Thursday 19 October 2017

Hodgson axing allows new owners to stamp their authority

Rory Smith Inside Anfield

John W Henry and Tom Werner, the two men who control Liverpool's future, are not the types to sit on the Kop, the name of their favourite player adorning their replica shirts.

They have studiously avoided trying to curry favour by promising stellar signings. They are not men concerned with populism.

The first significant milestone of their nascent reign -- the dismissal of Roy Hodgson and the return of Kenny Dalglish -- may look like it was made as a sop to supporters, an attempt to ingratiate their reign with the paying public.

This is no democracy, though. Anfield is in the grip of an elective dictatorship. Power still resides in the boardroom, not in the stands.

Everything Fenway Sports Group -- Henry's and Werner's investment vehicle and the club's parent company -- have done in their four months on Merseyside has served to make the club's supporters, so distant from and discordant with the previous regime, feel enfranchised.

They promised to help Liverpool succeed by living within its means. They promised to review the possibility of remaining at Anfield.

They promised to reinvigorate a stagnant club with vibrant youth. They offered discounted tickets, and they have engaged with supporters' groups.

And now, after weeks of growing calls for change from the Kop, they have deposed the impostor and crowned the King.

It would be easy to characterise FSG's ownership thus far as one of style over substance. They are yet to increase Liverpool's commercial riches, already boosted substantially by Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

They have replaced a 63-year-old manager with a 59-year-old. There still seems to be no long-term plan, no vision. They admit they are still learning about football. Their actions suggest as much.

That sentiment, though, will seem far-fetched come the summer, when the next big decision of their reign is made.

FSG see Dalglish as a caretaker. He will not last beyond the end of the season, even if he succeeds in returning Liverpool to Europe and winning the Europa League. FSG may have reinstated royalty, but remain set on revolution.

The process that returned Dalglish to Anfield proves as much. Hodgson, put simply, never fitted FSG's hopes for their investment, their Liverpool. Too old, too set in his ways. A dignified, honourable man, but not the thrusting, ambitious visionary to revitalise their club.

From the off, FSG viewed him as an interim appointment. They have long been examining the credentials of other candidates, their identities and ages illustrative of how unlikely it would have been to see Hodgson complete his three-year contract.

Andre Villas Boas, Jose Mourinho's erstwhile assistant, unbeaten in his first season at Porto at the age of just 33. Jurgen Klopp, 43, the man credited with turning Borussia Dortmund into a force once more. Didier Deschamps, only 42, but with a track record of success at each of his three clubs.

They had hoped to make the first appointment of their reign a permanent one, one to show the club's fans the scale of their ambitions and the way they would attempt to fulfil them. They would stick by Hodgson for the season, proof that the image they have projected as serious, intelligent, considered owners is not a false one.

That they have acted so decisively -- with such little regard for timing -- is evidence, though, that their patience is not unlimited. Henry and Werner are successful, hardened businessmen. They expect their investments to perform. If they do not, they will act. Ruthlessly.

"We are grateful for Roy's efforts over the past six months, but both parties thought it in the best interests of the club that he stand down from his position as team manager," said Henry of FSG's decision.

It is the best interests of the club, rather than rose-tinted sentimentality, which have returned Dalglish to the post he last occupied in February 1991.

Hodgson's failure to remedy his ills was threatening to turn a task FSG viewed as a touch-up job into a write-off. They had to act, and they did.

It was no knee-jerk decision made after defeat to Wolves or embarrassment at Blackburn. It was simply a matter of expediting a plan that was already in action. Hodgson had to go, so go he would.

Even then, FSG clung to the hope that a permanent replacement could be found. It would be sensible to assume that initial, discreet inquiries into possible candidates suggested that January was no time to appoint a man to carve a future. Time to turn to Dalglish.

The Scot, of course, comes with the additional benefit of uniting the supporters and inspiring the players. That is, though, in FSG's eyes, simply a side benefit, a happy accident.

The past does not define their vision of the future. This is their club now. They will do with it what they will, what they must, to win. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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