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Gary Lineker makes BT Sport debut but Memphis Depay has a ball

By Billy Weir

Published 20/08/2015

Fever pitch: Things really hot up in the Manchester heat of England’s Most Bored Former Footballer Championships at Old Traffordmore
Fever pitch: Things really hot up in the Manchester heat of England’s Most Bored Former Footballer Championships at Old Traffordmore

We should have known there was a new era of European football afoot when hot-footing it onto our screens was a new sponsor at the start of BT Sport Europe's first big night, and given all those feet it was apt that it was for Walkers.

In a way it was relief that it wasn't Compare the Market or Go Compare otherwise they'd have plumped for a strange little creature with a furry face or a man with ridiculous facial hair.

What we got was an amalgam of the two in Gary Lineker, long-time ambassador for the Leicester-based purveyor of potato-based loveliness, freed of the shackles of the BBC to start his new midweek shift with BT Sport Europe.

There have been many sceptics about this Euro adventure, BT pumping vast sums of cash into hijacking the Champions League and the other one that will always be the Uefa Cup, and in the process kidnapping Lineker to front the shows.

In fairness he hasn't gone kicking and screaming and seemed very happy to be in Manchester, a first for a BBC operative, as he stood outside Old Trafford with a big smile on his face.

Not so happy was Rio Ferdinand, sockless and sitting looking longingly at rows of foot-free socks in the Man Utd dressing room but then again when you're dancing on the sand I suppose you need to keep the feet as free as possible.

Ferdinand looked earnestly at the camera and warned that "second place is just not good enough at this great football club" although slightly better than the seventh he helped them secure in his final season.

By now Gary had slipped down a meerkat tunnel and emerged pitchside, warning that Louis van Gaal "had spent big to get United back into Europe" but not as much as others have plumped on European dreams of late.

"It's a fixture fraught with danger - and that's just in the studio," he chortled in his opening gambit when he finally got into his new abode.

"But we'll do our best with a decent starting line-up in Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Glenn Hoddle," he added, who looked about as happy to be there as David de Gea.

A dreadfully dull opening offering from Ferdinand was followed by a first attempt at banter between Lineker and Scholes, a man not renowned for his roustabout antics.

"Paul, United's best season ever would have been?" he asked a clearly startled Scholes.

"Err, maybe 99," came the hesitant reply, which I think was a year and not a request for someone to nip out for a poke. They couldn't really, all the money had gone in getting Lineker. They paid hundreds and thousands for him… Ahem.

"Do you know what happened at the start of that season?" he pushed on.

"Emm, no," whined a barely audible Scholes.

"They had to pre-qualify and went on to win the tournament," revealed a knowing Lineker and released us all from Scholes' hell.

It wasn't going well. At least Hoddle would throw Lineker a lifeline but it was hard to take him seriously when he appeared to be wearing a suit cunningly fashioned from a snooker table and paired with an RUC shirt, but then again it was probably some of the best material on show thus far.

More dullness ensued but a new ally was at hand for Lineker.

"There's plenty to look forward to after the break… we get breaks? What a luxury," he said and we all breathed a sigh of relief and hoped that during it someone would tell them that he was the new presenter and not a strange man who was holding them to ransom.

To liven things up we had touchline reporter Des Kelly telling us nothing and then sent for Owen Hargreaves to interview Bastien Schweinsteiger because he had made the journey from Munich to Manchester. So did many Luftwaffe pilots and to be fair they made a bit more of an impact than Hargreaves.

Finally the game arrived, Ian Darke, once of Sky, having a cheeky dig at his former employers with his opening of "you don't know what you've got until it's gone" and on a night of glitz and glamour it was fitting that a man called Carrick made the first headlines.

From his own goal it was then a short trip to Memphis who scored a cracking equaliser and opened up a tin of wriggling things for Darke.

"He has asked the media to call him 'Memphis' not 'Depay' as he doesn't want to use his father's name," he explained as the name 'Depay' helpfully flashed up on the score. The graphics team didn't get the memo.

The final part of the presenting jigsaw was provided by Michael Owen who helpfully pointed out that Memphis "looks like a footballer, the size of him" but he's not exactly Jan Molby, is he?

"He'll be delighted to have broken his duck tonight," added Owen, while Molby would have had his crispy fried and covered in lashings of Hoisin sauce.

A second wonder goal came from Memphis prompting yet more incisive analysis from Owen.

"I don't have to say anything about the finish, what a finish," he said and a second goal for 'Depay' came up on screen.

At the break, Ferdinand, who by now had clearly been poked into life with a stick by the producers, attempted to tease Lineker but he quickly snuffed out any threat of banter by going to a break. Expect there to be nine ad breaks in Match of the Day when Mark Lawrenson is on in future.

"It doesn't really matter if he's known as Memphis or Depay, more goals like that and he'll soon be a name to remember at Old Trafford," Lineker added conveniently ignoring the family angst that had caused the young lad to make this decision, but hey it's not easy this handing over into a break lark.

Another goal came for United and everyone was happy, even Scholes smiled, while Ferdinand was still waxing lyrical about the man with two names.

"Kids nowadays looking at YouTube want to beat everyone but he put that ball on a sixpence," he said, as kids across the country wondered what the hell a sixpence was.

It certainly wouldn't buy you the rights to European football or indeed a new green baize suit, but whether £897m is money well spent for BT Sport remains to be seen.

"Here at Old Trafford, Manchester United are walking in a Memphis wonderland," beamed a relieved Lineker. At least he didn't say they were deeply Depay. Kids, check it out on YouTube.

Belfast Telegraph

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