People thought Liverpool FC were mad to allow cameras in to film a six-part documentary, at the point of transition between Kenny Dalglish’s unimpressive second term as manager and young new broom Brendan Rodgers. Such projects always carry the air of giving their authors nothing to gain.
Being Liverpool’s first episode was, however, nothing like QPR’s hilariously revealing Four Year Plan. Editorial control was smothered all over a touchy-feely branding exercise that often resembled the glossy, featureless celebrity-vanity soaps of Kim Kardashian or Peter Andre.
The surprise was that Rodgers, who is a model of clarity in post-match interviews and whose coaching record is not in question, turned out to be a promising reality-soap character: a slightly bumbling sentimentalist, prone to talking grand nonsense. The episode’s title, The Silver Shovel, came from a Rodgers quote about what he was born with instead of a silver spoon.
We began with the team talk before Rodgers’ first competitive game, against West Bromwich Albion on the opening day of the season. “The thing to remember,” he said, in a speech reminiscent of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, “is you can only trust yourselves. No-one else. And trust the supporters, because they’re the best. And your family at home.” Armed with this homely wisdom, the team were hammered 3-0.
Rodgers seemed to fit the club’s, and the programme’s, effort to present an organisation with a uniquely caring, passionate, proud blue-collar ethos. Mockery of this worthy (but generally not too inaccurate) self-image was quite properly suspended after the shocking Hillsborough report. Being Liverpool might start to bring it back.
After a tour of the Melwood training complex, Rodgers sat behind his office desk. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a football player or one of the cleaners… it’s about respect. If we end up winning the Premier League, [the cleaners and canteen staff] will have just as much to do with it as me.”
The humility had limits: in his house we saw a large photo on canvas of himself (a thank-you gift from a charity, but still), in contrast to the office of managing director Ian Ayre, who favoured a giant mosaic of John Lennon. A lengthy introduction to Rodgers’ extended family followed, in the sort of sequence you’d think twice about including in a home video, never mind a high-budget advert for a multi-million-pound international enterprise. (“This is my brother-in-law…”)
In houses marginally smaller than Liverpool’s Anfield stadium, Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Luis Suarez also had mundane domestic scenes designed to set them up as endearing family men. Suarez didn’t say anything racist, and Gerrard managed not to make any dangerous two-footed lunge tackles on his relatives.
“Every player I see as my own son,” Rodgers said in interview, just as we watched footage of him on the training ground, cradling the back of reserve defender Jon Flanagan’s neck like a Mafia don and lowering his voice to an intimate murmur. Flanagan’s natural game was conservative, Rodgers told him: reading the flow of play, intercepting and playing simple passes. Bad news in modern football where full-backs are required to carry an attacking threat, but Rodgers’ one-on-one communication to his surrogate child was impressive.
Being Liverpool was probably unfair on Rodgers, as it was set in pre-season and contained no football apart from the training sessions, which were shot like sportswear ads and gave nothing away. More fiery moments may still come: the much-discussed clip of Rodgers flaming young star winger Raheem Sterling didn’t arrive in episode one, and before the credits rolled Clive Owen’s garbled narration waffled about “moments of transition” and “periods of struggle”.
So far, though, Rodgers is coming over like Being Liverpool itself: empty and a little bit soft.