Sport

From Eriksen trauma to Emma Hayes insight, TV pundits rise to occasion

While it has fielded almost 6,500 complaints for the intrusive nature of its coverage of the successful attempts to resuscitate Christian Eriksen after his collapse during Denmark’s opening Euro 2020 match against Finland, on reflection the BBC’s coverage of what might have been a tragedy seemed touchingly deft.

In its subsequent apology to those upset by images of the stricken player receiving medical attention, the national broadcaster pointed out it had no control over coverage provided by Uefa as host broadcaster and claimed it had taken its coverage off air “as quickly as possible” once the match had been suspended.

While it seems safe to assume most of the complaints registered were focused on the length of time it took to cut back to the studio following Eriksen’s collapse, the player’s quick-thinking and traumatised teammates saw to it that their fallen comrade got the privacy he deserved from understandably inquisitive eyes.

During what he described as “the most difficult, distressing and emotional broadcast I’ve ever been involved with,” Gary Lineker and his panel of pundits could scarcely have conducted themselves better at a time when it remained unclear whether or not they had just seen a popular young footballer with countless British admirers die.

Whether or not lingering shots of the protective rings of Danish humanity – both on the pitch and in all four stands of the Parken Stadium – count as a form of rubbernecking when everyone watching is unequivocally rooting for the stricken player involved is open to debate. But whatever one’s thoughts on such a thorny ethical conundrum, it remains indisputable that Lineker, Cesc Fàbregas, Alex Scott and an uncharacteristically sombre Micah Richards effortlessly struck the right tone. As visibly shocked, scared and distressed as their viewers, they refused to engage in idle speculation about the events unfolding on a faraway field in Copenhagen.“I’m already quite emotional,” said a teary Alex Scott when Lineker pointed out that it was impossible to know what to say, beyond hoping Eriksen would be OK. The former England full-back went on to say she had felt compelled “to get on my phone to tell my mum I love her”, explaining that it is easy to forget life can change in a heartbeat. Or in this particular instance, the temporary absence of one.

With Eriksen discharged from hospital and on the road to recovery, six days later Scott and Richards found themselves in another unenviable position. Alongside the former Wales captain Ashley Williams on a panel chaired by Gabby Logan, they were tasked with sifting through the bones of one of the most dreary first halves in history. Sensibly electing to ignore what passed for the efforts of the players of Sweden and Slovakia, they chose instead to embark on a sing-song. There followed an in-studio murder of Usher’s Nice & Slow for the entertainment of bored viewers rather than any futile attempts to analyse the tedium they had just watched.

Although it has taken a while, we finally seem to have reached a welcome point where the presence of women discussing matches in the studio or commentary box doesn’t automatically prompt a tirade of kitchen-related quips from less enlightened fans on social media.

On ITV Emma Hayes has used Euro 2020 to air her credentials as an absurdly shrewd student of the game to a wider audience who might be unfamiliar with her work as manager of the Chelsea women’s team. Hayes is good-humoured, engaging and enthusiastic; if there is one minor criticism that can be levelled her way it is perhaps that she is too clever. Sitting alongside Sam Matterface as she went deep into the nitty-gritty and nuance of Slovakia’s win over Poland, her detailed talk of “covering the pivot” and how best to “beat the low block” was almost too complex for this thicko at the back.

While Robbie Savage has never been accused of being obsessed with detail, the job of co-commentary seems to be the string to his multimedia bow that he plucks with most aplomb. Incapable of doing right for doing wrong in the eyes of many, he shipped criticism for being excessively partisan during Wales’s stirring victory over Turkey, even though his increasingly panic-stricken pleas to the commentator, Steve Wilson, to tell him how much time was left as the clock ran down were commendably endearing.

Back on ITV, Ally McCoist and Graeme Souness have been similarly engaging and no less biased when called upon, with the former announcing he was “ready to march on Carlisle” after hearing his ex-teammate’s stirring polemic on what it’s like to put one over on the English before Scotland’s appointment with their old foe at Wembley.

In international tournaments, bias from the punditocracy should not only be tolerated but encouraged and the Scottish, Welsh and English contingents were all happy to oblige.

Without a dog in the fight, Roy Keane managed to prompt smirks with his bafflement at the very notion England’s Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount had talked their way into self-isolation during a conversation with Billy Gilmour.

“Why would you want to speak to an opposition player for over 20 minutes?” he asked incredulously. “I don’t care if he’s your club teammate or not. I very rarely speak to anybody for over five minutes.” Anybody, he went on to clarify, including his wife.