If PR own goals matter, Liverpool are in trouble.


It’s difficult to see the notion of the mind game as anything other than a journalistic invention, a key part of the narrative arc which has little effect on the changing room, except perhaps a gradual erosion of the credibility of the likes of Rafa Benitez as the press constantly proclaim him the loser of his bouts with Sir Alex Ferguson.

However, there are good judges who place value on such external matters. Both Guillem Balague and Graham Hunter assert in their recent books that Pep Guardiola’s outburst against Jose Mourinho before the 2011 Champions League semi-final was key to Barcelona’s victory.

Well, if what goes on off the pitch matters, Liverpool are setting off on their journey to John W Henry‘s brave new world by shooting themselves in the foot.

Are John W Henry’s efforts being undermined by bad PR?

Their choice of kit manufacturer is a real own goal. Warrior offer the easiest of targets. The UK’s sneering attitude towards the USA when it comes to football automatically means the American company are open to ridicule: their bizarre advertising campaigns walk straight into the trap.

The clumsy “We Come Not To Play” slogan isn’t just an abomination against grammar. It also manages to suggest that Liverpool are a bunch of cloggers, who “launch” rather than “play”, at a time when they’ve installed a manager committed to a possession-based game. Irrelevant perhaps, although the psychological, subliminal side of the game was considered significant by Bill Shankly when he changed the team’s kit to all-red so his players would “look bigger”.

If Warrior had run their slogan past someone with an understanding of the English game’s culture they might also have stumbled across another reason why it’s so awful. There is a precedent for the peculiar syntactic use of the word “not” in the game, after all. What if Warrior’s campaign has the public viewing them in the same light as Graham Taylor? Would they not like that.

All in all, the slogan feels more like something a group of stumbling naifs proudly come up with on “Young Apprentice” than a professional tag line.

It’s tempting to wonder if this is part of a cunning advertising plan by Warrior. Perhaps by making adverts which are incredibly bad they are hoping to embed them in the nation’s consciousness. It worked for Werther’s Originals after all!

It sort of works: the clumsy “We Come Not To Play” does stick in the mind, albeit in an annoying way rather than because you want it to. The Germans call a song you can’t get out of your head a Wavum, and this works on that level, albeit as something by Black Lace rather than an aria from La Traviata. If dubious advertising is a deliberate policy of Warrior’s, it is one they’re not confining to football.

In a remarkable misreading of the national mood, they have also pushed out a series of bus shelter adverts for their trainers which make the structure look like it’s been vandalised. The glass is shattered, and we are told to “Unleash what lies beneath”. Presumably, that’s some warrior-rebel that lurks inside us all, desperate for self-expression. The sort of person who smashed up a bus shelter as a prelude to legging it down the high street with a plasma TV under his arm last Summer, in fact. Brilliant.

There’s a dark side to this. Advertising types aren’t generally daft: they tend to know exactly which buttons they’re pressing, which doesn’t reflect well on Warrior. If they really are slavishly pushing their brand with a subtle glamorisation of violence and a subliminal glorification of civil disorder, what should we make of a campaign they launched in the USA last Summer?

As major players in the MLL, the American Lacrosse league, they launched a promotion with the twitter hashtag #ninjaplease. It was a phrase which immediately concerned a number of black players, who felt it was too close to a racist phrase for comfort. A social networking campaign followed, which clearly discomforted an innocent MLL, who at least handled it with dignity, recognising the concerns of the players.

Had Warrior really naively blundered into the campaign, or are they looking to live as near the edge as possible?  Either way, an institution with the dignity of Liverpool FC, already playing with the Hillsborough campaign logo on the back of their shirts rather than the front following Warrior’s redesign, doesn’t need to be associated with this sort of thing.

And then there’s “Being: Liverpool”.

Anyone willing to have a fly-on-the-wall documentary invade their workplace is telling you all you need to know about them before the cameras even start rolling. An inflated sense of self-worth, a misguided notion that anyone who sees what they are really like will immediately respect them: for David Brent, read Brendan Rodgers.

Rodgers started the series in possession of a good deal of goodwill, having built of Roberto Martinez’s work and established Swansea as a highly attractive Premiership side. He managed to undo a lot of that positive image with his long-winded managementspeak spiels and agonising pep talks, each sentence ended with a desperate “OK?” as he prayed the object of his lecture got the point. It didn’t help that we learned he has a huge portrait of himself in his house.

Brandishing envelopes supposedly containing the names of the players who would betray him would have been a hideous stunt anyway, but if it had to be done, he shouldn’t have grandstanding it in front of the cameras; the fact that it was something Ferguson had done already made it even worse, not least because you know the Manchester United boss would have made the point a great deal more effectively.

His confrontation with Raheem Sterling didn’t look too clever either; it certainly helped to feed a media line suggesting the winger was unhappy at the club. There was probably no substance in it, but the notion gave his agent leverage when negotiating his recent contract extension, suggesting Manchester City were poised to snatch the disaffected youngster.

Remarkably, “Being: Liverpool” achieved the rare feat of turning a puff piece into something negative. This was no probing documentary with editorial control in the hands of some sensationalist journo: rather, it was an in-house job with the lens rubbed in vaseline for long, lingering footy-porno shots of The Great Club.

Yet the subjects tended to be anything but engaging, the chronicling of the genuine passion for the club in the city clumsily clichéd. Scouse poets in pubs aren’t about to get across the spontaneous wit and love of the game you’ll find in Liverpool, and while it’s unfair to expect footballers to shine as modern-day Oscar Wildes, the embarrassingly one-way exchanges they managed when they met the Boston Red Sox players ought to have been left on the cutting room floor to spare them ridicule. Liverpool is indeed a special institution, much more connected to its roots than most of the Premier League age’s behemoths. “Being: Liverpool” completely failed to reflect this with its anodyne portraits of players’ houses and routine medicals.

Meanwhile, Warrior have just announced their second foray into football, manufacturing Sevilla’s kit from next season. Ignoring the fact that if the fickle Nervionenses’ form continues, they’ll unexpectedly find themselves marketing their clobber from the Spanish second division, watch out for more clumsily aggressive advertising campaigns: wonder how well a smashed-up bus shelter will go down after a protest against the Spanish government’s austerity measures? At least it might distract them from launching another monstrosity off the back of the Liverpool brand.

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