Hodgson makes right noises in the wrong place
Roy Hodgson's arrival is confirmation of Liverpool's great decline, says Dion Fanning
Published 04/07/2010 | 05:00
R oy Hodgson has been described as "the perfect appointment" for Liverpool. Although as the writer in question also once suggested that Emile Heskey could have the same impact on a club as Eric Cantona, there are good reasons right now for Liverpool to feel very afraid.
Hodgson will not make or break Liverpool, Tom Hicks and George Gillett have already taken care of that, but his appointment last week underlined one thing: football is no longer the priority at Anfield.
Hodgson was, by all accounts, impressive at his introductory press conference on Thursday but he was always going to be. He is astute at playing the media, saying nothing or saying the right thing, which as far as the corporate class who run Liverpool are concerned is the same thing.
For them, Hodgson's debut was a dream. He was hailed by the media, many of who feel they will be inside the tent once more after the years when Benitez treated them with contempt, and he made no claims on money that did not exist.
Liverpool underlined their position as a dwindling force in English football with the announcement that the eminently reasonable Hodgson would be their new manager.
Hodgson described managing Liverpool as "the biggest job in club football" which in some ways is true. It is the biggest challenge but if Liverpool were the biggest club in world football, they wouldn't be appointing Roy Hodgson as manager. Hodgson seems to sense this somewhere. He is a footnote in Liverpool's history but, more importantly, he is a footnote in Liverpool's present.
Liverpool is now a club owned by banks and run for the benefit of bankers. They have appeared to discount the advice of the football man Kenny Dalglish, although at Hodgson's presentation it was said he was fully supportive. Subsequent quotes from Dalglish, the spiritual leader of Liverpool Football Club, gave his backing to the new manager.
Dalglish is being impeccably loyal to the club he loves but what kind of club remains is, as the new manager admitted, beyond Hodgson's control. He says he has received assurances that he will receive any money from the sale of players but this would be a change of strategy. This regime is also good at giving assurances. The new stadium is already built on assurances alone and Tom Hicks was able to name a completion date without letting anyone know when building would start.
The chairman Martin Broughton last week assured people that unknown bidders would start trying to buy the club by mid-July and he expected the club to be sold by the end of August, even though there have been no bids yet. With these men in charge of an appointment, Liverpool were never going to get a revolutionary or even a visionary. Instead they got the company man.
The distraction is about Hodgson keeping the players who want to leave, the players who would leave, it was suggested, if Benitez stayed. Javier Mascherano seems certain to go while Fernando Torres may stick around for one more season, but he may be more reluctant if Steven Gerrard goes.
One website reported that Gerrard had "given his unanimous backing" to Hodgson. For somebody as conflicted as Gerrard that would be possible but also quite an achievement. Gerrard's backing might not keep him at the club and if Liverpool was still a football club, selling Gerrard would make a lot of sense.
Unfortunately, Hodgson would probably not see the money if he sold him so he has to fight to keep him, but admitted on his first day that it was "to some extent, out of his hands". Hodgson is a reasonable man in circumstances that are unreasonable. They are banking on him staying reasonable.
To date, Christian Purslow has failed to do what he was brought in to do and he fired Benitez for similar footballing failures. Now he has appointed a man who has many friends in the media, guaranteeing an orgy of bullshit not seen since they urged Liverpool to be patient with Gerard Houllier (funny how they never had the same tolerance for Benitez, but Rafa never provided them with the name of a good restaurant in Montpellier).
By the end of the week, all the important figures had spoken. "He is a man of great experience who attends all the big tournaments," Houllier said of his friend, bringing his own touch of surreal flimflam to the proceedings. Attendance at all the big tournaments is now a qualification which must make Malcolm Brodie a prime candidate for the big jobs. Jose Mourinho, who hasn't spent much time in South Africa, would want to watch his back.
The age of bullshit is back with the blessing of Houllier. Liverpool is now peppered with it. In response to one fan's criticism of the decision to sack Benitez, Broughton replied that the media didn't seem to agree with the supporters who were against the dismissal. What this had to do with anything wasn't made clear but the media reaction was, as the official website reported, universally supportive of Hodgson's appointment. They have controlled the news cycle while everything else falls to pieces.
Those who will protest in Liverpool today about the ownership of Hicks and Gillett are wise to what is going on. They are staging their own Independence Day and they know that Hodgson is window dressing. There were many justifiable reasons for dismissing Benitez but none for replacing him with Hodgson.
He makes the right noises in the right language, the language that is understood from the corporate world to the UEFA technical committees where Hodgson has permanent membership. It is the language of bullshit.
"I'd like to sign off on the financial part and leave that to the man sat beside me because he knows more about these things than me," Hodgson said on Thursday, suggesting he hasn't been paying attention; the days when the money men knew about money is over.
But Hodgson is there as a balm. His purpose is not to soothe the supporters but to soothe those who now call the shots. There will be no more awkward press conferences; the bourgeoisie have triumphed.
They talk about stability and harmony. Why would a manager with a club in as much danger as Liverpool want to provide that? "The only complete person is a complete idiot," Tennessee Williams said. For harmony, stability and open lines of communication read inertia, acquiescence and appeasement.
Liverpool will be a quieter club under Hodgson. There was never a worse time to be silent.