Grumbling on towards an inevitable conclusion
The establishment's choice to be Liverpool boss, Roy Hodgson has failed utterly, writes Dion Fanning
Published 02/01/2011 | 05:00
Football supporters turning on their club's manager is not new but for a manager to turn on his club's supporters is more unusual.
Roy Hodgson's dismal and utterly predictable time as Liverpool manager effectively came to an end last Wednesday night. Hodgson is just a patsy, one of the last remaining figures from the old regime. The hopes of the Fenway Sports Group that the club could stagger on until the summer vanished with that defeat to Wolves.
Hodgson's contribution after the game, when he criticised the lack of support he has received from the supporters, might have deflected from the defeat but not as he imagined. Once more, he demonstrated why Liverpool is not only too big a club, even in its dysfunction, for him to manage but also a club he doesn't understand.
The chant of 'Hodgson for England' was a hydra-headed beast. It was the first time Liverpool fans had chanted Hodgson's name and they were only doing it to discard him. In the process they were offering him to an entity they care nothing about: England.
Hodgson was the establishment's appointment. It played well among certain opinion-formers, opinion-formers who had been very impressed with Christian Purslow. Last Wednesday night, Liverpool fans demonstrated that these men know nothing about Liverpool Football Club and its otherness.
Those who felt it was significant that Liverpool appoint an English manager failed to grasp the qualities that make the club, in the eyes of its supporters at least, different. Hodgson was coming from middle England. He is a church warden, a desk sergeant, a man whose reasonableness is only matched by a sense of persecution that he has not been given a fair deal. In another life, you could see him complaining if the 7.47 from Clapham Junction was running late.
In this life, he has complained about everything: the players he has had to work with, the number of times Liverpool appear on television and the scrutiny of the media (no manager has had such powerful backing from press and television). His grumbling has confirmed that he cannot do the job. At times, he almost seems to think it himself. "I don't think they [the fans] got behind my appointment," he said on Friday, "and there's no reason why they should."
He was an appointment made in crisis. Hanging over the club in the summer was the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett (Jose Mourinho let it be known that the ownership would have to change before he would consider the job) but while that ruled out top managers, it was not the conflict that led to Hodgson's appointment.
Christian Purslow fancied himself as a football man. He was considered a financial wizard. "He saw himself as the Fernando Torres of finance," said one who worked closely with him. Purslow would be vindicated on the financial front in one respect: he helped get Hicks and Gillett out of Liverpool.
His involvement in anything to do with the football side of Liverpool was another story. In the last unhappy year of Rafael Benitez's time as manager, Purslow was never slow to offer an opinion. He became a sounding board for influential players, who expressed their dissatisfaction. There was rarely a point during Benitez's time when players weren't dissatisfied -- that was part of his managerial style. Yet, on the field, until last season, results would often mask the dissatisfaction. Victory usually does.
In Benitez's last season, decay set it. The reasons for this would be disputed by all those involved but when Benitez was worn down by the endless feuds and his contribution to them, a different appointment had to be made.
Despite talking to other candidates, Purslow was always drawn to Hodgson. He offered reasonableness and an ability to talk intelligently about other subjects, to mention Philip Roth or John Updike, where Benitez would just want more.
After a manager who saw everything in terms of war, Liverpool wanted peace. It was an appalling reading of the situation. Liverpool imagined a more harmonious club with a manager who would offer hugs and kind words where Benitez would just seek endless, tiring improvement.
Well, the hugs don't work. Hodgson has been defensive, not open, and those who felt he would bring an improvement in Liverpool's style of play had really not paid attention during his career. He was always in an impossible position. A significant minority of supporters mourned Benitez and there is something of the post-Saipan atmosphere at Liverpool at the moment.
The fans who have turned on Hodgson are not, as some suggest, falling victim to modern life's impatience. If they were merely impatient, it would not explain why some remain loyal to Benitez. Sky can dismiss the idea of Benitez returning but they would be better asking why some supporters remain loyal to the former manager and never felt close to Hodgson, except to demonstrate some ex officio loyalty.
