Roy Hodgson is expected to lead Liverpool out at Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup tomorrow. Beyond that, his future remains shrouded in uncertainty.
Never before will the Anfield side have confronted their fiercest rivals in a state of such confusion.
The club's manager has stood on the brink for 10 days. Defeat at home by Wolves on December 29 sealed Hodgson's fate in the eyes of New England Sports Ventures (NESV), Liverpool's owners, convincing the American consortium to end his reign as soon as possible. Their initial hope to make the first appointment of their tenure a permanent one this summer was discarded and a plan to install a caretaker hatched.
Abject surrender at Blackburn on Wednesday night seemed to sound the death knell, yet Hodgson remains in place. It is a stay of execution, rather than a pardon, but that NESV have yet to put him out of his misery has left Liverpool rudderless, directionless.
It should be of no surprise that Alex Ferguson, Hodgson's close friend, believes the Liverpool manager's record demands respect. It is the United manager's habit to patronise those rivals he does not see as a threat while scorning those who trouble his primacy.
"I had a very good relationship with Ferguson," Hodgson's predecessor, Rafael Benitez, once said. "But then something changed. Maybe it is because we were winning more."
The Spaniard's theory will certainly be borne out by his old foe's comments yesterday. "Roy Hodgson doesn't need to justify his record as a manager," Ferguson said. "His experience and performance level everywhere he's been have been terrific."
The Scot may have insisted that he would not "get into" the issue of Hodgson's future, but he was at least prepared to express his concern at how perilous a profession management has become.
"We are in a situation where managers are getting fired and threatened to be fired," Ferguson said. "It's a very difficult industry these days and I feel for all those managers who are under pressure and have lost their jobs."
That Hodgson still falls into the former category is an impressive act of survival. His weekly press conference was abandoned yesterday. Yet the 63-year-old was still at work, taking training, preparing his team for tomorrow's fixture and granting an interview to the club's official TV channel in which the issue of his future was avoided. Anfield sources said a full public interrogation was deemed "inappropriate" but confirmed, as far as possible, that he would be manager tomorrow.
That is as far as anyone at Liverpool, aside from John W Henry and Tom Werner, NESV's principal backers, can look into the future at the moment. Even the manager himself, while stressing that he and his players have the same "high hopes, expectations and ambitions" as the fans, is yet to state categorically that he will remain at Anfield.
His only focus, he insists, is United. "We are all hurting," he said. "Every time we go on the field we desperately want to see the dreams materialise and produce the performances which bring results. It is very painful when it is not happening and the fans make their views felt.
"But we have got quite an experienced bunch of players here and they know as well as I do how important this game is, in particular for the supporters who would take enormous delight if we could knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup on their home ground."
Kenny Dalglish remains the fans' choice to be appointed caretaker with others in the frame including Ralf Rangnick, the former Hoffenheim manager, or even former defender Phil Thompson, who has called for a dignified parting of the ways.
"If Roy and the club can strike a deal that lets him go with his head high and allows Liverpool to move on, then, sad as I am to say, I believe it would be in the best interests of everyone concerned," Thompson said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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