Sport Soccer

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Manager's touch restores hope to Anfield hearts

Tim Rich

AFTER Roy Hodgson dragged Fulham from the brink of relegation to the final of the Europa League, the club's most famous fan, Hugh Grant, used the premiere of one of his films to suggest he would like to sleep with the manager.

Jimmy Tarbuck has yet to make his feelings known but, given the way Hodgson has begun at Anfield it may only be a matter of time.

He may have led Liverpool in just one competitive match in a corner of Europe that will resonate little on Merseyside but, in his first month as manager, Hodgson has been able to secure the two jewels in Liverpool's crown, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. He has signed Joe Cole, a player coveted by both Arsenal and Tottenham -- who could both offer him Champions League football -- and, although it is nothing to do with him, the bleak years of American ownership may be about to end.

At 62, Hodgson is an unlikely catalyst. When his candidacy was first announced it was as part of a short-list so unimpressive that Kenny Dalglish, the man charged with overseeing the search for Rafael Benitez's successor, suggested he might do better.

He inherited a club that was up for sale; that required a billion pounds worth of investment if it were to wipe out its debts, build a new stadium and construct a team that could compete in the Champions League, a competition it would not be taking part in. Should Kenneth Huang's bid succeed, that scenario may be a realistic one.

Of the senior players Hodgson inherited, only Pepe Reina seemed to have no question marks over his future. Javier Mascherano had wanted to go for the best part of a year; Gerrard, at 30, had one move left and was being courted again by Jose Mourinho.

Torres might have gone to Chelsea after the 2006 World Cup and some, including his strike-partner in South Africa, David Villa, thought he would do once this one was over.

The popular perception is that succeeding Alex Ferguson will be a poisoned chalice, lethal even to Mourinho. But Liverpool was a cup of strychnine.

That Cole was his first signing was critical. Unlike some of the men brought by Gerard Houllier or Benitez, you did not need to Google him. His name carried a resonance in the streets of Liverpool and in Formby, where Gerrard lived.

That the captain of Liverpool disliked Benitez as a person, though he respected him as a manager, was an open secret. He once joked that there was no need for him to move to Real Madrid because he was already at a Spanish club.

Had Manuel Pellegrini, one of the scores of men to have managed Real Madrid in recent seasons, rather than Hodgson been appointed -- as seemed likely -- Gerrard may have wondered why he didn't try the real thing.

Once Hodgson had signed Cole, a man Gerrard liked and whose language he spoke, the captain made his declaration of loyalty.

Hodgson was fortunate that Torres had no real suitors beyond Chelsea's rather lukewarm interest. Had Manchester City qualified for the Champions League and offered £70m cash, his hand may have been forced.

offload

If he is still offered Europa League football a season on, there seems little doubt he will leave -- possibly for Barcelona, if they manage to offload Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Torres and Gerrard, Mascherano was beyond persuading. His agent, Walter Tamar, had tried to engineer a move to Barcelona last year and the moment Benitez succeeded Mourinho at Internazionale, a move both men would have found deeply ironic, Tamar talked of Mascherano's "dream move".

Unlike Torres, who had signed a contract committing him to a maximum four years on Merseyside, the captain of Argentina had not done so. He had cost £17m; Inter might pay £25m for him, but with two years remaining on his contract, Liverpool would not get their money back in 12 months' time.

Hodgson will probably look to Christian Poulsen to replace him, a midfielder with whom he worked at Copenhagen. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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