Football’s Next Star

Jamie Redknapp's face seems to get everywhere these days. Simon Tyers tunes in to watch his latest role in Football's Next Star, Sky One's follow up to Football Icon

Jamie Redknapp is exactly the sort of screen presence Sky Sports had in mind when the Premier League started. Bearer of a boyish smile, conventionally handsome looks, artfully constant two-day beard growth, wardrobe’s worth of designer suits and familial connections with just the sort of people the image thrives on, his role seems as much advertorial as analyst.

That everyman affability is presumably what’s led him to become the face of Thomas Cook’s latest TV campaign. In loving slo-mo to a just blissful enough trip-hop soundtrack Jamie and his wife Louise are essentially promoted as perfect human specimens. Jamie plays a golf shot into the over-blue ocean. Louise lies around in the surf for ages. Jamie does some kick-ups in a suit, about the only time in the whole beachside portion of the advert that he has a top on. Louise looks in a mirror in a supposedly expensive dress. They appear to have left their kids with the babysitter back in Blighty. It looks like no Thomas Cook holiday you’ve ever envisaged. It doesn’t help that in attempting a low-pitched, come-hither voiceover Jamie’s blunt accent sounds like he’s making menacing phone calls on behalf of a gangster relative. Now try to imagine Trevor Francis in the same role.

Jamie has also been the advertising face of Football’s Next Star, Sky One’s successor to the Football Icon concept of a few years ago which saw a teenager given a contract with Chelsea. This time the charisma vapour trail of Jose Mourinho has been followed to Inter. Redknapp’s role is to coach the players in their weekly climactic training match, which for the rest of the time means he’s having to hang around like someone who can’t bring himself to admit that he should have better things to do.

While the format attempts to present Mourinho as a mercurial overlord, the playing specifics are not what Football’s Next Star is about. It’s not going out live and there is no viewer interaction, but this is still a post-Big Brother reality show. There’s no good reason why the final ten proteges need to share a large lakeside villa given that we’re not supposed to be judging them on their personality. But we don’t see much of their footballing abilities either.

In one episode, for example, priority is given to a brief meeting with Luís Figo, one of the lads phoning his parents and the housekeeper taking issue with the untidiness of the bedrooms. Similarly there’s no reason, except to create artificial tension, why Inter coach Marco Monti has to pick out the two lowest achievers every week to play for their chances of staying in contention rather than the more tenable option of just sending one home straight off. The production team should also have specified that the Inter youth team coach Pierluigi Casiraghi, interviewed in at least one programme, isn’t the same person as the former Chelsea and Juventus striker – to save viewers wondering how he’d aged at least 20 years since his 2002 retirement.

The FA Cup’s core narrative is that it’s the best opportunity for the underdog to get one over on high achievers. It’s why the competition is still highly regarded and it’s something commentator Peter Drury has really taken to heart. After Reading’s replay win over Liverpool, Drury ruminated on the victors having been “planning downstairs”, as if Cup football was merely a metaphor for Edwardian servitude. As he spoke, the director searching for Liverpool fans wallowing in their own team’s misery had to cut away after a home supporter chose that moment to share a joke with a friend.

Drury was in full patronising mode for Scunthorpe’s tie with Manchester City at Glanford Park. At one point he marvelled at fans “taking photos of the big stars”. This wouldn’t have worked – they are a Champ­ionship team, after all, not amateur day trippers – even if the area pictured at the time wasn’t full of the away support.

Any impression that Drury might be more comfortable discussing the bigger clubs had been extinguished the previous night when he referred to Spurs’ Argentinian duo of “Ardiles and Kempes”. If only Ricky Villa had done something special while at the club to help people like Drury place his name.

From WSC 277 March 2010