Sport Soccer

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Pressure game no problem for Hodgson

Reds boss relishing opening-day clash, says Paul Wilson

Roy Hodgson claims he is used to working under pressure after 35 years, which is just as well.

Opening the season against Arsenal then travelling to Manchester City for your first away game is about as tough an introduction as any new manager could wish for, especially with the amount of scrutiny that goes with the Liverpool job, not to mention being the first Englishman in charge of one of the big four clubs since the Champions League brought into being the top four as we know it.

In no other sense can the avuncular 63-year-old be regarded as a new manager, although one of the most experienced and well-travelled operators around can reveal the excitement of a new challenge does not diminish with age.

"Of course I am excited, no question, you are never too old for that," he says. "I'll be a bit nervous before the Arsenal game too, but I'm sure I'll be in good company. I don't think Arsene Wenger or even Alex Ferguson would ridicule me for saying that's how it is for us managers and coaches. It might be worse if it was your first ever game, but it doesn't get a lot better through the years. You are never quite sure how it will go and even after a thousand games or so that tense feeling is still there. That's what I mean about working under pressure. It's not a job that allows you to relax."

The former Fulham manager was not every Liverpudlian's idea of a new figurehead for the club, although he calmed initial fears and won himself some breathing space by persuading key players, such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, to stay at Anfield rather than presiding over an early exodus.

At least he has been credited with that achievement and, even if other factors and influences were also at work, Hodgson clearly has the sort of solid credentials to keep a squad of potential high-achievers together.

"I did speak to those players, but it wasn't purely discussions with me that kept them here," he says. "[Managing director] Christian Purslow worked hard too in selling the whole ethos of the club and reassuring players that Liverpool could match their ambitions. Plus, I think credit should go to Steve and Fernando for not deserting their club. I am delighted they are still here."

The same goes for Javier Mascherano, still at the club despite a summer spent striving to leave. Hodgson was at pains to stress that signing Christian Poulsen for £4.5m from Juventus does not give Mascherano the green light to get moving and he says he would like to see both players in the same team.

"This is a big enough club to accommodate both players and, at the moment, no offers have come in for Javier," says Hodgson. "We have told him we would not stand in his way if an offer came along, but, until that day, he works hard to play for Liverpool. He is a professional, he understands the situation. He is not looking to play in the Spanish second division. There are very few clubs in the world that can consider having Javier Mascherano on their books and he is already at one of them."

Liverpool's transfer dealing may not yet be over. Hodgson is still hopeful of bringing Brad Jones from Middlesbrough as a back-up goalkeeper and, perhaps mindful of Torres's injury record, would like to sign another striker before the end of the month. Jones has the advantage of qualifying as a home-grown player under the new rules and Liverpool could use a few more of those, whereas any more newcomers from overseas would have to be balanced by players moving out.

"My problem with having to name a squad of 25 is that we have players who will have to leave because they are too good to put up with reserve team football. I can see the point of the new rules, in that clubs will be encouraged to look at more English players, but the only reason clubs look abroad is because home-grown players are too expensive. The main problem with English players has always been the price."

Hodgson comes with a reputation for the training ground equivalent of square bashing, repeating drills until players are sick of them but are left in no doubt as to what is required, although he also brings a sense of humour and perspective. When it was pointed out to him that Gerrard had just spoken of returning to training with a smile on his face, Hodgson was quick to retort that it wouldn't take him long to wipe that off.

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