There is a superb scene in the Clint Eastwood film Absolute Power – about a burglar who witnesses a murder, committed by the President of the United States – when the White House Chief of Staff, a woman named Gloria Russell, gets a gift in the post; it’s a jewelled necklace, which is clearly worth a fortune.
She believes it has been sent by the President himself; in fact, the burglar picked it off the floor of the room where the dead woman, Christie Sullivan, had dropped it shortly before she died. As the evening on which Russell gets the gift plays host to a state dinner she wears the necklace, and at what she thinks is an opportune moment she waylays the President to thank him. He is at first baffled, but he recognises the necklace at once and divines exactly what’s been going on – including that his staff has been keeping things from him.
He grabs his chief of staff for a dance, and as they waltz he compliments her on how she looks, and in that moment, knowing the world is watching, he compliments the necklace and how fine it is on her.
“And you know what else?” he asks her, during a daring dance move, in front of the world’s media and assorted heads of state, “Christie Sullivan was wearing it on the night she died.”
It is a wonderful, jaw-dropping moment. The look on her face is priceless; for a split second she is too stunned to react at all, and then, when she does there is a momentary flash of panic and then she puts her professional face on, knowing there are eyes everywhere.
The President tightens his grip on her hand, to the point where it has to hurt, and when he speaks his voice is calm, his smile never leaves his face, and whatever fury radiates from him is sensed only by her. The rest of the world sees a man having a good time.
I thought of that moment last night, as Brendan Rodgers embraced Leigh Griffiths after the game.
He has been doing this management thing a long time. He knew the cameras would be looking for the first encounter between them after the full time whistle, so he knew that moment was being watched, carefully, and was most probably going out live. Leigh knew it too, or if he didn’t then I am certain it would have been the first thing Brendan said to him during their clinch. “The camera is on us, try to smile, but listen to what I say.”
Gavin McCann is writing a companion piece to this article, about the incident that led to this on-camera moment, and the reaction to it from certain quarters, but only one reaction really mattered; that of the boss. I want to focus on how what we saw at full time encapsulates what Brendan Rodgers has brought to our club.
I don’t know whether Brendan was giving him a quiet bollocking or if it was a sincere moment of peace making.
I don’t particularly care either.
It was a moment of sublime managerial class. A moment of utter genius.
Whether our manager was having a quiet word of understanding or delivering the public part of a substantial dressing down hardly matters. Look at their faces. Leigh got the message either way. Brendan got the point across regardless. And the little kiss at the end; I neither know nor care if it was theatre because even if it was, it was a mark of affection that can only have been genuine. It wasn’t necessary to complete the picture and whether it was a little playing for the TV cameras or not, it was beautiful.
It reminded me of a father figure or mentor pulling aside a wayward protégé and saying “You may screw up sometimes, but you’re on the right track and I love you just the same.”
In an age where so many managers have to shout just to be heard, and in a city where across town their new boss is blowing it, in spectacular style, by cracking the whip and imposing an iron discipline he doesn’t have the credibility to effectively enforce, Brendan’s subtleties and sophistication are exemplary. The contrast could not be greater.
Brendan Rodgers is a top drawer football boss, but he is also an exceptional man manager. He has an innate understanding of human psychology that didn’t come from a textbook or a seminar or some training manual. It is instinctive.
It’s why so many of his former players speak so highly of him, save for one or two who’s character flaws are obvious, and have led to careers of underachievement and minor – sometimes major – controversy. Even Suarez, one of football’s genuine mavericks on and off the field, believes Brendan was instrumental in making him the player he is.
Leigh is smart enough to know that Brendan can make him a better player. Indeed, everything we know about him should convince us that he’s one of those guys who wants to improve. Throughout his career he has striven to be better … listening to this guy will be the best thing he ever does. And yes, because of his personality there might be moments like this, but our manager knows the difference between someone who’s passionate and driven and someone who’s simply petulant and unprofessional. For a moment last night I thought Leigh hovered on the edge of that … but he never went Full Commons, and at full time the manager defused the bomb.
In the aftermath, Brendan spoke to the press.
“For a minute he forgot himself,” he said of Leigh. “For a minute he thought about himself instead of the team. This is a team that is selfless. That’s why I can change it about, the players know I trust them in their work … He is a brilliant boy, all strikers will be the same so he just needed a wee reminder that it is not about him, or any individual, this is about the culture of the team. He was outstanding but he understood afterwards that I needed to protect him as the only fit striker at the moment. There is no drama.”
And there isn’t.
Because Brendan knew just how to handle it.
He walked up to Leigh at full time, and he knew the camera was on him. He made sure the world saw the exchange, and a lot of hacks would have ended up deleting their opening paragraphs as they watched it. With a fatherly arm around the player, he gave him the message live on the air.
And then he kissed him. It was magnificent, like so much Brendan has done at this club.
It was the perfect cap on an exceptional night, when every player was at the very top of his game.
We are now on the brink of history.