Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three Envelopes.

So, as the kit deal clearly wasn't enough, Liverpool are currently 'Being' on the television. I haven't seen it - it's not on here. But an extract has been published that shows manager Brendan Rodgers waving around three envelopes while telling his team that he has already written down the names of three people "who will let us down this year...the cause, the fight, everything".

So far, so middle-management-sent-on-a-sales-course.  It's book-ended with his belief that "the sky's the limit for you", punctuated with "we need to be together" (slightly ironic, under the circumstances), qualified with "maximum three will let us down", but, inconsistently, as there are three envelopes, finished with a repeated pressure, "make sure you're not the one" (my emphasis).

Three envelopes is rather clever, actually - just one could encourage the team to band together to find and shun the Jonah - three adds to the edge of unease. Whether or not Rodgers has nicked this idea from Alex Ferguson matters little - the speech should be taken on its own merits, which are few.

In late 2009, German goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide; he was suffering from depression. Enke had hidden his illness for at least six years, his wife saying that he feared their child would be taken away if his illness became public knowledge.

Bit of a leap? Maybe not. If someone in that room was already struggling, what message would those three envelopes send to them? Obviously the intention would be to gen everyone up, to not be one of the guys in the envelope, to spur them on, yadda yadda yadda; the usual teambuilding stuff.

But for someone struggling? The fear of being one of the guys in the envelope - in fact, being 'the one' that Rodgers refers to several times - could be crippling; could be deeply counter-productive; could even be dangerous.

And for somebody really struggling? Well, they might already know that it's their name on one of those pieces of paper in one of those envelopes.  They'll know it, nothing will convince them otherwise - not that they'd discuss this with their team-mates, as now everyone's been alerted to the three (or possibly one) Jonah(s) who are going to let us down.  Even though there is sure as damnit nothing written on any piece of paper in any of those envelopes, even if the envelopes have paper in at all.

With a bit of luck, the players in the room will all be happily on the level and/or will have recognised the stunt for the management-speak hooey it is; they are, after all, highly paid and adulated players for a big football team.  But Enke was a successful goalkeeper, capped for his country, with a wife and a young child, and he still ended up standing in front of a regional express train.

That stunt was deeply irresponsible and rather unpleasant. If it works, he'll be hailed as some sort of man-management genius. Let's hope it works, rather than the alternative.