Thursday, 8 April 2010

LIVERPOOL FC: Gerrard's scowl and media manipulation

Steven Gerrard Liverpool 2009/10

PICTURE the scene. You're at work, looking to achieve a target. In your mind, you know best. You've got your own picture drawn up of the optimum way to meet that goal. Then your boss comes along...

He's got his own ideas. He's paid to make the big decisions, so like it or not, you have to get on with it. Your view doesn't really count, so you feel frustrated. And as the gaffer walks away after telling you his plan, you shoot him a look. Scrunch up your nose, stick your tongue in your bottom lip, maybe even slyly flick him the Vs (depending on how much of a rebel you are).

As incidents go, it's about exciting as a David Moyes press conference. It's something that happens in workplaces up and down the country week in, week out. It's of so little significance it probably won't even make the water cooler when the gossips gather.

Yet do it on a football pitch and all hell breaks loose.

Now that cameras track the every move of Premier League players, all too often mountains are made from molehills.

So while Steven Gerrard might have been momentarily less than happy with Rafa Benitez when he substituted Fernando Torres on Sunday - as were many fans - it's hardly evidence that Liverpool FC is about to witness mutiny.

If that was the case, why did Gerrard continue to play well AFTER Torres had left the pitch? And while much was made of his fleeting scowl as the Spanish striker left the pitch, where was the footage of his clenched fist and satisfied cry of 'yes' to fans in the away end of St Andrew's after he had hit the opening goal?

In that moment Gerrard looked every inch the Liverpool player that cared - so no wonder it hit the cutting-room floor at Sky and the BBC.

Crisis-club Liverpool showing a bit of unity? Ooh, no - we couldn't have that...

Much better instead, to crank up the audio of boos when David N'Gog took the field at St Andrew's -  conveniently forgetting to mention that the overwhelming source for that sound was home supporters still miffed at the young Frenchman's dive to win a penalty at Anfield earlier in the season.

The fact is, newspapers and television are desperate to generate stories to feed what they perceive is a need for 24/7 coverage. And without games every day of the week (yet) to fill airtime and pages, what better way to get the juices flowing than a nice bit of scandal?

And there's nothing better than a manager 'losing a dressing room'.

Ok, removing Torres from the action at Birmingham was always going to provoke debate - especially as it came with 25 minutes to go in a game where three points could have kept Liverpool in touch with fourth place.

Torres is the club's top scorer, and the best finisher at Anfield. So even a tired Torres, so the argument goes, is a threat.

This is true - and it was the very thing I was saying while begging for a winner at one of the poorest Premier League grounds I have visited.

As it turned out his replacement, N'Gog, could easily have won the game, wasting three presentable chances in a display which, finishing aside, was impressive.

So I can understand the 'everything Rafa does is right' crew defending his decision, too.

That's debate and that's the beauty of football - no two people see it the same way.

What I can't abide is the shit-stirring, the suggestion of more - the creation of a problem that isn't there (or at the very least, there is a doubt is there).

Benitez has his ways, and love them or hate them, that's how he manages. He's methodical, scientific, a thinker - he studies and applies logic. The decision to substitute Torres was classic Benitez. Head always rules heart and it has brought him - and Liverpool - success.

Rafa's not going to change his ways because the fans, media or players tell him to - he makes his own mind up. And sometimes what his mind thinks is totally at odds to what most supporters think - bringing off Gerrard for Lucas in the Goodison derby, for example.

But we're the fans and he's the manager. He's in possession of all the facts and figures and knows what goes on behind the scenes - we don't.

So to treat the Torres substitution as some kind of landmark event, evidence of a rift or signs that Benitez has 'lost it' is simply mischief making. Anyone with experience of watching Benitez in action will tell you it's entirely in keeping with his approach.

But when the media smell blood they're hot on the heels of their prey. Liverpool's poor campaign means any mistake, any result other than a perfect one, is met by hysteria and a myopic view of the problems at Anfield.

Hence Torresgate meant 'experts' where wheeled out left, right and centre from rocking in dark rooms to again sticking the knife in on the Liverpool manager (yes, you Ronnie Whelan).

But what about Carlo Ancelotti? Isn't it, by the same logic, madness to leave Didier Drogba on the bench for Chelsea's match at Old Trafford? What face did Frank Lampard pull when he heard about that?

Well it doesn't matter (for now) because the Italian is winning - and his gamble against Man United worked.

And how about good old Alex Ferguson? Will the media finally dare to criticise after he risked Wayne Rooney against Bayern Munich in the Champions League (and it failed)? Will they call United a one-man team? Will they question the inclusion of rookie Rafael (who was sent off)? Or are they too worried about losing their seat for United home games?

Like Liverpool playing in the Champions League next season, such criticism is unlikely but not impossible - and would be welcomed on Merseyside.

But even if Sir Ribena Berry IS criticised it won't last for long. Not when there's a great opportunity to generate more scandal at Anfield against Benfica.

The vultures will be in place tonight, that's for sure - desperate to point the pen if Liverpool bow out of the Europa League.

Here's hoping the Reds opt for the best possible way to silence them - winning.