Owners' silence adds to agony for Hodgson
THE graffiti scrawled on a Melwood wall yesterday stated "Hodgson Out" but the Liverpool manager was in at an early hour and still at his desk late into the afternoon.
This despite yesterday being a designated day off for most of the players, whose capitulation at Blackburn on Wednesday night left his job in such extreme jeopardy.
Those who work closely with Hodgson say he is bearing this nightmare experience with equanimity, wise as he is to the brutal environment football can provide, yet the silence from Boston yesterday was deafening. The wisest football proprietors publicly support their managers even while preparing to sack them but this seems to be a lesson John W Henry is yet to learn. He is creating a news vacuum that is making Hodgson's position desperate.
The rumour mill was in overdrive when he emerged to place a bin bag of items in his car. After much deliberation within the club about the merits of protecting him, it seems Hodgson will appear publicly today to discuss Sunday's FA Cup tie with Manchester United.
Although Kevin Keegan, John Barnes and Steve McManaman all came out in favour of Hodgson being given more time yesterday, the manager is not delivering what he claimed privately that he could this summer.
Liverpool's non-executive chairman at that time, Martin Broughton, declared back in July that Hodgson's "extremely thoughtful, prepared, thorough" interview for the job included a commitment to focus "on how we could get more from existing players", which had been most impressive.
"It was not (about) how much money he could have."
There are some extenuating circumstances -- the injured Jamie Carragher would not have allowed a defensive display like Wednesday's -- but the players Hodgson has inherited have become shadows of the individuals they once were.
Henry and chairman Tom Werner would have appreciated Hodgson's interview pitch. Though discussions of their success at the Boston Red Sox have focused on the appointment of the relatively untried Theo Epstein as evidence of their love of young, highly intelligent managers, Epstein was their general manager -- not their coach.
The baseball man who turned the Red Sox around was Terry Francona, a seasoned pro who arrived in 2004, aged 45, with prior experience of handling the truculent pitcher Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox had just signed from the Philadelphia Phillies and who was to prove critical to the Red Sox's first World Series success since 1918. He had also managed to get the best from Michael Jordan at the Birmingham Barons. Now Henry wants someone able to work similar wonders on Fernando Torres.
But Francona was also amenable to the modern baseball ways that the Americans want now to adapt to football, having worked as a bench coach at the Oakland Athletics where general manager Billy Beane introduced the sabermetrics system. The problem for Henry is not to find a modern young manager -- there are plenty of those around -- but one capable of lifting players in the way that Francona did at Boston, where he remains manager.
The connections that the Americans' new director of football strategy, Damien Comolli, has with continental football have elevated Marseille's Didier Deschamps, Porto's Andre Villas-Boas, former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard and, in what would be a particularly bold move, Ralph Rangnick, the 52-year-old who recently resigned from Hoffenheim, to the ranks of possible contenders. The latter two are immediately available and with doubts that Rijkaard might be the right candidate, rumour continues to surround Rangnick.
Known in Germany for the offensive 4-3-3 system that secured successive promotions for Hoffenheim from the third tier to the Bundesliga, "the Professor" -- as the technocrat Rangnick is known -- also worked as an intern at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger was a major influence. Liverpool's owners see Arsenal as a model club.
Yet the picture of Rangnick's suitability is clouded. He was bankrolled by a wealthy benefactor at Hoffenheim, whose €175m investment over 10 years included a sizeable outlay on players. Some of his scientific methods might appeal to the Liverpool owners and to Comolli, a big fan of German football: the players were encouraged to shoot against specific areas of a large electronic wall and there were elaborate devices to get players passing in triangles. But there are doubts that Rangnick's man management skills match his ideas as a technocrat.
Rangnick, who never won a trophy in Germany, has distanced himself from comments attributed to him suggesting that he wanted the Liverpool job, heightening the sense among some German observers that he might be in contention, as the quotes served only to discredit him.
But another consideration is whether the German would be willing to cede control to Comolli, having commanded such power at Hoffenheim. The same goes for Kenny Dalglish who, if he accepted a caretaker-manager's role, may not appreciate a new recruit calling the shots at a club where he is a legend.
Hodgson, by contrast, has fitted comfortably into his relationship with Comolli. They do not share views on all things -- Comolli is far more absorbed by the science metrics, for instance -- but Hodgson's experience on the continent has enabled him to work with the Frenchman. Since Comolli has the Americans' ear, it is conceivable that their good relationship is helping preserve Hodgson's fragile tenure.
Another Anfield legend, Keegan, led demands for more time for Hodgson yesterday. "It's not easy but Liverpool have been in decline for a number of years and I think Roy Hodgson is just picking up the tab," he said.
"Where are all these youngsters they signed? None of them have come through. I think there are a lot of questions that need to be asked way beyond Roy Hodgson." Hodgson's question is a simple one. Does he have a job, or doesn't he? (© Independent News Service)