Jamie Carragher: ‘CBS was worried whether or not the US audience would understand me’

Estimated read time 10 min read

When Jamie Carragher was approached to join CBS’s Uefa Champions League Today panel, he’d already established himself as one of the most notable pundits in soccer.

But while English viewers had long grown accustomed to the Liverpool legend’s cutting remarks and eye-opening analysis on Sky Sports, there was one aspect of Carragher’s punditry that CBS Sports’ senior creative director Peter Radovich was concerned about.

“He was worried whether or not the audience would understand me,” Carragher tells the Guardian over Zoom. Radovich had a full-proof plan to discover whether Carragher’s Scouse accent was decipherable to the American ear. “Would you believe these three executives played a video of me to all their wives and it was basically down to them to decide if they could understand me.”

Even then, Carragher failed to get a unanimous decision. “Two of them did, one was not sure. So I just got the votes.”

It’s safe to say that the decision worked out well for both CBS and Carragher. Uefa Champions League Today’s coverage of soccer’s premier European competition has been met with critical acclaim, almost all of which is down to the playful camaraderie between host Kate Abdo and pundits Thierry Henry, Micah Richards and Carragher.

Every week footage of Abdo mocking Richards, his contagious laughter, a cheeky Carragher quip, or Henry giving a pause The Office would be proud of gains just as much online chatter as that round of games’ best goals.

“A lot of it is spontaneous,” explains Carragher. “None of us really know what Kate’s gonna say. We react to that. One of us might know a funny clip of me or Micah is going to be used. It’s about being ourselves and reacting to those situations. The team we have is so great at doing that and they’re always trying to catch us out.”

While Henry telling Jack Grealish that he’d be able to take on Kyle Walker in his prime and Richards literally crying with hysterics due to Carragher’s mispronunciation of Internazionale are two of the show’s most watched clips, there’s one example from the 2022-23 campaign that Carragher says sums up what makes the show so popular.

As they were interviewing Milan defender Fikayo Tomori, Richards turned to Carragher off-camera to confirm how to pronounce his name. This proved to be a big mistake. “I just totally got it wrong. So both of us were constantly saying his name wrong. At the end Kate makes a joke, you can see the shock on our faces, but we make a joke of it.”

Carragher insists they wouldn’t have been able to get away with such an error in England, especially when it comes to the Premier League’s biggest games. “There’s no way people would accept what we do on CBS on Sky. They would think we were showing a lack of respect or that we didn’t know our stuff. That would have been taken a completely different way. If anyone is seen laughing or joking about a result or performance or interview it’s jumped on. [UCL Today] is a different show because people are watching it without that tribalism. I think everyone is watching it in a good mood waiting to be entertained.”

That’s not to say that there haven’t been attempts to make the English coverage a little more lighthearted. Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football show allows for more “joking and laughing”, with Carragher adding, “I feel like I have more ownership over it because I’m on it every week, we normally bring a guest on, and it’s us trying to make them feel welcome with a joke and a laugh.”

At the same time, he would never want to change the opening hour of MNF. This is when he’s able to really analyze games in an eye-opening and meticulous manner. After 11 years at Sky Sports, both Carragher and the show continue to draw plaudits. “I wouldn’t say the producers at Sky are saying, ‘Do this it will be funny.’ They really want top analysis. We want to be the best and most respected show about football. With CBS, the producers are always asking, ‘How can we make this funny?’ It think it’s probably down to American culture. It’s new to me. But I love it.”

Carragher’s contract with Danish Sports Channel TV3 Sport had just concluded when CBS approached him in the summer of 2020 to join their coverage of the Champions League’s Covid-hit knockout tournament in Lisbon. Having previously had to travel across Europe to cover the games live, Carragher was instantly attracted to the chance to work in a studio from London.

“I really wanted to cover the Champions League. I just didn’t want to travel. At first I just thought I’d be doing what I do with Sky. I didn’t think it would be a case of doing something completely different.”

Even once the team of Abdo, Richards and Roberto Martinez, who was in Henry’s chair before he became manager of Portugal, had assembled, Carragher didn’t think much would change. Especially as he knew the rest of the team so well. “Kate had worked for Sky, as had me and Micah. I knew Roberto really well, as we’d worked on Sky and he’d been Everton manager, so there was the Liverpool connection.”

