Being Liverpool - A Review
Feature by Philip Hale
Updated Friday, 21st September 2012
"Being Liverpool" aired on Sunday night in the States and the timing of its prime time debut, coming as it did with Liverpool still to record a win in the league this season, put the wisdom of the whole project into doubt.
It has all the makings of a series that will constantly be overtaken by events.
The show of course comes on the back of John Henry's open letter to the fans and Rodger's meeting with various bloggers.There is an irony in a TV show and charm offensive from owner and manager that heavily reference the traditions of the club, Henry directly invoking “the Liverpool way” in his letter, while completely ignoring the essence of that creed.
The Liverpool “way” was really the Sir John Smith/Peter Robinson way. It did not exist before those two men ran the club and it endured throughout their time in charge. Sir John Smith summed it up like this: “We’re a very, very modest club at Liverpool. We don’t talk. We don’t boast. But we’re very professional.”
All access TV shows certainly were not on his agenda. Watching the awkward scenes in the Red Sox locker room as Rodger's explained, to a disinterested looking Red Sox coach Bobby Valentine, the benefits of training in the heat was further proof that avoiding this kind of exposure is the smarter course of action. The presence of the cameras seems to have led Rodgers in particular to feel the need to play up to them. Not that I am blaming him, it's an impossible situation in which he finds himself, but at times he came across as an awkward teenager mugging for the camera.
At other times Rodgers expounded on his philosophy of the game, explained how he saw all the players as his children and that he was at Anfield to return the club to its former glory. It all smacked of oversell. Henry and Werner described him as organised and articulate yet the show aired against the backdrop of the failure to back their manager's judgment in the transfer window. The problem of course with all this talk of a philosophy is that Rodger's can only point to one season in the Premier League as Swansea manager as any kind of evidence that he has what it takes. A season in which Swansea played some nice football but finished in 11th place with a negative goal difference. It's a record that cannot stand up to real scrutiny so he seems to be over compensating with his sometimes "guru" like persona. Don't get me wrong I like Rodgers and admire his handling so far of the pressure of managing the club but results on the pitch would be better than fine words off it. The more he talks the longer the rod for his back grows.
Other sections of the show followed Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva to their homes but told us nothing of note other than to wince a little when Lucas's return to fitness was heralded given what we know about his latest extended lay off. Both players came across as genuine family men and that's good to know but entirely uninteresting. Ditto Fabio Borini's successful medical.
Presumably the purpose of allowing the cameras in is to raise the profile of the club in the States. Success on the pitch would surely be a better route to that particular goal so once again the timing of this series raises questions regarding FSG's vision for the club. Anyone in the US casting even a cursory glance at the League table would be hard pressed to see a reason to watch based on recent form. There is an obvious disconnect between the pedigree and luster of the club and its current condition on the field but whether an American audience cares enough for the clubs past to be interested in the present remains to be seen. Tom Werner’s has previous form on trying to extract value from his sports investments with TV ties ups and wage cutting at the San Diego Padres so perhaps the whole venture should not come as a surprise.
One consolation, unless they plan to revisit the topic in later episodes, was that there was no sign of the rumoured footage of Kenny Dalglish being relieved of his duties as manager.
The Liverpool legend was featured only in the opening few minutes before we were introduced to Brendan Rodgers. That was sufficient time, however, to hear John Henry explain that there was always an agreement that Kenny would step aside when they found a new young manager. This was immediately undermined as Clive Owen narrated that the search for the young manager in question took a month and started following Dalglish's departure. Not exactly a consistent story even with reported editorial control. Ian Ayre went on to explain that seasoned football people expect changes and Dalglish's familiarity with that reality made getting rid of him easier. Well that certainly made me feel a lot better.
The programme was book-ended by Dave Kirby doing his best to place the club in context of its community, to speak of the club in emotional terms rather than commercial possibilities. It felt a little out of place, a reminder of a time when appealing to an American audience wasn't part of the club's raison d'etre. Clearly the football world has moved on and commercial ingenuity is needed to compete at the highest level. This show, however, feels more like a conjurers trick. It wants the viewer to believe in an illusion, in this case the illusion that FSG understand the essential nature of Liverpool Football Club and want to somehow share it. Look behind the curtains, however, and you find Werner quoted in Bloomberg Business Week recently as saying “In baseball, when you acquire a franchise, you are one-thirtieth of an industry,” he says. “If we sell a Liverpool jersey to a supporter in Jakarta, we keep 100 percent of that.” How's that for a "Hey Presto".
As a supporter all I need to really know about the club is what I see on the pitch. Maybe the performances and the show will improve in tandem. We can but hope that next Sunday delivers on both counts.