The great Bill Shankly once quoted – “At a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters.” Liverpool Football Club, over the years has grown into a well-knit community that is an epitome of Shankly’s words as mentioned above. However, various factors have now emanated to denigrate the very sanctity of this family. And numero uno on the blacklist is Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson.
Liverpool fans this season have come together to become the albatross around Hodgson’s neck. The team has registered 5 wins in 8 league games at home, thus far but the real sting comes from their away record. Just one win in nine games on the road is not an away record that is acceptable at a club of Liverpool’s stature. There is no doubt that had the away record, at the least, been as good as the home record then Roy Hodgson, claimed by many as one of the nicest people in the world of football, would have been showered with undying faith, devotion and support from Liverpool supporters all over the world. Sadly, that is not the case. However, for all the antagonism that ‘Woy’ is being accused of, how much of the vandalism really stems from him?
Liverpool’s 2009/10 campaign was the club’s worst season in 11 years. Rafa Benitez was asked to leave the club following the shambolic performances of the team that brought them down to 7th in the league when they were contending for the title the previous year. Now here is the startling fact that many seem to have forgotten. Liverpool’s 2009/10 season included just 5 wins away from home. The away record also included just 18 goals. And this was a team that comprised of high quality signings- Yossi Benayoun, Albert Riera, Alberto Aquilani and Javier Mascherano. It is rather hard to believe that a team with such players alongside the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina was easily dominated in the domestic realm.
So, the damage had already been done. Whether the cause was Rafael Benitez or Sammy Lee or the former Yanks, is irrelevant. The team ended in seventh spot and to add to the club’s woes, they were knocked out of the Champions League and dropped down to the Europa League. This was not the club’s silver lining either; for, they lost against eventual winners Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals.
Rafa Benitez delivered nothing. What was more hurtful was the blanket of predicament that was pulled over the club. After a derailing season in all competitions, the Yanks started to tamper with the club’s ethos. Ayre, Broughton and Purslow, members of the Liverpool’s board of directors had a monumental task of finding a buyer to prevent Liverpool from going into the hands of RBS; which, by the way, would have spelt doom for the club.
Liverpool was already in the transfer window when Rafa was asked to leave. Mascherano compelled the club to let him join Barcelona. Riera had a spat with the Gaffer too and wanted out. Babel didn’t seem to be around for the following season after a distasteful tenure at Anfield. And then there was a Liverpool fan’s worst fear- Torres and Gerrard leaving the club to challenge for honours with a different team.
Where was Roy Hodgson all this while? At Fulham.
Prior to making a move to Liverpool, Roy Hodgson was mooted by many to become England’s next manager as Capello failed to make it into the good books of the country’s fan following. This is the first checkpoint. There was no talk about how “bad” a coach Roy Hodgson is or how dismal is his record when the team plays on away turf. Why not? If just six months into the campaign, Liverpool fans are calling for his head, then why wait that long when it comes to the national team? It is not like England plays international games week-in week-out. Going by the timeline that the fans have treaded to defame Roy, it would only take a loss to Trinidad and Tobago to axe him from the post of England manager right? But no one said a word back then.
Coming to the second checkpoint- Internazionale. It might have been just rumours flying around, but strip the credence of a rumour, and it is still a fact. Why was Roy thought to be wanted by Moratti again? Here is why – Internazionale had finished runners up in the league table in 1992/93. But the following season they plummeted to 13th and the season after that they faired a little better but still ended up taking the 6th spot in Serie A.
This is when Hodgson came in. It was a change in atmosphere and players he would deal with, since he had earlier been managing the Swiss national side; but at Inter he was at an illustrious club with motley of players of the top quality. Away from his country, Roy managed to get over the cultural and linguistic barriers to take charge. His first season in Italy ended with Inter finishing 7th. The next season saw an improved Internazionale finish 3rd.
