England: Hodgson out, Kenny in as Liverpool change coach
So the short and tumultuous era of Roy Hodgson at Liverpool FC is finally over after much speculation about his position in the last few days. His final act as Liverpool coach was to oversee the club’s 3-1 defeat away at Blackburn Rovers in a game which, in itself, seemed to show all that had gone wrong for Hodgson since he took charge at the start of the season.
Having been voted LMA Manager of the Year for his exploits with Fulham FC in the 2009-10 season, with whom he reached the UEFA Europa League final, Hodgson was brought in to steady the ship at Anfield, following the sacking of former coach Rafael Benitez. Since then, however, rather than steadying the ship it has come to look rudderless and has taken a Titanic path downwards in his six month spell.
Following a respectable opening day 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal there have been catastrophic results at home which had not endeared Hodgson to the Liverpool supporters, the main cases in point being a Carling Cup defeat to fourth tier Northampton Town, a 2-1 league defeat to newly-promoted Blackpool FC and, in the most recent case, a 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers. The latter game saw an open revolt by the fans against Hodgson who was booed for every decision taken with the exception of the substitution of Paul Konchesky who, perhaps unfairly despite his terrible form, became a scapegoat on the pitch. A significant matter which didn’t help the Liverpool left-back was that he was directly recruited by Hodgson from his former club. Another matter which certainly did Konchesky no favours was the episode regarding an outburst on the social networking site Facebook directed at Liverpool fans by his mother. But Konchesky shouldn’t be alone in taking his fair share of criticism for some languid performances. Even established stars such as Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have shown negative body language and have only occasionally stepped up to the mark such as in the 2-0 win against Chelsea, with the club sometimes relying on unexpected figures such as Sotirios Kyrgiakos to help them out of the occasional self-dug hole.
But it wasn’t just that the team had played badly that was a problem. There was also a series of PR gaffes which gave the view to Liverpool fans from the start that Roy, for all his experience, just didn’t know how to make the step up to a great club (and, yes, I know he was twice in charge at Internazionale FC). The honeymoon period ended for Hodgson when, following Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford to bitter enemies Manchester United, he didn’t publicly challenge Sir Alex Ferguson’s description of Fernando Torres as a cheat. Days later, upon rumours that Ferguson would be interested in taking the Spaniard to Old Trafford, Hodgson weakly argued that he was “not naive enough to think there is no danger we’ll ever lose Torres.” The fact that he issued the sort of strong “hands-off” statement a week later regarding keeper Pepe Reina which he didn’t afford to Torres gave the impression that Roy had learnt, albeit too late, about what it meant to be a manager at Anfield.
A month later, however, Liverpool were defeated 2-0 by Everton in the Merseyside Derby in a game which could easily have seen the Reds lose more heavily had their Blue rivals not taken the foot off the gas towards the end of the game. Following this match, which many people agreed was an atrocious performance, Hodgson then went on to say that “the way we played was as good as I’ve seen us play this season. I can’t have any qualms with my players”. So not only had the fans been questioning Hodgson’s tactical nous and personal character he made perhaps the ultimate guffaw when publicly stating that he got no support from his owns fans. Even if that was the man’s private view he should never have made those thoughts public if he had any serious ambition to remain at the helm full-time. Liverpool fans had never chanted Hodgson’s name in his time there other than to sarcastically claim that he should become England coach whilst, in the last few months, chanting the name of club legend Kenny Dalglish to take over in the dug out.
And so those fans finally get their wish. Kenny Dalglish was announced this morning as the man to take charge of the club until the end of the season starting with a very important FA Cup 3rd round tie away to Manchester United tomorrow afternoon. There is some opinion, with which I have some sympathy, that to go back to Dalglish is a sign that the club keeps harping back to the past. If Liverpool’s fortunes didn’t significantly improve under Dalglish by the end of the season then it may reduce his stock somewhat at the club which is something the fans wouldn’t want to contemplate. On the other hand the realpolitik of the situation is that there is nobody in the right mind who would take over the club at the moment due to it becoming a poisoned chalice. Rafael Benitez, though he did some good at the club in his early days, has to shoulder some of the blame having left the team outside of the top four and leaving a squad which wasn’t as strong as it should’ve been given the large amounts of money he spent. Hodgson was merely a man who, nice though he is, could never bring it back to the heights that this esteemed institution aspires to. Dalglish, having won so much already as a player and coach at Anfield, knows exactly what it takes to succeed but this time it is very different. When he first took charge in the 1985-86 season Liverpool was the dominant force in the English game and had been for some considerable time. He now takes charge when Liverpool are arguably not even the dominant force on Merseyside as the table presently stands.
Nevertheless with the cup game against United followed by two league games against Blackpool and the second league derby of the season against Everton to come perhaps these are just the sort of games Dalglish needs to make a mark on the club and to start showing signs that it can, however slowly, start again in meeting the expectations and ambitions that people such as himself have helped create for the club over the decades.