Jamie: I'm keeping my eye on the ball
Carragher to lay down gauntlet as Sky Sports prepare for new season
WITH the new season about to kick off, football fans are wondering who'll come out on top.
Will champions Manchester United retain their crown? And will Sky Sports hold off the challenge of BT?
When it was announced that BT had paid serious moolah for the rights to 38 Premier League matches, Sky Sports, with 116 matches a season, was looking at a fresh challenge. And this after they'd previously seen off Setanta, ITV Digital and ESPN.
After a bit of pre-season tinkering, Sky Sports unveiled their football punditry teamsheet for the 2013-2014 season at their London campus last week. Sky's new star signing has been Jamie Carragher, the 35-year old who always gave his all for Liverpool as a player.
Ahead of his new career Carragher displayed the same laser-like focus and gritty determination that benchmarked his style as a player.
"I'm thrilled to be part of Sky Sports' plans," he said. "I've left one of the world's best clubs and joined one of the world's best broadcasters."
But has he had special training for his new role, I ask? Has anyone given him advice on how to handle this new challenge?
"This fella," he says, giving Jamie Redknapp a smack. "I know Jamie well and he's been doing it a long time. We're good friends. I've only done one show. But what I'm doing on the TV in the coming season is only what I've been doing at home. Watching games, talking to your friends and your mates about football."
Yeah, but will he be making some of the passionate comments he might throw out in an unguarded moment in the pub?
Carragher has his eye on the ball. "Those days are finished now," he declares. "People say, what are you going to say about Liverpool? I think: why look for trouble? I want to be as positive as possible. But if Liverpool don't do well...even when I was a player I would say in the press we need to do this, need to do that. You need to be yourself. Don't go looking for trouble, trying to cause controversy. Nothing like that."
Warming to his theme, he continues: "You give your opinion on the game, be passionate about it and sometimes when you are that passionate about something, something does come out because you feel so strongly about it. I'm certainly not coming out looking for trouble and trying to criticise people unnecessarily."
Carragher will be part of a heavyweight squad of pundits that includes Graeme Souness, Gary Neville, Jamie Redknapp, Niall Quinn, Dwight Yorke and Alan Smith.
David Jones, who's been with Sky Sports for 15 years, says: "The best pundits for us are those that come on and are happy to speak their minds and just tell it as it is. They make for a better viewing experience."
While the league kicks off this weekend, there's still plenty of important unfinished business waiting to be done before the transfer window shuts. All agree that only then will we have a clearer idea of what way things are likely to go. And as Gary Neville points out, the transfer marketplace is likely to be pretty crowded with many top clubs still anxious to sign major talent.
For example, if Luis Suarez leaves Liverpool then that piles more pressure on the club and Brendan Rodgers. "Chelsea want a centre-forward," says Neville. "Manchester United want to sign players. Arsenal want to sign players. So Liverpool, you could argue, are fourth in the pecking order."
This last-minute hunt for talent as well as the battle to hold on to players adds further spice and uncertainty to a league where the managerial landscape has changed dramatically.
Whatever way you crunch it right now, the managers in the full glare of the spotlight are David Moyes (Man United), Rodgers (Liverpool), Jose Mourinho (Chelsea), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) and Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City).
"With transfer dealings public, who benefits from publicity?" asks Graeme Souness. "If the managers don't bring in these players is it a bad window?
"If people know David Moyes is after a certain player and if he can't get him then it reflects negatively on him," notes Alan Smith. "He wants a marquee signing to herald his new managerial career."
"What he doesn't want," warns Graeme Souness, "is a marquee departure."
"It will certainly help David Moyes to get his hands on a Fabregas-type character," says Neville. "Because it will give everybody a lift. Huge signings give everybody a lift at a football club, including the fans. But United have not always got the player they wanted.
"Over the years Manchester United missed out on Arjen Robben, Alan Shearer, Zidane and probably more that we didn't even know about."
Jamie Redknapp believes Moyes' biggest headache at the moment, the question over Wayne Rooney, was created by his predecessor Alex Ferguson.
"He's picking up the pieces of what happened with Ferguson," he states. "This started when he was left out of the game against Real Madrid. I said at the time, something's going to happen. You can't leave a player of that quality out and not expect some consequence. Once Ferguson came out at the end of the year and said he's put in a transfer request, you don't do that unless you want to cause the boy a problem and even the next manager a problem. That hasn't helped him at all."
"It's all changed now that Alex Ferguson's not there," says Carragher. "I don't think Jose Mourinho would have come out with those comments about Rooney if Alex Ferguson was still there. You're going to see more of this type of thing. That wouldn't have happened before at Manchester United."
Dwight Yorke considers the Moyes conundrum and says: "It's one thing signing for United, the institution that the club is, the history, is always going to be there but you have to play for the manager. That is one thing he has to overcome. Because players may have a little uncertainty as to whether he's capable of managing United. That will take some time."
Souness disagrees with Yorke and adopts an opposite view.
"I don't think players sign for managers," he declares. "First and foremost, if you're a player, you want to go to a club where they win things. I don't believe players go for the managers."
As the pundits discuss the various possibilities that might unfold over the coming months, I ask novice TV pundit Carragher if he thinks club managers will get uptight listening to him discussing their problems and venturing possible solutions.
Carragher doesn't hesitate. "I hope so," he booms.
3Sky kicks off its biggest ever Premier League season with live coverage of Swansea v Manchester United on Sky Sports 1, Sky 2 and Pick TV tomorrow.