So Far, So-so
Feature by Philip Hale
Updated Friday, 12th October 2012
The international calendar interrupts the English domestic program this weekend as the fourth episode of Being Liverpool airs in the UK.
For those of us with less than even a passing interest in the fortunes of the national side the lack of a game affords some time to reflect on what we have witnessed on the pitch and screen so far this season.
It is way too early to draw any definitive conclusions about progress on the football side but it seems fairly clear that the TV show has not shown the club, and especially Brendan Rodgers, in an particularly flattering light.
From the four episodes we now know that Rodgers has a liking for the word “ok”, that he is partial to giving team talks that are replete with platitudes, and that he has borrowed a hackneyed motivational technique from Alex Ferguson that involves three envelopes containing (maybe) three players names. We have also seen the glazed and distracted looks that the players appear to wear when listening to the manager. If anyone was hoping that there was some pearl of tactical wisdom that would be shared then they have had to content themselves with Rodgers telling highly paid professionals to shield the ball rather than lose it. At times it feels like the cameras have mistakenly followed a Sunday league team.
Yet on the pitch, where all that matters really takes place, Rodger’s seems to be having some effect.At the very least he is getting his side to perform as well as they did on their better days under Kenny Dalglish. He has also suffered the same combination of poor refereeing decisions, wayward finishing and bad luck that troubled his predecessor. He has so far conducted himself with a great deal of composure on the touchline even as the pressure brought by mixed results has mounted. Where, on the documentary, he appears to be trying too hard to establish his authority, on the touchline he seems to possess it naturally, no Hodgsonian face rubbing and head banging in sight. With his defence of Louis Suarez, after he was pilloried by the Stoke manager and press this week, he showed signs of growing into a job that requires a spirited response to the nonsense spouted about the club on a regular basis in the press. It is a shame that he is having some less than inspiring images of him broadcast for all to see and should results not improve then the same press will no doubt turn to the footage for ammunition against the young manager.
John Henry and FSG are of course responsible for putting Rodgers into this situation. The commissioning of “Being Liverpool”, and the subsequent over hyping of their new appointment, coupled with the failure to invest sufficiently in the transfer window, has heightened expectations of the manager while restricting the tools he has to work with. One simple reading of their actions is that they don’t have, or don’t intend to spend, the resources that seem necessary to propel the club back to the top.
I want to believe an alternative interpretation; that they are the shrewd businessmen that they appeared to be when they took over and that the extension of contracts for Suarez, Agger and Skrtel are evidence that they have a plan to blend experience with youth and rid the club of a collective apathy that seems to have come from years of giving fat contracts to the wrong players. The emergence of Sterling, Suso and Wisdom and the improvement in Shelvey has been the highlight of the season and whether by foresight or fortune these players are giving credence to the argument that a big transfer fee is not always the arbiter of talent. They have contributed to fine performances against West Brom (in the cup) Young Boys and Norwich. Just as importantly against Stoke last weekend Sterling and Wisdom in particular showed that they wont be bullied out of a game.
Rodgers is rightly being given credit for having the confidence to play them but there is a certain irony that the man he replaced, Dalglish, and the man many would have liked to see reinstated, Rafa Benitez, have both been highly influential in the development of these talents through their work and commitment to the Academy. Where Rodgers undeniably deserves the plaudits is for not playing Downing and Enrique even when fit when their young replacements have earned their place in the side.
As I say I want to believe its all part of a genius master plan from the top but I suspect parsimony in the transfer window has been rewarded to some degree by good fortune in the timing of these youth players maturity. The consequence of leaving the squad bereft of goal scoring options, however, is plain to see as games are once again dominated without being won. The injury to Borini, not that he has been a prolific finisher or even a player to “excite” the fans as promised, is further evidence of the folly of putting pretty much all the goal scoring eggs in one Uruguayan basket.
Meanwhile on this week's “Being Liverpool” Rodgers' threats, cajoling and encouragement are shown to be ineffective as the episode covers the defeat at the Hawthorns on the opening day of the season. No doubt he will be happy not to be followed constantly by a camera.
Watching the show it is hard to dismiss the thought that the club is drifting toward a standard of mediocrity that if established will be hard to escape. If that outcome is to be avoided it is going to take less PR and more investment. Rodger’s has been generally stoic so far and his “philosophy” has produced football that is pleasing on the eye so there are signs of encouragement but the next round of transfer activity be it in January or next summer needs to be highly successful.
It is a comforting thought that just “being” Liverpool will be enough to drag the club back to glory, comforting but unfortunately not convincing.