LIVERPOOL'S owners are convinced Roy Hodgson is not the man to lead the club forward in the long term and are actively considering replacing him midway through the season, should the right candidate become available.
Fenway Sports Group (FSG), who bought the club in October, had hoped to allow Hodgson to continue until the end of the season before reviewing his position, but their concerns over his relationship with the club's fans and the team's seemingly endless on-pitch troubles are now so great they are reconsidering their plans.
The group's principal backers, Tom Werner and John W Henry, would prefer to make their first appointment a permanent one -- seemingly ruling out a return for Kenny Dalglish, the fans' clear choice, as caretaker -- and they are believed to be examining the credentials of a number of candidates.
They will not sack Hodgson, though, without knowing their preferred replacement is available and willing to move, raising the possibility that the 63-year-old will continue in control for the foreseeable future despite failing to win over either the club's owners or the Anfield crowd.
FSG -- who appointed Theo Epstein as general manager of the Boston Red Sox at the age of 28 -- hope to attract a young, ambitious coach to revitalise the club after two years of regression under Hodgson and his predecessor, Rafael Benitez.
In charge of a club where risky appointments have, for more than half a century, been frowned upon -- Jose Mourinho was disregarded in 2004 because of his penchant for self-publicity -- FSG are certain that only breaking with that tradition will jolt Liverpool back to life.
The likes of Frank Rijkaard, the former Barcelona manager, Porto's Andre Villas Boas, Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp and Marseille's Didier Deschamps would all fit those criteria, though only Rijkaard -- at 48, the oldest of the contenders -- is available.
Owen Coyle, too, thought by many to be a modern-day Bill Shankly in-the-making, would be both difficult and expensive to entice away from Bolton Wanderers mid-season.
Though Hodgson yesterday moved to stem the growing tide of anger among Liverpool's supporters for his perceived criticism of the Anfield crowd during Wednesday's 1-0 defeat to Wolves -- more than 9,000 people have signed an online petition calling for his dismissal -- his contrition is unlikely to quell FSG's fears that his relationship with the fans is beyond repair.
"I certainly regret if I have offended them in any way," said the Liverpool manager. "It was in no way meant to be an offensive comment on my part.
"I went on to say that, while describing my situation as not being able to win the fans over with performances, I was taking responsibility and fully understood and empathised with them.
"There is no way I would want to do that and there is no way that would be justified because everyone knows the support from Liverpool's fans is the best in England. I am also fully aware that to get the best out of that support, you have to give them something to look forward to supporting."
It is that problem which is at the root of his employers' growing discontent with Hodgson's reign.
Henry and Werner are thought to feel that the former Fulham manager is unlikely to elicit the best from this Liverpool squad, while his failure to address the team's myriad of problems in his six months in charge has frustrated the owners.
They cannot doubt, though, that Hodgson himself is suffering, describing the aftermath of the Wolves game as one of the loneliest periods of his long career.
"Lonely is not the wrong word to use because to be quite honest, you do not want company any way," he said. "You want to be left alone with your thoughts -- which are not pleasant thoughts -- but you do not have the desire to do anything but sit around with those thoughts.
"It is a lonely job being a manager of a top club. You cannot expect people to help you too much. The staff are very good and supportive, and the players, too, but your family is very important at times like these. They try to encourage you that life isn't all doom and gloom. That is what you have to cling on to."
Such problems, Hodgson admits, seem a world away from the triumphalism of his final season at Fulham, the achievements of which earned him the Liverpool job, as well as the LMA Manager of the Year award.
"It seems a long time ago, doesn't it?" he said. "It has been an uphill struggle for me here. I have had a lot of situations to deal with. There have been these very big setbacks, which have thrown me into the firing line. I accept it as being part of a big club and taking a job of this stature."
For all his problems, Hodgson insisted that we had no intention of quitting. "I was very pleased to get this job -- I left a very good job to take it, so the last thing in my mind is walking away from a club like this or walking away from football," he said.
"I want to be here, I want to change things, I want to turn it around and I want to help the club and the new owners get the success they want.
"It has taken me a long while to get to this elevated position, coaching one of the best clubs in Europe. Coming to Liverpool for me was a pinnacle. It was a reward for the work I had put in, not just at Fulham, but in the years before.
"It was a recognition of my competence and you hope you can keep flying forward. (But) I saw a quote from Benjamin Disraeli when he became Prime Minister saying he had climbed to the top of the greasy pole. That is what we do as managers." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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