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Every Champions League night, Brits look across the pond in envy.

Since 2015, football fans in the United Kingdom have had television access to the major European competitions — Champions League, Europa League, and, since its inception in the 2021-22 season, the Europa Conference League — through BT Sport, the UK’s second-largest sport-specific broadcaster behind Sky Sports. And it has been largely underwhelming.

For a moment, think back to the mid-2000s. Think Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side against Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona in that strange tan kit. Visualise the picture when Ronaldinho twisted and turned his foot on a pivot before poking that audacious finish past Petr Cech. Do you see the ITV logo in the top left corner, too? Do you hear the Clive Tyldesley commentary?

Thinking about those Champions League nights with Tyldesley’s voice narrating the action brings on a warm, fuzzy feeling that got lost somewhere with BT.

Stateside, CBS has rediscovered that magic. Champions League Today has set the benchmark of European football coverage over the past two seasons, particularly for younger and more casual viewers.

With a leaf taken from the hugely popular Inside the NBA programme on Turner Sports Network, CBS seem to have found the right note to resonate with their audience.

Every week without fail, clips of presenter Kate Abdo and pundits — Thierry Henry, Jamie Carragher and Micah Richards —  go viral on social media as they exchange banter with players and pundits, unafraid to make themselves the butt of the joke.

BT’s coverage, however, is more likely to go viral on Twitter with a monotonous compilation of Steve McManaman saying, “That’s right, Fletch”, to his colleague Darren Fletcher, the network’s lead commentator.

However — and though the exact agreements of the deal have not yet been made public — BT has joined forces with Eurosport and next season becomes TNT Sports, signalling the end of their hold over Champions League coverage in the UK since 2015.

So, to mark the conclusion of an indifferent era, The Athletic analysed the coverage of Manchester City’s 1-0 victory in the Champions League final against Inter Milan on BT, CBS, and Qatari-owned beIN SPORTS, to see who performed best.

BT Sport

Alongside lead presenter Jake Humphrey, former Premier League players Rio Ferdinand, Mario Balotelli, Cesc Fabregas and Joleon Lescott were the primary pundits for this five-hour affair — a healthy mix of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

The Italian football representation came in the form of The Athletic’s James Horncastle, who provided greater in-depth coverage alongside former United and Bayern Munich player Owen Hargreaves. This was the only area of BT’s coverage that was superior to its competitors’.

Amidst a lot of boring filler, Ferdinand’s “between the lines” segment with Erling Haaland was a rare highlight. In breaking down his acrobatic winner in the 2-1 win over former club Borussia Dortmund in September, Haaland revealed he watched a lot of City in the Champions League last season and envisioned himself getting on the end of crosses that were previously not profited from because of a lack of a natural No 9. Fifty-two goals later in all competitions, he proved himself right.

Lescott, who joined BT’s primary duo of McManaman and Fletcher in the commentary box for the game itself, was uninspiring.

The most noteworthy line came from Fletcher as the final whistle blew, when he said: “The greatest story in club football has an ending.” While becoming just the second English team to win the treble is an outstanding achievement, the reaction to the statement on Twitter suggested it may have been an over-exaggeration.

CBS

In Abdo, Henry, Carragher and Richards, CBS have found a quartet with natural on-screen chemistry, and the pre-match show (30 minutes shorter than BT’s) was entertaining throughout.

Abdo opened the show with the customary “burn” to Richards, listing Henry and Carragher’s achievements before alluding to “a man who helped launch a football dynasty and is an icon in Manchester,” before skipping over the former City defender and introducing Peter Schmeichel, who crossed the Manchester divide to play for both clubs.

Their best segment was an interview between Henry and City manager Pep Guardiola, where they reflected on how the Spaniard helped Henry perform better in the lead-up to their treble-winning season with Barcelona in 2008-09, as well as the ways Haaland has evolved and how the City team has developed around him to bring out the best in each other this season.

After being replaced by Sam Matterface as ITV’s lead football commentator and recently departing talkSPORT, Tyldesley is CBS’s lead commentator for its Champions League coverage. He was superb and his dynamic with co-commentator Rob Green was another reminder of how much better coverage in the UK was when ITV showed games. The pair let Rodri’s goal breathe rather than flooding the airwaves and they also hit the right notes when the full-time whistle went, unlike BT.

The CBS post-match interviews were similar to those conducted on BT, but due to the personality of the pundits working for the former, they were far more entertaining. Guardiola even admitted he watches clips of the show on Twitter.

beIN Sports

No matter the guests, and they typically have pretty good ones, the beIN Champions League broadcasts always become the Richard Keys and Andy Gray show.

On this occasion, the former Sky Sports duo who host the show were joined by Marcel Desailly, Ruud Gullit and Arsene Wenger. However, the esteemed trio spent most of the evening looking confused as Keys questioned the legitimacy of Guardiola’s status as one of the best coaches in the world.

First, he pointed to last weekend’s FA Cup Final, where City often went long to Haaland from the goalkeeper to play over United’s pressure. “If Leeds scored like that, people would say that it’s basic and agricultural,” he said.

“If I watch Man City do it, it’s clever and good football!” Despite Gullit’s efforts to explain it was an effective deviation from the plan to counter United’s tactics, Keys remained unconvinced.

And when Wenger explained why Guardiola is undoubtedly among the best coaches ever seen, Keys pointed to how he had to change from the “tippy-tappy, tiki-taka” style to beat United.

Sign of a good coach who can make changes on the fly? Not to Keys. He was more interested in Guardiola’s decision to bench Kyle Walker, who, according to the presenter, “had Kylian Mbappe in his pocket in the World Cup”.

Wenger’s best insight came after the final whistle, reflecting on the quality of the City squad built by Guardiola and how it must continue to evolve to extend the club’s period of dominance. Outside of Haaland, he said, there are no “young” players in the first-choice starting line-up.

Considering Liverpool’s poor season and how they are yet to effectively move on from the Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum midfield axis that brought such success, it would be fair to agree. However, Keys wasn’t so sure, saying: “At last, (Guardiola) delivered what he was initially employed to do.”

It should be noted, however, that unlike BT and CBS, who ignored the 115 alleged breaches of financial rules committed by City, Keys questioned whether the potential for a guilty verdict tainted their achievement.

Wenger, who now serves as FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development, instead praised the patience in City’s hierarchy, describing how they have conducted their business as “intelligent, rational and consistent”.

Verdict

While beIN remained entertaining despite Keys’ determination to undermine Guardiola’s stunning career, the best coverage of the final — and indeed the entire competition this season — was CBS.

Their light-hearted but insightful approach has become the gold standard, and a combination of that style and Monday Night Football-level analysis is what TNT — who have a clean slate to improve on BT’s lacklustre efforts — should be aiming to deliver.

(Top photo: Alex Grimm/Getty Images)



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