Hodgson accused of letting fans down after leaving Torres on bench
IT says something for Roy Hodgson's often tortured tenure at Liverpool that what was supposed to be a piece of smart PR and a helpful steer to journalists finished with an apology.
Completely separately, the club had offered free entry to children with every adult ticket for Wednesday night's dead Europa League fixture with Utrecht, while Hodgson had let it be known that Fernando Torres would lead the Liverpool attack.
When Torres was withdrawn on medical advice, the Liverpool manager apologised and was forced to answer questions on whether he or Peter Bruckner, the club's head of sports science and medicine, controlled selection.
Hodgson replied that it was not Dr Bruckner but "the physical conditioning people" at Melwood who had asked him not to play Torres in what turned out to be a tedious goalless draw against a side lying ninth in the Dutch Eredivisie. He added that Brad Jones rather than Pepe Reina had started in goal so that the Australia coach, Holger Osieck, could watch him.
It ensured that the aftermath of a goalless draw in a meaningless Europa League fixture had Hodgson portrayed as a Bad Santa on the message boards of the 'Liverpool Echo', with one post reading: "I took my boy for the first time; he wanted to see his hero, Nando, playing for the team he loves. He doesn't want to go to Anfield again."
The utter tedium of the evening may have contributed to this, but Hodgson emphatically denied he had talked of playing Torres merely to boost ticket sales. "We had sold almost 40,000 tickets before the game so there was no question of me using his name to sell tickets," he said.
"I had thoughts of Fernando playing a great 45 minutes, gaining some confidence and scoring a goal. But when we got back to Melwood I began to have second thoughts. When I discussed it with the physical conditioning people they made me see the error of my ways.
"And it was not going to be a fluid, open game against Utrecht. Away from home, they play very deep and make it very difficult and it would not have been an easy game for Fernando. It might well have been a complete waste of his time."
Asked if sitting on a bench for an hour and a half at Anfield could have helped Torres prepare for Saturday evening's encounter with Fulham, Hodgson replied that to excuse the Spaniard substitute duties would have encouraged a "them and us" attitude in the home dressing-room.
"I think in the end it was the right decision," said Hodgson. "All the players will be fresh for Fulham."
Whether that will include Steven Gerrard is unclear after he returned to full training after almost a month out with a hamstring injury. However, Hodgson will thrust his captain back into competitive action only when he's given the green light to do so by Liverpool's medical department.
Hodgson was delighted to see Gerrard join in with his team-mates at training at the club's Melwood complex yesterday, having been without the services of the midfield player since he was injured while on international duty with England on November 17.
The Liverpool manager is hopeful that Gerrard will be passed fit to make his comeback, but the likelihood is that even if Gerrard is given the go-ahead to make his return to the first-team picture, Hodgson will err on the side of caution and initially offer the 30-year-old a place on the substitutes' bench.
He is mindful that he can ill afford to risk a relapse that could leave Liverpool without their talisman for a further spell, particularly with Jamie Carragher on the sidelines until February because of a dislocated shoulder.
"Steven's on track for the weekend," Hodgson said. "He's worked very hard to get back and Steven and Jamie Carragher are the types who hate not playing. Steven has been determined to get back as quickly as possible and the physios are happy with him and he feels quite good.
"But we have to be careful there is no risk of the injury recurring and I am in the hands, to some extent, of the sports science people as to when he can come back."
Should Gerrard not be deemed ready to resume his partnership with Torres, then Ryan Babel could be handed his latest opportunity to prove that his future lies with Liverpool, having missed the chance to be paired with Torres on Wednesday night.
"On Tuesday we were working together," said Babel. "To be honest, I have never played up front with Fernando and was looking forward to it."
The Holland forward has failed to make any significant impact at Anfield since he was signed by Rafael Benitez in the summer of 2007, but he claims that Hodgson's approach to man-management is superior to that of his former manager.
"They are different," Babel said. "He (Hodgson) does things differently, and maybe that suits me better. When he arrived he was closer with the team, talking to players; maybe that gives the players a boost to respond better. He is more involved day to day with the players."
At the end of the season, Babel will have only a year left on his contract and while he may enjoy working under Hodgson, his club are already laying the ground for his likely departure by scouting potential replacements.
Liverpool continue to monitor Charles N'Zogbia and view the Wigan Athletic winger as a more cost-effective option than Ashley Young, of Aston Villa. (© Independent News Service)