Gary Lineker’s BT Sport debut is reassuringly familiar – but the innovations will come

The pundit's characteristically down-to-earth performance in the Champions League qualifier between Manchester United and Club Brugge showed BT Sport could handle Europe's biggest tournament. But change is afoot ahead of the group stages...

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Three office chairs, a weird console table, a window looking down on to the pitch, and the most reliable name in sports broadcasting: there was nothing groundbreaking about Gary Lineker’s BT Sport debut, but that’s exactly what the channel wanted.

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As one Twitter user said last night, seeing Lineker in charge made Manchester United’s first Champions League match of the season feel like an FA Cup tie. But that reassurance is what BT Sport paid for when they signed the Match of the Day presenter to front their European football splash.

If the down-to-earth delivery and quips about ad breaks don’t quite fit the operatic Champions League theme tune, it’s still better than ballsing up a tried and tested formula.

That said, BT Sport say changes are coming.

Lineker’s new bosses quietly hope that he will push beyond his straight MOTD act, and get stuck into the conversation more. Basically, be more like he is on Twitter.

The production values will also change when the show moves to BT’s hangar-like studios in the Olympic Park on 15th September, just in time for the first group game.

But right now, Lineker’s solid performance is just what the channel needs to prove it has the expertise to handle Europe’s biggest tournament.

If football fans suffered a little cognitive dissonance during last night’s pre-match analysis, it’s understandable: Lineker is the BBC, and not just because of Match of the Day.

From Sports Personality to the Olympics and the World Cup, he is, along with Clare Balding (another BT Sport regular, by the way) the keeper of the BBC’s dwindling collection of sporting crown jewels.

There’s a reason he’s been trusted: “It gives me a lot of comfort,” Ferdinand said when asked whether it would be odd seeing the BBC presenter he worked with at the World Cup on another channel. “He’s someone I got to know very well when I was in Brazil, so it’s familiar.”

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Whether the Beeb or BT, canny broadcasters recognise what a Gary Lineker comfort blanket can do – for both viewers and pundits.