BOTH Gareth Roberts and Melissa Reddy wrote last week about the over the top — and increasingly personal — comments that come from Liverpool fans after every occasion Brendan Rodgers dares to talk about football.
For some it feels like the press conferences have become the main event. The football simply a precursor to the much more important spectacle of ‘slagging off the manager for using a positive word’.
Like Gareth and Mellissa, I don’t understand it. Largely because I have never really been interested in what a manager has to say after a game. Yes, Roy Hodgson’s outpourings of excrement annoyed me, but looking like the worst team in the country annoyed me a hell of a lot more. I’m happy to judge what I see in front of me on the pitch, not wait to see what a football manager has to say about it.
When I do seek out the opinions of others there are a thousand people, both writers and ordinary fans, I would rather listen to than a football manager straight after a game with a camera pointed at him and a microphone shoved in his face.
Those expecting insight in these moments are misguided. Those expecting honesty, naïve. Even for a manager who likes to talk as much as Brendan, they are interviews you get through. Obligations that distract from what they would rather be doing at that time.
Pre-match press conferences are much more relaxed but still rarely contain anything of note, aside from a few injury updates. I’ll write about 10 of the press conferences that will take place this week now if you like. Tick off every one of these you hear: “The whole team want to go out on a high”, “The players want to thank the fans who have supported them so well all season”, “We’ll give a few younger players a run if we can”, “The players will be focussed”, “We’ve made plenty of progress this season”, “We’re not thinking about the summer yet”. Blah Blah Blah.
The day I care more about what a manager says than what a football team does will probably be time to pack in. I’ll largely stick up for Brendan and his choices of words because I know how easy it is to say the wrong thing under pressure. To be misinterpreted when you thought you have been quite clear.
I’ve been questioned, argued with and, occasionally, outright abused when I have said things on The Anfield Wrap which I thought were fairly innocuous. It happens. The longer you talk, the more likely you’ll say something someone doesn’t like.
All that said, there are a couple of times this season when I don’t think Brendan’s mouth has done him any favours. One was after Chelsea, in a post-match press conference that led to some reasonable folks saying he should be sacked on the spot. You remember. He said he took Steven Gerrard off so he could receive an ovation from Stamford Bridge.
Now this was clearly bollocks. Firstly he could never have known he would get the applause he did. It was more likely, based on past experience and the fact they all turned up with laminated pictures of him slipping over, that Gerrard would be jeered. But most importantly no manager would ever do that with a game still in the balance.
When it made more sense to take him off for an ovation, at home to Crystal Palace, he left him on, because he looked like he might get us back in the game. At Stamford Bridge he didn’t, he looked tired and fresh legs in the middle were needed. So why not just say that? He chose to make up another excuse on the spot and it backfired massively. At worst he sounded like a manager who would make decisions based on claps from Chelsea fans. At best he sounded like a manager who couldn’t admit the real reason he took off a fella who is leaving in the summer in case he upset him.
It wasn’t a great moment for the manager. But it is likely to be forgotten fairly quickly by most. Something that might be brought up again, however, are the comments he made in a press conference last month. You remember. About fifth being about par for where we are at. He was attacked by the press conference voyeurs about loads of things in that interview. I just thought “you better hope we finish fifth now, mate.”
As we approach the final game of the season there is no guarantee we will. A tricky game at Stoke looms, made even trickier by a star winger telling the whole world he’s getting bullied. As if anyone at Liverpool Football Club looks remotely capable of bullying anyone. Due to Liverpool’s embarrassing goal difference they could draw that game at Stoke and finish the season in seventh.
The truth is, the top four is where you want to finish and fifth to seventh is pretty much of a muchness. I’m aware that as a statement that is hardly “If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing”, but I don’t make the rules. But now Rodgers has come out and said fifth is par then any lower than that is admitting failure. It’s adding pressure to yourself where it is unnecessary.
It reminds me of when Rafa Benitez ‘guaranteed’ we would finish in the top four. Now he was dealing with a snide interviewer acting the goat, but it was still an unnecessary thing to say. No manager can guarantee anything with so much out of their control, but by guaranteeing it he was suggesting it was. It was something he should have been able to make happen. Liverpool finished out of the top four that season, and Rafa lost his job.
Brendan didn’t quite go that far, but he did set out what is the minimum acceptable requirement. A par that was lower than the actual ‘target’ for this season, but which still may not be reached come the end of the season.
His saving grace might be that both of our rivals for fifth place have tricky away games this weekend too. But Manchester City might have nothing to play for, and I wouldn’t trust Everton to wash my car. If results go against us? Well it’s crazy to make a decision on the future of a manager based on one weekend. But if we finish below the manager’s par, that number five might come back to haunt him.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo