Roy Hodgson: How to Lose Games and Alienate People
December 16, 2010 80 Comments
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Liverpool Football Club doesn’t sack managers. Well not very often anyway. The fans at Anfield are normally pretty loyal and it is because of this loyalty that the current climate surrounding the club feels so peculiar. There is an uncomfortable atmosphere surrounding all things Liverpool this Christmas. Even in the darkest days of the post-operation Houllier reign, fans never universally called for his head. After two dire seasons it was clear his time was up and it was obvious that the club had stopped progressing and instead was heading painfully backwards. It still wasn’t nice seeing him go. Even last season, whilst there was a share of Andy Gray worshipers venting their anger on 606, there was a considerable section of the fan base still 100% behind Rafa Benitez. These managers had their places in Liverpool fans’ hearts and minds and when they parted, it was with a sense of regret. However, when Roy Hodgson clears his desk at Melwood there won’t be that feeling. It is sad to admit it, but we all liked Roy more when he wasn’t our manager.
There’s something about Roy that seems to suggest he doesn’t quite get Liverpool football club. To ensure he got off on the right foot, in one of his first press conferences as Liverpool manager he spoke of his great friendship with Alex Ferguson. He then called League Two strugglers Northampton “formidable” opponents and before the Spurs game he spoke of how we had to accept “ it could be two defeats in nine”. Least appealing of all, after the dreadful Merseyside derby hoof fest he smiled at the full time whistle before praising our abject performance. It was hardly inspirational. His whole demeanour is as far removed from Shankly as Poulsen is from Souness. Instead it was mid-table talk from a mid-table manager. Say what you like about the timing of Rafael Benitez’s supposed “rant” but it was something that struck a chord with Liverpool fans. It had passion, it had belief, it had balls. Whilst this season Hodgson dismissed the fans anti-Hicks protests as unhelpful, Rafa boasted of how he “went to war together with my fans”. When Hodgson played the blame game by criticising Rafa’s legacy, for many fans it only went to show how he wasn’t one of us. The Englishman just somehow didn’t get the culture of the club like the Frenchman or the Spaniard before him.
Of course, in the fickle world of football all this would probably be forgotten if the results were good enough. But they weren’t and still aren’t. A home defeat to newly promoted Blackpool is probably the headline grabbing league defeat of the year, but in reality it is away from Anfield that has proved most worrying. Just one away victory so far this season means that in six seasons of top-flight English football, Hodgson has only thirteen away victories out of 84 away games. The performances match the results as well. A miserable 36% possession away at Stoke in one of the most limp league performances of recent times tells its own story. On that day Liverpool lost because they foolishly tried to battle and “out-Stoke” Stoke rather than utilise what is an undoubtedly technically gifted team.
In Sky’s analysis of the Villa game, Keys and Gray outdid themselves by managing to make the bizarre claim that Rafa left behind a worse squad of players than he inherited. This was their excuse for why Hodgson hadn’t worked so far. That is argument that needs little examination to be exposed as rubbish. The squad Benitez inherited included- surely the worst left back to ever own a European Cup winners medal- Djimi Traore as a starter. The squad inherited by Hodgson contained Reina, Mascherano, Gerrard and Torres; all of whom could put forward a good case for being the best in their position in the world. Meanwhile it contained internationals such as Johnson, Aquilani, Skrtel, Kuyt, Jovanovic, Maxi and the star of this season Lucas who has finally began to win over the critics that he definitely did not deserve (have a read of U90’s opinion of Lucas).
It had some great potential too with the highly-rated youngsters Ngog, Insua, Kelly, Suso and Pacheco waiting in the wings for first team opportunities. Roy also has the fan favourite and extremely gifted centre back Daniel Agger who has inexplicably been ignored for selection when fit, seemingly because of preference to play football at the back than just get rid. Instead Carragher was recently gifted a contract extension that will see him stay past the day he is of remotely any use at all. This day is rapidly approaching yet Jamie continues to remain a steadfast first choice. A shadow of two seasons ago, his form and long ball style seem to sadly epitomise everything that Hodgson has enforced on the team. The inability of Roy to drop Carragher highlights the lack of necessary courage and conviction that, love or loathe, his predecessor had in abundance. Ultimately, the squad he inherited had thirteen players at the World Cup and Liverpool’s current weak links are Poulsen and Konchesky. Both of these are his own signings and so far only Meireles out of the summer recruits has proved successful. However, Roy still wasted him on the right of midfield for much of his tenure.
I backed Hodgson at the start and until mid-October despite increasing doubts about our style of play, I publicly defended the bloke. However, something about him doesn’t sit right. His press conferences, his tactics and his results just don’t fit the bill; Roy Hodgson just doesn’t seem like a Liverpool manager. Increasingly he has lost the faith of fans, to the point where even the most sympathetic of supporters couldn’t genuinely claim to believe he is the right man.
Admittedly he took over during a period of great turmoil for the club, and it was always going to be tough for him when considering the popularity of his predecessor amongst the faithful. However, Roy himself said “judge me after ten games” and in that he had won just three. A further seven games on and not much has changed and more worryingly even less looks like changing. Whilst it is unlikely he will be shamefully hounded out at Anfield like other clubs annually seem to do to their manager, it is safe to say the unrest amongst fans is at best palpable. Approaching the mid-point of the season with a negative goal difference and more losses than victories would never have been acceptable under Rafa and nor should it be acceptable under Roy. With no disrespect to Fulham intended, it seems like Roy hasn’t realised he has left Craven Cottage and that now his objectives must be immensely higher than mid-table mediocrity and the odd cup run. Whilst I sincerely hope he proves me wrong it seems a safer bet that the now infamous face-rubbing gesture seen in the Newcastle game will be the enduring image of a short and frustrating stay.
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