However, the Inter fans were not satisfied with what they got. Due to constant criticism coming from everywhere in Milan, Hodgson eventually had to resign although he guided the club to a UEFA cup final in 1997 – the team lost to Schalke on penalties when Inter had 3 first team players missing due to suspension and a couple of others who caught flu – and also got the team to the precipice of Champions League qualification.
Massimo Moratti showed immense faith in Roy Hodgson
“Roy Hodgson was an important person in the development of Inter Milan to the point we have reached today. He saved us at the right time. When he came we were in trouble, and things appeared dark. He didn’t panic; he was calm and made us calm. Everyone at Inter will remember him for that and his contribution. He is considered by us all as an important person in our history. He left an endowment to this club that’s important in our history.” This is what Moratti had to say when Roy was going to take charge at Liverpool.
This brings us to Liverpool – checkpoint number three. It is not funny in any way to bring in a man with thirty years of managerial experience penned on his resume to take charge of a club as prestigious as Liverpool. He has, quite literally, been around the continent – major clubs, national teams, lower division teams and teams belonging to the upper echelon of football leagues. One cannot argue that such a man has not learnt anything from his time spent with these teams. It is his job, his profession. It is what he began doing for a living and he has crossed borders and taken up challenges to grow and progress as a manager.
Just because he has not consistently managed an English club, been away from home and not been a regular ingredient of the English media does not, in any way, give any Liverpool fan the right to label him and go the name-calling way. Roy Hodgson knows that Fulham to Liverpool is a step up and not a step down. He has the prudence to understand the severity of this job, the people involved, the money involved and most importantly, the expectations that were implicitly packed in his contract. He might be rubbing his face or stroking his chin when his team is losing but he has never disregarded or insulted the soul of Liverpool Football Club.
What if Roy Hodgson proves everyone wrong?
Saying all this is not meant to cut out a God-like figure in Roy Hodgson. He is still human and is as prone to mistakes as all of us are. He may not be the man to turn things around at Liverpool but one will never know for sure, unless one places faith in him first. Liverpool’s history states that every manager to take the reins has always been given the support and faith of all the fans and the management in all purity. And if Liverpool is known to stand up and face a crisis as a family then why ostracize Roy Hodgson now? More than the club, it is Roy who should have been given the fans’ support right from the beginning. It is not too late, yet. It can still be done. Things can still change. After all, the manager’s presence is intended for the long run and not for a quick fix.
Hodgson might be tinkering with his team and tactics which have received more of cynicism than appreciation but here are a few facts from Liverpool’s premier league campaign so far that are worth pondering over:
Fact #1: In the current season, Liverpool have scored maximum number of their goals in the first 15 minutes of either halves. This speaks volumes of the positive intent that the players have when they walk out.
Fact #2: The team has conceded the maximum goals in the second half so far (15) while they have let in only 7 goals in the first half. So there is reason to believe that their performances are far better in the first half when they tend to press the opposition, pile on the pressure and push forward.
Fact #3: Most Liverpool goals have come from around the six yard box which is indicative of their build-up play.
Roy Hodgson was not given a fancy transfer war chest when he arrived at Anfield. In fact, it was the very opposite of that. He already had a depleted squad. No Benayoun, Riera, Insua. Aquilani was loaned out. Also, he had no say in Mascherano’s departure. With a fortnight to make his signings with the help of a new scouting staff, Roy somehow made a shrewd move for Meireles and bagged him for 11 million pounds. He also purchased Konchesky and Poulsen in that time frame. Yes, both of them are players who are no longer in their prime and Roy should’ve done better but how long does it take to sign a top quality left back or a central defensive midfielder?
All this said, Roy Hodgson might be sacked tomorrow morning itself. But he must at least leave with the thought that he got everything he wanted at Liverpool. He tried his best, but couldn’t do the right thing. As long as he is at Liverpool, he should never walk alone.
If today, Kenny Dalglish was the manager, and Liverpool were where they are now…..