It soon became obvious that CBS would be taking a different approach when the production meetings weren’t just about soccer and tactics. “The people who put the team together were really clever. They made sure everyone involved had their niche. Roberto – and now Thierry – is the grown up in the room. I always thought Micah was in there initially as this huge personality. I think I’m somewhere in between both.”

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Jamie Carragher has made for a great broadcasting team with Kate Abdo, Thierry Henry and Micah Richards.View image in fullscreen

Such an approach is exactly why UCL Today has drawn favorable similarities to Inside the NBA, which is widely regarded as the best sports analysis show on American television because of its mixture of hijinks, genuine camaraderie, and debate-starting analysis. Despite the comparisons, Carragher is still yet to watch an episode of Inside the NBA. “I’m aware of the name. Charles Barkley is a massive basketball player. I’ve never seen it. But I’ve definitely heard it mentioned a lot. Kate mentions it a lot. Obviously because she lives in the States and knows the show. I’ve heard the producers mention it, too. They look up to it and want us to get there someday.”

Much like that show’s host Ernie Johnson, Abdo’s subtle ability to create chaos, poke fun, all while keeping the show completely on-track has been one of the main ingredients to UCL Today’s growing popularity. “One of the things I love about Kate is that, everyone knows there are going to be mistakes on a live broadcast, whether it’s looking at the wrong camera or an interview not going perfect. She just rolls with it. People want everything on TV to go right. But that looks too polished. It needs to be messy to be authentic. She never gets flustered.”

Carragher truly put Abdo’s composure to the test with arguably UCL Today’s most viral moment of the season. After Arsenal’s Round Of 16 penalty shoot out victory over Porto at the Emirates Stadium, a giddy Carragher made an awkward joke about Abdo “not being loyal” to her partner Malik Scott live on television.

“We went viral again for the wrong reasons,” says Carragher. “That’s one of the things with the show. Everything is flying around, everyone is saying one liners. You get so carried away. Then as soon as you say something you go, ‘Oh no.’ You just want to take it back. I made my apologies. But the way Kate dealt with it the next show was amazing.”

Abdo’s response – where she called Henry the big brother of the group, Carragher the annoying middle child, and Richards the loud and lovable little sibling – only helped to further cement the show’s growing reputation and the group’s chemistry.

By the semi-final Carragher was creating even more viral content, as he travelled to Germany to watch Borussia Dortmund defeat Paris Saint-Germain at the Westfalenstadion. “I made a throwaway line about all of us going, as we normally go to an away game. The producer phoned me privately and said I should go. I didn’t want to go on my own initially. Then I thought I sounded like a prima donna, so I agreed.”

When Carragher arrived it wasn’t planned for him to go into the famous “Yellow Wall” stand, let alone drink. But when he ended up stood with five or six Dortmund fans, they started buying him one beverage after another. “They got me a couple. So I had to return the favor. It went from there. I just felt the fellas were really nice and I had to repay the favor. The plan was for me to just be in the with the crowd for ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ But I really wanted to be in there for the game. It was brilliant. I loved it.”

After the final whistle and several beers, Carragher found himself on camera talking about the game, but mostly telling the studio about his boozy antics. When Jadon Sancho walked past, he shouted for him to come on camera. After the English winger obliged, Carragher repeatedly put his arm around him like old friends reuniting in a pub while asking him questions, all of which provoked huge laughs from Richards, Henry, and Abdo. “I wasn’t supposed to interview a player. I was just talking to the studio. I saw Sancho walking by and asked him to come in. A lot of it just happened. That’s what the show is like. Not a lot of it is rehearsed. It’s just the nature of the show.”

Carragher wouldn’t want it any other way and over a decade after calling time on his Liverpool career he can’t help but feel proud of how his punditry career has gone. “Monday Night Football and CBS’ Champions League is one end of the spectrum to the other. One is hard-hitting analysis that I have to get my brain around. The other is more relaxed on a Tuesday and Wednesday. Sometimes I wake up on the Thursday and I am a bit tired. But it could easily be over in a few years. The nature of TV is that someone could lose the rights or bring someone else in.”

Until then, Carragher opines that he’s “on the two best football shows in the world”. It’s hard to disagree.

Source: theguardian.com

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