As in so many things, they misread the club when they say it is unlike Liverpool to turn on a manager. Liverpool has never appointed a manager like Hodgson before.
Before the game against Wolves, Hodgson once again defended himself and insisted he was the right man for the job. "I know that I am capable of doing this job, but maybe the expectations and ambitions of the club were too high and weren't lessened by the fact that I came off the back of such a good season." In other words, he could manage a club like Liverpool if it wasn't a club like Liverpool. If it was, say, Fulham. Other managers have battled with the expectation of Liverpool supporters but none has gone about setting the bar as low as Hodgson.
After a win against Aston Villa, Hodgson was asked by his friends at Sky, Andy Gray and Richard Keys, if this was title-winning form. The friends dissolved in laughter. The Fulham manager was laughing. Liverpool challenging for the title wasn't always as preposterous.
Nobody expected Liverpool to do that this season, but there has been a dismantling of expectation. That night, two friends and bullshitters met. Hodgson and Houllier. Houllier made his own disastrous misreading of Aston Villa supporters when he waved to the Liverpool fans but not his own at the end of the game. Last week, he backed Hodgson to get it right. It could have been the kiss of death. In fact, he might have kissed himself to death.
A few weeks ago, Hodgson spoke about how he had to overturn decisions made by Purslow about players the then managing director felt should leave the club.
It was another astonishing glimpse into the summer's chaos. Purslow, it turned out, was no judge of a player. He pursued Joe Cole for his signature when other voices who were then at the club described the player as "brainless".
Hodgson explained how he had kept some players Purslow didn't rate. A few pointed out that Purslow had appointed Hodgson too.
Those who defend Hodgson by saying he has not changed as a manager since last summer when he won the Manager of the Year award are getting close to the truth. Hodgson hasn't got any worse, he was never good enough in the first place.
On Wednesday, as he talked about a lack of respect to Wolves if people expect Liverpool to beat them easily and droned about the result not always matching the expectations of the supporters (his expectations were clearly different), he sounded again like a man drained of ambition.
He believed his achievements in the past year entitled him to the Liverpool job. He has the bureaucrat's mindset: he works slowly and methodically and eventually becomes an assistant secretary. "To some extent it was a reward for the work I had put in, not just at Fulham but in the years before. It was a recognition of my competence."
Hodgson used to compare his record to Alex Ferguson's if only people would take the Scandinavian leagues into account. "Those of us who work in the game and have been working in the game a long time know that the magic wand doesn't exist," he said last week.
Again it is a reasonable position but the managers who make a difference at Liverpool, Manchester United or Arsenal believe they can change everything. They believe in their own magic. Hodgson's strength is making mediocre teams slightly less mediocre and of never expecting too much.
The chants for Kenny Dalglish that were heard again on Wednesday do not necessarily mean that the fans see him as the saviour. This is not Newcastle, longing for the return of Kevin Keegan. Simply, Dalglish represents everything Hodgson is not and, in fairness, everything Hodgson could or would not hope to be.
Dalglish watched people die supporting his football club and then felt it was his duty to allow this tragedy to consume him. If he could be a temporary appointment, it would at least have the benefit of unifying the club. Dalglish, however, may no longer be interested in a caretaker position.
Liverpool will need to look for a man of ambition after that. Those who suggest the senior players at the club should be consulted are in danger of making the same mistakes again.
Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher felt they could work with Hodgson when their relationship with Benitez had broken down. One of the new manager's biggest tasks will be to confront the problem of Gerrard, who has lost his explosiveness, and gently ease Carragher, who is past it, out the door. Carragher signed a new contract on the last day of the old regime which was another curious decision in a summer when many were made.
Hodgson's appointment was the most calamitous of all. In six months, he has dragged Liverpool into a relegation battle and, in his own way, remodelled the club in his image.
If part of his job specification was to shatter the expectations at Liverpool Football Club, then he can walk away with his head held high.
Sunday Indo Sport