While the envelope trick just looked embarrassing, he has shown three other metaphorical envelopes that are driving the players on.
Anyone who watched the latest instalment of ‘Being: Liverpool’ will remember the moment. With the TV cameras rolling, Brendan Rodgers held a team meeting before the opening game of the Premiership season. In this meeting, he held up three envelopes. In each envelope, he explained, was the name of a player who he felt would “let the team down” this season. Unfortunately for Brendan, everyone who saw that knew that the envelopes contained blank pieces of paper, if he even made the effort of putting paper in at all. This was his attempt at playing mind games with his players, a trick to increase their effort and work rate. I don’t think his achieved much at all; the look of confusion on Charlie Adam’s face was probably being secretly shared by every other player. However I believe this highlights an aspect of Brendan Rodgers’ management; the need to constantly provide a challenge and a motivation for his players. Pulling this off is a masterstroke of management. While the envelope trick just looked embarrassing, he has shown three other metaphorical envelopes that are driving the players on.
These three figures aren’t meaningless white envelopes. They even have names. Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom. These three players have been given a run in the first team, without having previously looked like first team contenders. Now, I don’t believe that all three of them have suddenly become good enough for the starting XI. Yes, they have been developed by the Liverpool academy and look like the first drops of a wave of players coming through the system. Liverpool fans will proudly quote Pep Guardiola who has said that the Liverpool academy is the second best place to go in the world, besides the Barcelona’s own La Masia. Led by Rodolfo Borrell, an ex-Barcelona coach, a revamped academy has seen Martin Kelly, Jon Flanagan and Jack Robinson make a break into the first team in the past few years. Sterling, Suso and Wisdom may well be swiftly followed by the likes of Stephen Sama, Jerome Sinclair, Adam Morgan, Ryan McLaughlin, Samed Yesil and Conor Coady. You can say that Rodgers has taken the prerogative to introduce these players into the first team and give them a good run, but I think it’s a bit more complex than that.
For me, you must spare a thought for the players that have been sacrificed for these players in the starting XI. Those players are Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique and Fabio Borini. Downing is the best example of my point, you all know about his failure to get a goal or assist in the league last season. He was poor last season, failing to show the dynamism or creativity that you would expect of an attacking player. What do you do when a player underperforms? You drop him. You give him the message that he has to fight for his place and his recent performances are unacceptable. Jose Enrique too, he has looked sluggish lately; being caught out with poor positioning when he was really needed. He finds himself on the bench, with a far younger and less experienced Wisdom in his place (Wisdom is playing at right-back but Johnson has moved over to let him in). Borini has also failed to set the world alight since his move; he now finds Suso playing in his position. Is this an elaborate mind game for Rodgers? Is his selection of these players actually a message that is being delivered to the senior players in the team; play well or find yourself on the bench.
You also have a valid point for arguing that the youngsters are in fact good players and are doing well. Sterling is looking like a very sharp player, a constant menace for the opposing full back; he has even hit the post twice. Few could doubt that he has a very bright future in the game, possibly becoming a world superstar. Suso continues the mould of the small, technically gifted Spaniard (they have so many that you’d like to see them lend one of them to England for a bit). He fits the Rodgers philosophy of pass, pass and pass it again. Confidence and ability isn’t lacking in this kid, within a minute of coming on for his premiership debut he had skipped past Scholes and contributed to Steven Gerrard’s opening goal. Wisdom has rarely put a foot wrong, a strong defender who has even scored in the Europa League; he has looked sound on the ball and looked the part. This is the defining point of this specific argument; none of them seem to have looked out of place. Are they in there on their own merit? Are they part of the list of the top eleven players at the club?
I’m not convinced. I see it as no coincidence that the areas where cover is at its weakest - left back, left wing and right wing - are the areas where the ‘established’ players are being dropped. I judge it as being a fantastic piece of management from Rodgers. One reason for having an understudy for a position is not only cover in case of an injury; it’s a motivator for the regular occupant in that spot. Downing and Enrique had little competition last season, are they being taught a lesson now?
While I believe that this is all part of an elaborate mind game from Rodgers, I’m starting to be swayed by the argument that these players are in on their own merit. Raheem Sterling has played six of Liverpool’s seven games this season; he is even being rested in the cup games! I must stress that I’m glad to see young players being given a game, there are fewer sayings in football that I think to be more true than ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’.
Whatever the reasons for Brendan Rodgers’ selection of these teenagers, it’s very good to see. I do wonder how long it will last; will Downing and Enrique be given a chance soon? They have an awful lot to prove, the youngsters have come in and performed well. They are in a fight for their places at the club and must be ready and raring for the fight. They are in this fight because of the bold and brave decision by Brendan Rodgers, a much better idea than the envelopes!