What have we learned from Being: Liverpool?
The average football fan may have spent the summer eagerly anticipating the European Championships or the end of transfer window, but I had the premiere of Being: Liverpool frantically highlighted on my calendar. As a television programme that focused heavily on attracting and enlightening an American audience, I knew that it would contain equal measures of wisdom and amusement. But if we peel away the Hollywood glaze airbrushed onto the footage, what insight can we gain into the dawn of a new era on Merseyside?
It goes without saying that every fan around the country perceives their club as more than just a sports team, there’s a sense of community or belonging that is perhaps not present in other walks of life. However, with regards to Liverpool it feels like the blind faith and optimism stems from an unrivalled sense of passion and devotion. This can produce some of the best (and worst) supporters in the league.
In the opening monologue, the club is hailed as a ‘religion’ with Anfield noted as a place of worship. There is an immediate sense that everyone associated with the club suffers as one cohesive unit if results or performances fail to reach a certain standard. The illustrious history of Liverpool Football club therefore invites a dizzying level of expectation, which surely serves as a hindrance as much as a source of inspiration.
The programme essentially presents itself as the perfect platform for new manager Brendan Rodgers to promote his plans for the future. It’s obvious that his philosophies exist off the pitch as well as on it, with phrases like ‘family atmosphere’ helping to send the cliché counter into overdrive. There is certainly an element of confidence in they way that he presents himself but it’s difficult to decipher whether the players greet his words with any credibility, especially given his limited experience as both a manager and a player.
In an ideal world you would couple the influence of King Kenny with the mindset of Rodgers, but instead you’re left with the nagging fear that the club have gone from one extreme to the other in an attempt to reverse their fortunes. Rodgers talks about educating his players rather than training them, which again makes me question whether the sincerity of his words is purely for the sake of the cameras.
One aspect that is abundantly clear from the outset is how Rodgers likes to surround himself with familiar faces. As we’re introduced to his backroom staff, we’re told that he looks for people he can trust or has had a positive working relationship in the past. Moments later Fabio Borini arrives for his medical and Rodgers greets him like a long lost relative anda voiceover talks about how he targets players as much for their mentality and attitude as their playing attributes. With this in mind, its little surprise Andy Carroll seemed destined for the exit.
It’s also evident that introducing new and often alien techniques into the world of a professional footballer is incredibly difficult. In a scene that conjured memories of Glenn Hoddle and Eileen Drewery, the Liverpool team snigger their way through a yoga session. The treatment was devised to teach coping strategies needed to combat the pressure of the modern game, something synonymous with Liverpool and their players, but instead it descended into chaos as a worryingly high percentage of the squad struggled with balance issues. Without wanting to invite criticism, may I offer the unstoppable Ryan Giggs as evidence to the benefit of implementing yoga into the training schedule? I can’t imagine any Liverpool fans would complain if Steven Gerrard were able to continue playing at the highest level into his late thirties.
One undeniable positive involves the strong emphasis on youth development at the club, with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jonjo Shelvey benefiting from as much attention from Rodgers as the seasoned stars at the club. In one of the opening sequences we see local lad John Flanagan busting a gut on the training pitch, long after everyone else has gone home. This highlights not only the impressive attitude of Liverpool’s young starlets but also how vital it is to make an early impression when a new manager arrives. As Gerrard pointed out, unlike ten years ago, the spotlight is already on the next generation of stars well before they are regulars in the first-team.
The third episode of the six part series debuts this Friday and promises to be slightly more engaging as attention shifts to events on the pitch. There will even be footage of Rodger’s team talks, which should provide a great insight into a once sacred and very private exchange.
The club has to be commended for allowing such access, especially when previous football documentaries offer little else than ammunition for ridicule (see: The Four Year Plan). However in order to retain its credibility, I hope we’ve seen the last of the cringe worthy shots of Ian Ayre on a Harley Davidson motorbike and the segments where Rodgers appears to be reading from a motivational book written by David Brent and Alan Partridge. Then again, perhaps this whole project has been designed to distract or rather convert people while the club undergoes a significant transition period.
Join me on Twitter @theunusedsub where you might be surprised to learn that Liverpool have the youngest team in the Premier League this season with an average age of just over 23.