I don’t know why I held off writing this piece when Roy Hodgson’s move to Liverpool has been the worst kept secret since Dickie Rock removed his wig.
Liverpool announced today that the former Fulham boss signed a three-year deal to become their new manager and his first task will be to convince the club’s top three stars – Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres – that they should stick around and fight to get the club back in to the top four.
Liverpool are not the club they were five years ago. Seemingly on the up-and-up, fresh off their surreal Champions League win over AC Milan, they boasted a hungry Gerrard, in-his-prime Jamie Carragher, next big thing Xabi Alonso and old reliables in Didi Hamann and Sami Hyypia. They are not even the club they were 12 months ago having just pushed Manchester United all the way in the title race and impressed me so much that, against my better judgement, I suggested they would actually win the league. But last season saw total meltdown as Liverpool finished 7th and Rafa Benitez gave in to the pressure and said some silly things.
Now they have Mr Hodgson, he of the charming speech impediment and five top flight championships – in Sweden and Denmark. His success at Craven Cottage over the last two and a bit years has not gone unnoticed and he deservedly picked up the LMA Manager of the Year award for guiding Fulham to the Europa League/UEFA Cup/Fairs Cup final. Hodgson probably can’t believe his luck though. He’s taking on what he calls “the biggest job in club football” (hyperbole is a prerequisite of being a manager/footballer) at the age of 62. But is this the wrong deal for everyone concerned?
Liverpool gain little
Say what you like about Rafa Benitez (go on) but the guy has been successful at the top-level. Hodgson won his last trophies in 2001 – the Danish Superliga and Super Cup with Copenhagen. His most prolific period of success was in the 70s and 80s with Swedish sides Halmstads and Malmo. In and around these posts, a nomadic career has taken him to Blackburn, Inter Milan, Bristol City, Grasshopper, United Arab Emirates, Finland, Viking, Switzerland … we could go on.
Some might say that the he has earned the Liverpool post but that’s only if you think earning comes through being around a long time and being a nice guy. His track record is not that inspiring and the appointment seems to be an indictment of how far Liverpool have fallen under their current American owners. Is Roy going to win the league? Hardly likely. Is he going to return them to the top four with Tottenham, Manchester City, and, perhaps, Aston Villa and Everton battling with them? Even that looks a tough challenge with limited funds.
The Liverpool board needed a manager who could stabilise the club (the clichéd ‘safe pair of hands’) while they try to sell it, get the best out of limited players or ones who have lost confidence,and pick up some bargains in the transfer market. It hardly seems like the sort of heady heights that Liverpool fans are used to.
The key question is whether or not this appointment will be enough to convince Torres, Mascherano and Gerrard to stay at the club. Gerrard has backed the appointment and even though his statement is a predictable platitude you somehow get the feeling that he will be happy playing under Hodgson. Torres has previously stated he wants to stay at Liverpool and there’s no reason to doubt him. Mascherano might be the odd man out. He made noises about getting out a year ago and might see the change in management as his opportunity to move on. Would his loss have as detrimental effect as Xabi Alonso’s seemed to a year ago?
Liverpool would be happy if Hodgson had the same impact on Liverpool as another experienced English manager had on the Premier League rivals who took their Champions League spot. But with all the unrest surrounding the club and fans already resigned to another season of mediocrity it is hard to see momentum being generated from the appointment.
Fulham lose a lot
Things could have been so much different if Hodgson hadn’t led Fulham to four wins in their final five games of the 2007/8 season (including a 3-2 win over Manchester City after being 0-2 down with 20 minutes left, and a late winner on the final day at Portsmouth) but the fact is, he did. And from there he led them to their highest ever league finish and first ever European cup final. This is a club who began 1997 in the fourth tier of English football. So it seems a bit harsh when Fulham only net £2m for what would appear to be their biggest asset.
Having lost Hodgson they also stand to lose a couple of players. Brede Hangeland is a rumoured target for Hodgson’s new club (although would probably cost in excess of £10m), and Mark Schwarzer is reportedly off to Arsenal. As if that wasn’t enough unrest the Fulham squad is an ageing one: Zoltan Gera, Danny Murphy and Damien Duff were key players last season but they are 31, 33 and 31 respectively. Not too far behind them are Bobby Zamora (29), Simon Davies (30) and Andy Johnson (29).
So it’s clear that a rebuilding process is required and Fulham cannot rest on their laurels. There might be some money available with chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed having sold Harrods for £1.5bn this year. But it certainly won’t be the gentle transformation that Hodgson would have brought. Does someone like, say, Mark Hughes have the ability to build a new side from scratch? Or is it time to call in the Troubleshooter?
Hodgson risks it all
I’m sure Roy took little time to consider the offer from Liverpool, reasoning that it was his last chance to take a position at a major club. Obviously he has faith in his own abilities and truly believes he can turn things around. But if Liverpool are 7th next May and fail to win any trophies (although at this point I wonder if anything beyond the Top 4 and Champions League resonates at all with fans of the big clubs these days) then questions will be asked of whether or not they want to “waste” another season with him in charge.
It’s all hypothetical but Hodgson has put himself in a situation where he must improve the club’s position. Yes, he did it with Fulham but he did it with little expectation or pressure. From the moment he kicks off successive league games against Arsenal and Manchester City next August, all eyes will be on him.
I don’t blame Hodgson for taking the role on but if he’s perceived to fail and his stock falls accordingly there might not be an opportunity to take, say, this job in the future…
England miss an opportunity
The debate about England manager Fabio Capello is set to go on and on until the FA finally decide on his future in (bizarrely) two weeks. It was almost like they opened a window of opportunity for Roy Hodgson to climb through and offer his services. But it wasn’t to be and I actually feel they have lost the best man for the job. Public opinion continues to waver about Capello with some of his decisions being called in to question. With Hodgson out of the running they may now stick with Capello by default. True, Capello may turn things around (although I’d suggest there is an overhaul required), have a successful two years and leave the England job in 2012 for Hodgson to step in to. But if Hodgson does endure a difficult time then he may not be up for consideration any more. It may have been Roy’s last chance.
He’s back to his self-regarding best this week:
They [the FA] have got a manager and until he’s not the manager it’s difficult to talk about it. But I’m English, who wouldn’t want to manage England? There’s not an Englishman – whether it’s me, Roy Hodgson or Sam Allardyce – who would turn the job down because it’s our country and we want to manage our country. No one is ever going to turn that job down. If you’re English you cannot not want to manage your country.
It’s always difficult to talk about another job when there’s currently an incumbent or another player when he’s under contract to someone else but not so difficult so as not to talk about it.