Aim for the Sky: Why the loss of Richard Keys and Andy Gray will improve coverage
February 1, 2011 Leave a comment
The most shocking thing about the sexism in football debate was the fact that people were surprised that Richard Keys and Andy gray said something stupid. Dated, simplistic, simple-minded views are what the pair have been pedalling on Sky Sports for a long time now, and truth be told the pair have been a disaster waiting to happen. Keys and Gray self-fashioned themselves so that they became the face of football, indeed millions of viewers merely regurgitate the pairs’ opinions as their own. Therefore they can have very little complaint when their bizarre views demand such attention and create such a fuss. They have visibly become complacent in this favoured role and the standard of their coverage has declined season on season for a while now. Ultimately it appeared more people were relieved at the duo’s departure rather than mourning the loss of hairy-handed presenter and his chimp like assistant.
That is not to say the pair weren’t entertaining at times. Indeed Richard Keys was right when in his interview to Talksport he claimed that the pair had significantly raised Sky’s profile, and they did this through slick and captivating presenting styles. However, these presenting styles were smug and increasingly cosy and the pair have slowly turned into parodies of themselves. Indeed the leaked clips- whatever your opinions about their content- hardly present the Sky studio as professional but instead as a particularly smug gentlemen’s club. In the same widely publicised interview, Keys also spoke of how they, and in particular Gray, had revolutionised analysis since the early 90s. Whatever the truth in that, and it is highly debatable, their analysis has not been ahead of the game by any stretch of the imagination for some time. In the last decade it has been falling behind the very best. The simplistic analysis doesn’t match up to what a dedicated fan can easily find on the internet and it certainly does not compare favourably with the same station’s coverage of major sports such as Cricket and Rugby Union. Indeed the Guardian’s new excellent “Secret Footballer” column shows how little many within the game thought of Sky’s unsophisticated football coverage.
Pressure undoubtedly grew after the sexism scandal when Rio Ferdinand described them as “prehistoric”. Although this was not new, weeks before before the recent rows, Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva had amusingly revealed on his Twitter how he preferred to watch Sky’s coverage with the sound turned off. All of this criticism from within the game is ironic, considering Gray was reported to treat views from those who hadn’t played football at the top level with such disdain. Despite feeling that without playing the game, other supporters’ and journalists’ opinions were worthless, Andy still felt it justifiable for him to criticise some of the top coaches and managers in the world for their tactics despite never managing any sort of team. In fact his entire coaching career consists of a brief role at Villa in the early nineties. He even turned down the managerial role at his beloved Everton at the last minute in 1997 much to the shock of the chairman who was stunned at his U-turn after they had already discussed coaching staff and transfer targets. He remained at Sky. The fact is he turned down his dream job because he didn’t want the pressure; he preferred to retain what Alan Sugar recently correctly described on twitter as one of the easiest jobs in football. Instead of making big decisions he bottled it, so he could be safe criticising others.
It’s doubtful whether Gray could have succeeded anyway. From his conversations with Keys it became clear that he was pretty tactically naïve and seemed to have an unnatural hatred for any revolutionary or vaguely foreign ideas. For example, Keys and Gray were very vocal critics of squad rotation despite it being used by almost every top manager. This includes Sir Alex Ferguson who in December 2010 passed 150 games without naming an unchanged line-up. It also includes zonal-marking, which Andy was definitely hostile to. Trotting out outdated clichés about “players score goals not zones” and it being too difficult to assign responsibility within the system he ignored the fact that statistically it was very successful. Andy also failed to notice the irony when he demanded (probably correctly) that men were placed on the posts- men on the posts is in fact an example of zonal-marking. Benitez in particular took an incredible amount of criticism from the pair even though he was right to utilise such a system- as proved by Liverpool’s recent miserable record under Hodgson’s man-to-man where around a third of the goals the Reds conceded came from set-pieces. Indeed 15 of the 16 teams in the 2004 Champions League knock-out stages used zonal-marking. The fact Andy Gray has spent the best part of the last two decades telling us it doesn’t work merely provides further evidence that he was out of touch with the modern game.
Therefore the unfortunate sexism incident may have two positive side effects. Not only has it helped to raise the profile of women in football but it will have, albeit less vitally, given football the chance to refresh its presentation and finally give the game the quality coverage its fans deserve. Sky now has the opportunity to genuinely present in depth analysis from a range of new and modern sources with the quality and depth they do with other sports. Whilst maybe not as immediately accessible, the coverage would be considerably more rewarding if its Premier Leaguer was presented thoroughly by genuine “experts” rather than merely “entertaining” figures attempting to draw in cheap viewing figures. It probably won’t happen, and it will be more of the same with new faces, but at least there is a chance. The truth was, regardless of the sexism row, Keys and Gray were well past their sell-by date. They should have gone a long time a go.