Selling Their Soul for TV Gold?

Posted: September 25, 2012 in Football
Tags: , ,

Will We Not Like This?

Years ago in a previous job my company was being audited and as a result I had to endure an entire day of some spotty number-cruncher sitting with me as I explained the every move, thought and process that constituted my average working day. Despite him possessing all the menace of a pacifist on valium, I suddenly found myself feeling deeply self-conscious and began to doubt my professional capabilities, querying all the actions I would have normally done without a moments thought. I had gone from being a confident, self-assured worker to a jittery mess who appeared to be making it up as he went along, all in a single day. And why? Simply because someone was watching me at work.

I mention this because Sunday’s home game against Man City marks the end of the filming period of the imminent fly-on-the-wall Fox TV documentary of four months inside Anfield, and I sincerely hope both Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers cope better than I did when it comes to the every last facet of their performance being scrutinised in forensic detail. You may think that’s a ridiculous thing to say of two professional football managers who live their lives in the spotlight, but there’s a massive difference between everyone knowing what you do and everyone knowing how you do it.

The period of filming encompasses the last month of Kenny’s reign, the appointment of Rodgers and the start of the new season. For some fans this will be must-watch TV, a rare chance to witness the inner machinations of the club we love. For others – myself very much included – it is something to be dreaded. 

For many my age the football documentary begins and ends with An Impossible Job, the 1994 fly-on-the-wall account of England’s attempt to reach that year’s World Cup Finals in America, under the stewardship of Graham Taylor. There have been others, but no football documentary has had such a destructive impact on its subject’s career (and indeed life) as An Impossible Job. Almost overnight Taylor went from being thought of as a decent manager who was merely the latest in a long line to fail with the national side to being a near-unemployable laughing stock.

It’s difficult not to fear a similar fate befalling Dalglish. For starters, the last few months of 2011/12 were not successful, an FA Cup semi-final win over Everton notwithstanding. Therefore the narrative (and with the documentary being made by Fox we can assume it will be an extremely simplified narrative) will be how Kenny failed, had to be sacked and now the club can go forward with renewed hope. This would be to do a massive disservice to a club legend and in particular his second spell as manager.

For starters, the filming time-frame doesn’t take in the Carling Cup success, although it may get a mention in passing. But more crucially it won’t mitigate the circumstances behind the poor league finish. Somehow I can’t imagine phrases like ‘the absence of a clinical finisher’ and ‘the width of the woodwork’ being used in a Fox ‘soccer’ documentary – aimed primarily at a US audience – to explain away Liverpool’s poor league position. What’s more likely is Dalglish’s reign will be portrayed as one big blooper reel. How Kenny emerges from this documentary will form the basis for how lots of young Liverpool fans remember the greatest player in our history and one of our greatest managers. I fear the worst.

But more pertinently will be how the documentary affects Rodgers. As if taking over the reins at one of the biggest clubs in world football, with no comparable experience behind you, isn’t tough enough, Rodgers has had to learn the ropes with a camera trained on his every move. This simply cannot have helped. Not only has Rodgers had to come to terms with the tenfold increase in media coverage of his job performance, he has had to come to terms with justifying his every move.

Thankfully the filming period only takes in two league games of the new season and therefore whatever additional difficulties the documentary has presented to Rodgers will be minimised, but the question remains: how was this documentary allowed in the first place?

Clearly a manager as schooled as Dalglish in the Liverpool tradition of keeping things ‘in-house’ would never have willingly agreed to the documentary, much less suggested it in the first place. Unfortunately for Kenny the idea was floated at a time when he was in a position of weakness on the back of the Suarez-Evra affair and having all but conceded Champions League qualification. It’s extremely doubtful the documentary would have received the green light had Suarez being exonerated and the reds been third in the table at the time. Obviously the owners were the driving force behind the decision to make the documentary and in doing so compromised the welfare of the first team squad.

When asked for the reason the club agreed to the documentary being made, Tom Werner said: ”I come from a background where the more supporters get to know the inside workings of the club the more they are interested in the club itself”, suggesting apathy was prevalent among the Liverpool fan base. Clearly this is a red herring; the reason is simple – money.

Whilst it’s encouraging that the owners are showing imagination and thinking outside of the box in terms of increasing the club’s commercial revenue, interfering with first team affairs can never be justified. If the presence of cameras in the dressing room inhibits even one player from seeking clarification of tactics or the manager to hold back on a motivational team talk (both very real fears), then clearly the cameras shouldn’t be there.

Whether we like it or not Alex Ferguson remains the template of how to manage in the modern age and it was therefore telling that Hills quoted odds of 100/1 for a similar access-all-areas documentary to be made at United. Ferguson understands the sacrosanctity of the dressing room and how easily that can be undermined by the presence of people who, quite simply, have no business being there. How many times over the years have we heard players of other teams mention the words ‘the gaffer said ….  at half time’? Now compare that to United’s players, who know better than to repeat a single syllable of anything that’s uttered within the four walls of their dressing room.

Regardless of how sympathetic the documentary may turn out to be towards Kenny and his sacking (which many fans still believe to be of questionable justification), no matter how far the filmmakers slinked into the background for Rodgers’ first few months in the job, there can never be a valid reason for opening a team’s dressing room doors to the public. The strong mutual trust Ferguson and his players have developed over time owes in no small part to the conclave-like secrecy of the United dressing room. That Liverpool’s owners have decided to surrender theirs for the sake of a few dollars is something we should all be deeply worried about.


Article first published on Empire of the Kop, August, 2012





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