Richard Keys has sparked a war of words with his former colleagues at Sky Sports after provocatively claiming that viewers will tire of star pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher because “the novelty will wear off”.
Neville and Carragher – formerly deadly rivals when representing Manchester United and Liverpool in the Premier League – make for compelling viewing on Sky’s Monday Night Football programme with their tactical insight and forthright opinions.
But Keys, who used to present the same programme with his old pal Andy Gray before a sexism storm led to both men losing their jobs at the company, has been far from impressed with how Sky have gone about reshaping their output.
In a rather rambling interview with The Independent, Keys – who now presents football coverage in Qatar for Al Jazeera, again with Gray, "the Daddy of them all", by his side – took aim at his former employers and their retinue of expensive, big-name pundits.
“When [Sky Sports] were signing left, right and centre, I said, ‘I wouldn’t do that’,” Keys told the Independent. “Sky have done their money. They’ve done their money on [Gary] Neville and [Jamie] Carragher and [Graeme] Souness and they haven’t got the money to pay anyone else. And with the regularity of those three, the novelty will wear off.”
Keys was also unimpressed with Sky’s attempts to produce a Top Gear-style live audience show in Jamie Redknapp’s Saturday Night Football.
“I know what they've tried to do. They've tried to emulate the Top Gear format, which is sensational. The boys do that brilliantly. But it's a different show. It's their call."
Keys’s forthright views on Sky’s formats drew a stinging rebuke from his former pal Jeff Stelling – presenter of Soccer Saturday, Sky's flagship results show on the weekend.
Just read the Indy.Some football presenters are so deluded. No fan watches a game for the presenter.They watch it for the football !
— Jeff Stelling (@StellingJeff) September 20, 2013
In fact, the word ‘deluded’ cropped up quite a lot as the general public read and reacted to Keys's rather astonishing interview on Friday morning. Unflattering comparisons to David Brent and Alan Partridge were also made.
— Accidental Partridge (@AccidentalP) September 20, 2013
In his chat with the Indy, Keys went on to claim that Gary Neville was “my idea” – “We sat with him in Manchester over a bowl of chips. We went and saw Giggsy over the same weekend and said to them both, 'Whichever one of you retires first, come and join us'” – and reeled off a list of pundits who had been on his Al Jazeera coverage in a bid to lend it some credibility.
"We have had a whole host of people come and see us,” he said. “Keegan, Shearer. Hoddle is coming. We've had Peter Reid. We've had David Platt. Peter Schmeichel is coming. Terry Venables is coming. David O'Leary has just come back. Mark Hateley has been here. You name them. If they haven't been, they will be coming.”
There was still time to compare himself to a grey-haired Boeing 747 pilot before Keys wrapped up the Indy interview by criticising Britain for claiming to have a free press – something he doubts - and saying he enjoys Qatar because "that sort of hypocrisy doesn't exist. It just doesn't exist."