independent

Friday 25 April 2014

Vincent Hogan: Rodgers must rise above legacy of 'Being: Liverpool'

As Brendan Rodgers went looking for his defenders with a searchlight on Wednesday evening, news from the Britannia Stadium must have felt like a gentle, trifling bonus to end Alex Ferguson's perfect day.

Maybe it's the ultimate conceit of a middle-aged Liverpool supporter to imagine Fergie still taking an interest in our troubles, but what is the alternative? To think of him so wrapped up in 'It's a Wonderful Life,' he forgot we were even playing?

Two things struck home quite forcibly about Ferguson this week. One, he doesn't know the rules of the game. Two, he actually doesn't need to.

The Scot has never mistaken the job he does for something as grave as managing a plutonium depot. He is shrewd tactically, no question, but his greatest gift is to impart competitive aggression. To inspire.

While his touchline behaviour was, of course, outrageous against Newcastle, he sees winning football games as his only contractual obligation to Manchester United. And, week-in, week-out, he does that.

So, it isn't really difficult to envisage what he made of the car-crash entertainment that was 'Being: Liverpool', the TV documentary still being recycled on Irish screens. Ferguson would have considered it inappropriate as a drum-roll in a church. Just imagine a battalion of Glazers inviting themselves into the United dressing-room in the company of a camera crew.

That door being slammed would scatter wildlife in the Lake District.

Rodgers, evidently, didn't feel sufficiently empowered to take that kind of stand with Fenway Sports Group. He was barely in the gate at Liverpool when the nice people of Fox Soccer were following him everywhere bar the lavatory.

It shouldn't have been tolerated, but it was. And that tolerance curses him now as the club's season degenerates into another candle-lit procession for all that has been lost at Anfield.

Liverpool find themselves on the same number of points with 19 games played as they were when Roy Hodgson was in charge. They have eight less than they had at the same juncture under Kenny Dalglish. Yet, the popular view is that a natural goal-scorer could turn things round.

Trouble is, Liverpool's deterioration this season has actually been most conspicuously defensive. A year ago, they had conceded just 15 goals with 19 games played. This morning, the leakage stands at almost double that.

Rodgers is a palpably good man, dedicated, intelligent, respectful.

But he is trying to create something long-term in an environment routinely hostile to the very concept of patient nurture. His two big signings, Fabio Borini and Joe Allen, have yet to convince anyone that they were remotely worth the money. His next, Daniel Sturridge, has been unwanted by a succession of managers at Chelsea.

Rodgers likes to link up with people he's worked with previously – as is the case with former Swansea players Allen and Borini. He believes he knows them as people.

And maybe it would be easier to trust that something organic and, potentially, beautiful was budding at Anfield if we'd never set eyes on 'Being: Liverpool'. But that's the problem. We did see it. We did see Rodgers breezily show us around an extremely large house with a giant portrait of himself on the living-room wall. We did see that he drives a car that wouldn't look out of place in a Bond movie.

Worse, we picked up the inevitable element of bluff passing between a new manager and his players become uncomfortably amplified by a TV presence in the dressing-room. And we noted the cringe-inducing moment in Boston where John W Henry, getting little response from the players on a pre-game stroll, turns to one with a sheepish grin to enquire, "Do you know who I am?"

We saw the playwright with the pint; the chief executive with the Harley Davidson; a realisation slowly dawning that this wasn't so much a fly-on-the-wall football documentary as some kind of God-awfully clumsy soap. I doubt Rodgers watched the broadcasts with any comfort, knowing – as he must have – that they didn't so much sell the Liverpool brand to a wider audience as toss it into a Macy's bargain bin.

And that's the difficulty now with watching a team like Stoke go through his defence like a tornado tearing up Oklahoma.

Liverpool seemed startled on Wednesday night to discover that their hosts were, em, slightly physical. They were denied the space to play and, promptly, folded.

Hence a December programme that looked so rich with promise has already leaked six goals and as many points to two teams in the Premier League that, supposedly, cannot score. And Rodgers, previously emboldened enough by consecutive victories over Southampton and West Ham to talk of a potential top-two finish, reverts to a more modest sales-pitch.

I like him, incidentally, and believe that, given time, he may succeed. But the legacy of 'Being: Liverpool' weighs him down just now.

He shouldn't have done it and, deep down, I suspect he knows. The club needs him to lead, not comply.

A happy and peaceful New Year to all

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