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Getting Tough

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Aggression is a dangerous thing unless it is controlled and channelled. Liverpool need to have a little more. Leicester City's dyspeptic gaffer, however, could do with a lot less.

Nigel wasn't leaving without James' lunch money.
Nigel wasn't leaving without James' lunch money.
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Living with an intelligent and socially conscious teenage daughter leaves one in a very heightened state of awareness about the potential damage one's words can inflict. A passably considerate human, thanks to the concerted efforts of my own parents, I've always prided myself on being kind whenever possible, but even I have endured the arched eyebrow of disdain for some of the archaic or potentially offensive expressions I've used in recent times. I'll be honest here. My initial reaction was self-righteous indignance -- you KNOW I didn't mean offence -- but afterwards, upon reflection, my viewpoint changed.

You see, it's not about being restricted or 'policed' in how one articulates oneself, it's about not deliberately hurting others, when you don't have to. It's really that simple. We can all make mistakes, unintentional blunders, and I've no doubt I'll see that beloved eyebrow elevated again, but to intentionally use language and behaviour that is threatening, disparaging or just offensive is a different thing. Why do it? Why persist in an action that will cause pain where it's not warranted? Now, please don't misread me, dear reader. The author of these words is a spectacularly flawed 41 year old man with an unfortunate tendency to unleash his inner caveman. There is no hypocritical preaching here. No pontificating.

Except in the case of Nigel Pearson. There may be a little pontificating about him. Yes, actually. There will be.

Leicester City's wannabe sergeant major is back in the news this morning, just in time to partially deflect the attention of this column from the malaise at Liverpool Football Club. Football, as we know, is awash with posturing machismo. That is, of course, unless one is a burly attacker who's been grazed in the opposition penalty area, upon which there occurs a glorious metamorphosis into the most delicate of flowers. This atmosphere of naked male aggression that permeates football (good morning, Tony Pulis) can mean that a degree of belligerence and bullying is accepted from those who wield the most authority.

In recent times, the Dark Lord of Old Trafford was notorious for his prickly attitude and ferocious antipathy towards journalists who had the temerity to wander outside the Ferguson-decreed parameters of acceptable questioning. He loved all the why are you so wonderful, Sir Alex? stuff. It was the more probing questions about why he signed Massimo Taibi,  Anderson and Eric Djemba Djemba or why he couldn't match Bob Paisley's European Cup haul that tended to result in lifetime bans and puce-faced rage fits.

At least the former Manchester United dictator had a slew of silverware to buttress his rampant ego. Over at the grandiloquently monikered King Power stadium, Pearson has no such reason for his displays of unchecked pomposity, aside from the high wattage of his own self-satisfaction. After defeat to champions elect, Chelsea, the prickly ostrich enthusiast indulged in a spot of unadulterated intimidation in front of the assembled press and their recording devices. The journalist that sparked his pathetic display of faux-tough-guy bullying made the fatal mistake of not accepting Pearson's whinging at face value. You see, poor Nige was sad that the bad man wouldn't believe his story of press victimisaton, so he decided to, um, victimise a member of the, um, press. Magnificent self-awareness there, chief.

Ironically, over at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers, that most unfailingly courteous of men, is preaching the need for an increase in genuine toughness where it matters -- on the pitch. Frankly, this scribbler is comprehensively bored by the constant debate over the manager's fitness to continue and until there is a concrete move by FSG, the assumption here will be that Rodgers will retain his job. It is interesting to hear him identify the comparative fragility of the players as something that needs to improve, and his many critics will see it as deflection, but there is certainly ample recent evidence of an on-pitch lack of the heart for battle.

"The challenge for next year is to build a team that can get through the rough waters as well and that is going to be critical for us," the Antrim man insisted, not unreasonably. "We've got a lot of fantastic players but when it is tough we have to get through that and if we want to make a challenge like we did last year, that is what we have to do. The challenge for me until the end of pre-season is to rebuild a group that can get through. The players here have given their best to meet that challenge but we have to refocus again and look to improve the squad."

After a decline of epic proportions in recent seasons, one man who may well be the poster boy for Anfield apathy and lack of appetite for the fight, is Glen Johnson. The lazy criticism that has always accompanied the full-back, about his inability to actually defend used to irk this scribbler immensely. He was never as bad as many claimed and his other gifts compensated. For a couple of seasons, however, Johnson's form has been abject and his demeanour on the field of play has been beyond infuriating. It's no longer positional incompetence, it manifests as indifference. Rodgers' persistence with the player is a genuine reason for concern about the manager's judgement, in the midst of the more unfair criticisms of his howling detractors. For his part, Johnson can at least see the writing on the wall and has the decency to affect interest, even if his performances betray the opposite.

"Everyone knows where I am," the former England regular insisted. "I have no contract, and I don’t think that will change. Every team wants to finish as high in the Premier League as possible. With the Europa League, you do get a lot more games, but it’s a competition you would rather be in than not. We’re all professionals, otherwise we would not be at a club like Liverpool. We’ve got four more games to concentrate on to try to get a few more points. That’s what we will concentrate on doing."

In a further ironic twist, the committing of these last paragraphs to cyber paper has left your scribbler in dour form and lurching towards an unwise display of aggression. It is quite the trial to calmly accept Glen's observations on professionalism and concentration. Unlike Angry Nige, however, I will control my baser impulses and bid you all a very good day. In the interim, gawp in disgust at Leicester's class bully in full flow. It's quite the most remarkable display of pathetically incongruous playground intimidation you're likely to see.