Empty Nest Syndrome

"Yes gaffer, the chin stroke makes you look dead clever..." - Stu Forster

With Melwood emptied of most of it's usual inhabitants for international week, the atmosphere is a little odd and the routine is shot to pieces, as Brendan Rodgers and his coaching staff struggle to busy themselves and pine for those absent.

INT. MELWOOD TRAINING COMPLEX, 9.00AM

Brendan Rodgers, Colin Pascoe and Mike Marsh descend from Rodgers' upstairs office. They are deep in conversation. The manager wears an Armani scarf louchely draped across a fitted suit. He appears tanned, toned and his teeth gleam as he laughs in a somewhat forced manner at a comment from Marsh. Colin Pascoe wears shorts. And a vacuous expression. He seems generally surprised by most things.

Rodgers: Hahaha...yeah, that's a good one, Mike. Listen, could you maybe get me an espresso?

Marsh: Eh, I'm the first team coach, Brendan, not your bloody PA?

Rodgers: (Cupping Marsh's face in his hands and leaning in close.) That's why you're the only one I can trust, Mike. I know that you'll fight for your life to get that delicious shot of caffeine back to me, because you know we're building something here.

Marsh, seeming appeased, heads towards the café, virtually skipping as he goes.

Rodgers: See that, Col? Man-management 101, that. Eye contact, some guff about fighting, bit of face touching and...boom! I'm on fire lately, Collie, eh? Collie? You alright, fella? You look a bit stressed.

Pascoe: Sorry gaffer, I've been trying to count up the amount of players we have for training.

Rodgers: We have two, mate. We had two yesterday. And the day before. Two.

Pascoe: (Impressed) Hahaha! That's right! That's why you're the boss, gaffer. I don't know how you remember all this stuff. Do you like these shorts, Brendan? They're new...?

Rodgers: (Irritated but indulgent) Yes, Col. They're smashing. Look, go put out the cones, will you?

Pascoe runs off excitedly in the direction of the training pitch. Rodgers shakes his head ruefully and follows at walking pace.

INT. CHANGING ROOM, MELWOOD, 9.00AM

José Enrique, wearing only some 80s style short shorts, does one armed press-ups as a cacophonous Euro disco tune fills the room. He speaks incessantly, a bundle of toddler-like enthusiasm. Aly Cissokho sits, hood up, nodding at Enrique sporadically to placate the Spaniard. He is clearly focused on the session to come.

Enrique: Aly! Aly! Look at me! Aly! Look, I've done 32 of these things! How many can you do? Isn't that music amazing? Aly? (Stops suddenly and stands bolt-upright) I'm hungry. Where does Mike hide those energy bars? You want an energy bar, Aly?

Cissokho nods. Enrique rummages through a cupboard, finds the bars, removes a multi-pack for himself and throws one towards Cissokho. It bounces off his shoulder and falls to the ground. Cissokho looks both annoyed and crestfallen.

Enrique: (Cramming two bars into his mouth as he talks.) Unlucky mate. You'll catch the next one. It's like Brendan keeps telling you. Gotta speed up those reactions. Aly? I love these weeks when it's just us two. We get a chance to really connect and bond, y'know? (The Spaniard runs to his bag and grabs two hand-held games consoles) Wanna play FIFA? Aly?

Cissokho has left. Enrique shrugs and begins a game as he finishes the last of the multi-pack.

EXT. TRAINING PITCH, 9.15

Rodgers is standing on the last of a succession of yoga mats that Pascoe has laid out which lead back to the door. He is engrossed in an explanation of something to his assistant manager. As, he speaks, he is a whirl of hand gestures and animated expressions.

Rodgers: You see what I mean, Collie? I need these shoes to be flexible. They need to be technically excellent but also adaptable. The Prada ones were comfortable but these Gucci loafers are exactly the right fit to perform that role just off the touchline. They are the Xavi of designer footwear.

Pascoe: Yes gaffer. Gucci. Xavi. Brilliant analysis that. That's why you're on the big money. Cones alright?

Rodgers: Lovely work, Collie. Outstanding. You're an excellent technician. Although, you see this wee area here, okay? I would prefer these three cones to be split up into a one and a two or a two and a one. Just allows more flexibility.

Pascoe: (Shaking his head in wonderment) Brilliant, gaffer...

Marsh returns with the manager's coffee and stops en route to issue some instructions to Cissokho and Enrique, who've emerged for training. He then continues towards Rodgers.

Marsh: One espresso, as requested, gaffer. Right, I'll start these lads on the drills, shall I?

Rodgers: Ta Mike. Listen, can I have a wee word? I noticed the way you brought the coffee over. You know, if you had gone down the sideline and then cut-in from the left, you'd have gotten straight here without the distraction and delay. Every second we can shave off these things is vital. Okay? Look, it's a heavy shirt, but you wear it lightly. You've given me everything today. Off you go, good man. (Rodgers pats a motivated looking Marsh on the backside as he departs towards the two players. As he jogs away, Rodgers smiles beatifically and mumbles to himself.) I am on fire.

As Marsh takes the duo through their drills, Enrique is a picture of ebullience and good humour, winning EVERY head-to-head. Cissokho's mood and expression grow more and more sepulchral. On the sideline Rodgers, yawns as Pascoe witters in his ear, showing him the embossed crest on the latest shorts from the new training kit. The manager is bursting to COACH, to TALK about the game. Inspired by a sudden thought, he walks away from the still-wittering Pascoe and strides across the training pitch to the three men. He is heedless of the damage to his shoes, rendered reckless by a compulsion to impart knowledge.

Rodgers: Mike! Hold on a wee minute there. I've got an idea. (Marsh is frustrated but cannot hide his admiration for the effusive, smiling man approaching.) That was outstanding work. I thought you boys were excellent today. I felt you gave me everything and I can't ask more than that. Do you think, Mike, could we try a wee method I've dreamed up? (By now, Marsh, Cissokho and Enrique are putty in his hands and all nod their assent enthusiastically.)

Enrique: What's the plan, boss? Can I eat something? Have you seen me do one-armed press-ups?

Rodgers: All in good time, José. Good man. I love your passion. Right, did you see the photos of Stevie and Lucas in a race with those kids, the other day?

Cissokho: Erm...the egg and spoon race, gaffer?

Rodgers: Yes Aly! I love your energy. That's what we're gonna do.  It's the perfect way to combine the strength, speed and balance that should be in every player's skill-set. Collie, go get spoons and eggs from the canteen, will you? (The two players look quizzical but Rodgers is on a roll.) Did you see the face on Lucas? The passion. The joy of winning? The man is magnificent! What a technician!

As Pascoe returns, Robbie Fowler arrives at the same time, informing Rodgers that his orthodontist has called and that he is also running late for his portrait sitting. The manager is reluctant to leave but forces himself to hand over to Marsh before leaving with Fowler, joking that "you can't say no to God, can you boys?" Marsh, Pascoe, Cissokho and Enrique look at each other for a long moment before each grabbing a spoon and egg and running in Rodgers' direction, all dying to impress the manager. Enrique wins.

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