Sunday 21 January 2018

Mutual respect for mediocrity spawned this fine bromance

We've all had enough pain. We've all had enough misery and dissembling. But the next 24 hours will bring more, although it will be disguised as a heart-warming story of friends re-united. Gerard Houllier returns to Anfield tomorrow and he will be met there by his great friend Roy Hodgson.

If you had Roy Hodgson's away record, you too would have many friends in football. Since August 2009, Hodgson has won two league matches away from home, so it is no surprise he is greeted warmly wherever he goes.

Hodgson, as he repeatedly reminds people, may be one of the game's most respected figures, but when he walks through the front door of a football club, he is also a walking, talking three points for the home side. All that is left is to choose the wine. They spend a lot of time talking abut wine.

Instead of points, he accumulates friends, who tell him how well he's doing in his latest job, the management of the decline of Liverpool.

He will be emboldened by the words from his great friend Houllier, who returns to Anfield, despite never really having left. From afar, he guided Liverpool to victory in the Champions League in Istanbul. It was his side, a side containing Djimi Traore, that won the European Cup. At the UEFA conferences where he sees his friends or when he sits down with a journalist, Houllier tells them this and they nod sagely. It is a version of the truth. Signing Djimi Traore was Houllier's achievement. Winning the European Cup with Djimi Traore was Rafael Benitez's.

These stories of managerial bonhomie are not complete without mention of the "good bottle of red" that one has decanted for another. The mistrust of Arsene Wenger by many stems from the fact that Wenger, though clearly French, eschews the good bottle of red.

There will be more talk of red wine in the build-up to tomorrow's game than during a Keith Floyd show where he is cooking coq au vin with red wine gravy followed by a red wine tapioca pudding.

They are both friends with Alex Ferguson too. Ferguson has acquired many friends in football, but he has rarely shown up at a football ground without considering if he could build a lifelong grudge around the presence of some enemy in the vicinity.

Hodgson last week described Liverpool's draw in the FA Cup with United as "sad". There are eight members of the team that won 4-1 at Old Trafford still in Liverpool's squad. Hodgson will be able to pick on seven of them and the painful decline of Jamie Carragher means he will not miss the eighth.

If Liverpool have disintegrated since that time, Manchester United have got no better. Hodgson's sadness was over the meeting of two big teams in the third round, but there was the underlying sadness as he jokes about putting on his make-up for live TV that, once again, his real record would be scrutinised and exposed.

He is just a patsy. Most of those who appointed him are no longer employed at Anfield but yet he must muddle on.

Many of his supporters in the media castigate Liverpool fans for abandoning their principles and not showing the patience they have traditionally granted previous managers. This, they will claim, is a reflection, of our impatient times with its demand for instant gratification (my problem with instant gratification is that it takes too long).

Yet Liverpool fans were pretty patient with Benitez and that was six months ago. It may not be the times that have changed just the credentials of the incumbent.

Hodgson's supporters still point to his record, highlighting in all seriousness his exploits at Fulham. There is no real success. Hodgson has never won a league title outside Scandinavia.

His methods, as he put it himself, "have translated from Halmstads to Malmo, to Orebo to Neuchatel Xamax, to the Swiss national team".

Liverpool fans are not showing impatience with Hodgson, they are voicing their feeling that he was the wrong appointment for a club that demands more than going a year without an away win and nobody noticing.

It could be that those who praised Hodgson so highly weren't really paying attention. It was easy to praise a friendly and welcoming manager while he was at Fulham. It was easy, even if he was going from one end of the season to the next without winning away from home to talk about his exploits.

One journalist recently wrote a piece defending Hodgson (guess what? He needs time). Liverpool fans were criticised for chanting Kenny Dalglish's name and the writer wondered if maybe Liverpool fans should get Dalglish just to see how they would react if it was a Dalglish side that lost at home to Northampton, went into the bottom three or lost at Stoke.

It was Hodgson who did this but it seems it is always somebody else's problem.

Usually, it is Benitez's. Last week's news that Liverpool incurred £9m in agents' fees thanks solely to Benitez was another example. This cost came about "tackling the legacy of the previous regime" as it was widely reported.

Hodgson arrived saying Liverpool were over-staffed and then recruited Konchesky, Poulsen and Joe Cole while letting some young talent go and releasing a finally fit Alberto Aquilani on loan.

The reality is that Hodgson has discovered that Liverpool is a club apart, uninterested in the soothing words from the media.

"Everyone I know in football respects the job I'm doing here and aren't too surprised it hasn't been an easy start," he said last week as he anticipated a meeting with another old friend, Harry Redknapp, before reminding people that Jose Mourinho had said Liverpool will get "worse and worse". Hodgson left White Hart Lane pointless and characteristically fatalistic, even after a good bottle of red.

Tomorrow promises more warmth and conviviality. Hodgson and Houllier will talk about their mutual respect and reflect on their great gifts of survival, skipping over their exploits which have earned them such admiration from their many friends in football.

A draw would be the most fitting demonstration of this great bromance.

Sunday Independent

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