-civilised discussion with the spectre of an empty football ground looming behind them. This is what people like. This is science. This is fact.

Here, for instance, is a moment that went viral from last week’s showdown as Roy Keane interrupts: “But Jamie you just said almost winning a title. You didn’t win a title”, whilst Carragher is left just to sit there and nod and gaze back into the abyss that has come alive and is now interrupting him to make some kind of point about winning.

On Monday, Roy Keane joined Carragher for his first-ever MNF, now every bit as much a part of the Great British footballing constitution as its older brothers Soccer Saturday (not soccer though, is it?), and Super Sunday (not always super though, is it?). Given that Carragher and Keane were in the studio for Manchester United versus Arsenal, now firmly a midtable fixture, they had a lot to make up for. The game itself – a rain-sodden 1-1 that included one of the worst offside decisions ever made and a Scott McTominay banger – was messy. It played out like a spontaneous jumpers-for-goalposts football match in the park, but specifically that last 10 minutes before it gets dark and you have to go home for tea (turkey dinosaurs, crinkle chips, spaghetti hoops) and the ‘Golden Goal’ rule has been enforced even though it is about 17-4 to one of the teams and now everyone is running around screaming and kicking each other and taking potshots as soon as they get the ball and it is just pure. unadulterated. chaos.

I guess this is what happens when Ashley Young and Granit Xhaka are captaining two of the biggest, most recently-dominant teams in the country. I guess that is just the result. Regardless of that, a football match you could only very loosely call a football match, perhaps best encapsulated by Victor Lindelöf pumping a crossfield pass straight out for a throw-in, somehow behind him, as United were chasing a stoppage-time winner, the studio aftermath was good value.

When they’re not vying against each other for the floor, Skys’ menagerie of pundits really do have the capacity to enthral in a way that simply replaying the clip of Xhaka ducking out of the way of a deflected shot over and over like it’s the Zapruder film to analyse whether he is, in fact, a coward, can’t match. Football analysis, unless done exceptionally well, is at best mildly tedious and at worst a bit like listening to your Dad explain to you how to take good care of the lawnmower. Particularly the blade mechanism. Listening to Jamie Carragher and Roy Keane and Gary Neville and Jose Mourinho and, very occasionally, Graeme Souness talk openly about their experiences in professional football will always be more entertaining. Partly because they were huge characters in the period of football before this current and therefore inferior period of football. Partly because sometimes you can tell how much little things annoy them, how much they still care about this game that has defined their lives.

Monday’s highlight was easily Roy Keane’s candid dissection of his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson. Have you ever, ever in your life, heard a more Roy Keane sentence than “This idea of having a cup of tea and a biscuit in the canteen upstairs? Not for me.” Have you ever heard a more Roy Keane sentence than “I know he [Sir Alex Ferguson] was critical of me at the end almost saying that I was running the dressing room but… I was! Senior players run the dressing room.” Have you ever, EVER heard a more Roy Keane sentence than “Giggsy would be there and Gary and we’d be discussing all sorts as senior players. And I’m talking about trivial stuff like the player’s pool, Christmas functions, tickets for matches.” It really has been a long-term desire of mine to listen to Roy Keane dismiss Christmas as trivial. Only now do I think I understand the man.

It’s hard to say whether Sky has really nailed the formula yet (The Debate, for instance, is still a mess), or indeed whether they have taken this particular formula as far as it can go with the respective coups of Mourinho and Keane on their Premier League coverage. It’s hard to think of anything beyond simultaneously adding Arsène Wenger, Sir Alex and a fire-chainsaw juggler to the studio that would be an immediate improvement. They are draws in and of themselves, regardless of the football. I guess that’s the point. Through the sheer force of personality that Mourinho has, and Keane has, and Carragher has, and Neville has, and Souness – sigh, I’m sighing – does kinda have, they can make the rehashed narratives of Manchester United’s and Arsenal’s ongoing existential crisis (unbearably dull by this point), if not completely fascinating, at least entertaining enough that you linger over the remote on a cold, wet Monday night and hold off going to bed that bit longer just to listen to an excitable man and a gruff man sit a few feet apart and tell you a story from their past which you remember seeing play out ‘LIVE, ON SKY’ only too well.