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Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher Odd Couple act wearing thin

Sunday 23rd December 2018

I'm a product of the 70s and 80s, When I was a kid, the Odd Couple ran in heavy rerun rotation on the telly. Neil Simon passed away in August. Great playwright. He understood comedy was about conflict and resolution, just like football. There were few better at putting contentious elements together to produce an entertaining combination.

It's a tried and true method that's progressed through just about every buddy film and romantic comedy you or I have seen from Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run to Kevin Hart and the Rock in Central Intelligence. If that's all too Yank for you, think Fry and Laurie. Odd couples work in football too with Sir Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles in the 60s leading up to Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa in the contemporary game.

Television delves much deeper into the trope's roots than Neil Simon, reviving Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson on both sides of the Atlantic. On the sporting side, Sky Sports milks the odd couple concept to death for its football broadcasts. The network regularly features two guest commentators in the studio, one who represented each of the clubs in that day's featured match. Sky's first-team features the ultimate football odd couple, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville. The former Liverpool and Manchester United defenders used to go at it tooth and nail on the pitch. Now they're best of friends who enjoy banter on the air, good times off.

Neville played right-back for Sir Alex Ferguson his entire career [1991-2011], finishing as club captain. He earned the moniker Red Dog for his tenacious style. When he moved into the television studio following his retirement, many were surprised at the considerate depth and nuance in his analysis. A consensus quickly developed that he was future manager material. Abject failure in his first effort with Valencia quickly dispelled the talk. GNev returned to the microphone a chastened man. Whether that failure affected his confidence, leading to bitterness, or it was inevitable he would return to his hard-nosed past, Neville has been less cerebral and more confrontational since his return, his rhetoric more often jingoistic than substantive.

Carragher was also a one-club man with Liverpool from 1996-2013 albeit under several managers. While his thick Scouser accent challenges the unaccustomed ear, Carra's commentary is no less insightful if often as old-school as Neville's. The pair isn't that different save for choice of club. It's little wonder they're friends and enjoy an entertaining chemistry behind the microphone. 

When each was working his way up the ranks in television, assigned to different partners and covering a wider array of teams, their analysis remained confined to players' technical abilities and managers' tactical nous. Now that they're stars have risen and they've embraced their Odd Couple personas, knowledge has given way to irrational passions.

With events unfolding at Manchester United in the past week, the pair ratcheted up the no-one-bigger-than-the club rhetoric to a ridiculous level. Neville found fault with Jesse Lingard for unveiling a new fashion line in the days leading up to the Liverpool match. He felt it was poor timing and showed the 26-year-old wasn't fully focussed on football. 

Neville is a businessman himself, involved in several ventures with brother Phil and their Class of 92 mates Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes. Their investments go beyond an equally shared 50% interest in Salford City. Restaurants, hotels and other projects can be found in their portfolio. Like a clothing line, such businesses require publicity. Suggesting that Lingard not unveil his fashion line just before the team's biggest game of the season, when more eyes will be on him and instead do so before a match that draws little public interest would not sit well with any backers if it were Neville's business.

You can believe he knew as much when he spoke. During his career, he fought neighbours through the courts to build a green home with virtually no carbon footprint. Details were covered in the papers throughout the season and he commented about his commitment to environmentalism as much or more than he did about the one to his club. Despite United fighting on four fronts throughout every season, with big matches always around the corner, the Red Dog wouldn't let this bone go until after he retired.

With the momentary furore over Lingard's entrepreneurial undertakings subsiding, Jose Mourinho was sacked. A photo with the invitation to "caption this" was scheduled to post on Paul Pogba's Instagram account by one of his many major sponsors. The French midfielder, mired in a feud with Mourinho had not played against Liverpool. His omission in a high-profile match may have been the last straw for marketing-conscious United chief executive Ed Woodward. Pogba realised too late that the photo went live shortly after reports of the manager's dismissal broke. Reporters screen-captured the promotion before he deleted it.

Rather than applying their experience in the game and social media with integrity, GNev and Carra quickly pounced on a player neither likes. Neville tweeted "You do one, too!" Carragher backed him up with "Spot on! There are plenty of clubs in Europe doing fine without him!"

First of all, what does Carragher mean? Plenty of clubs in Europe are doing well without Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Other networks are doing just fine without the Lancastrian Odd Couple. That isn't a statement on their ability or professionalism. Carragher is a paid football analyst. He's financially compensated to say things that make sense.

It was left to another retired footballer and more ethical pundit to set the record straight.

Arsenal legend Ian Wright used his Instagram account to introduce rational thought to the discussion. 

Chill! That Paul Pogba tweet was obviously sponsored / automated. No way the player or Adidas want to risk their relationship with the club like that. End of the road for Mourinho but not the time to try and blame individuals. Team must now get on with it and take the pressure that comes with today's decision.

Don't think that GNev and Carra don't know this. They do, fully well. They're in the business. Pogba and Lingard represent the independent-minded footballer the environmentally active Neville used to be. Now, he and his new bestie find that threatening even though they're so well-off, they're probably set for life. As such, they made the debate over United's woes personal and chiefly to up their own popularity with Sky viewers. Never mind that Lingard and Pogba's positive contributions in their first game under a new manager suggest they weren't the ones putting themselves above the team. There was a time top journalists had integrity. Now, it's just a comedy show and a bad one at that.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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