As an ex member of Manchester United’s Stretford End, Liverpool have always been at the top of the list of teams to “hate”. I can’t tell you the number of times back in the 70′s that I stood in raw disbelief as my beloved United were torn to shreds by that awesome Liverpool team that swept all that came before it. Despite a healthy dislike for anything Scouse, like any two world class prizefighters, there always exists a respect for each other, if for no other reason than for the accomplishments of your opponent. This year has been different though. Watching what has unfolded at the west end of the M62 has been, for me, tinged with sympathy, and almost pity, for the plight of a once great club. In the last 24 hours, I believe, events have hit rock bottom as it appears manager Roy Hodgson will be forced out of the club after only a short time in charge .
Roy Hodgson has always been someone who I have liked as a person, and respected as a football manager. Somewhat unknown to many up until the last five years, his main successes occurred in the quieter regions of European football such as Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland. He had stints at Blackburn in England, but his most notable achievement came at the San Siro as manager of Inter Milan, and I doubt there is a manager anywhere that has Hodgson’s experience of differing football styles and culture. In 2007, he returned to England to take over at Fulham and proceeded to take that club to a highly respected 7th spot in the Premier League, followed by a place in the 2010 Europa Cup Final against Athletico Madrid. As a result, he was regarded by many as a successor to Fabio Capello as a future England manager. His demeanor always conveyed a calm, quiet control, combined with a healthy ability to handle the media. Following his success at Fulham, in July of this year, Hodgson was approached by Liverpool to succeed Rafa Benitez and after he gratefully accepted, so began a new era at Anfield.
What was strange from the outset, was the lack of enthusiasm from Liverpool fans towards their new leader. Traditionally, Anfield serves up a warm welcome for most new managers but that was conspicuously absent in this case. Everyone knew that Benitez had left Hodgson with a lot on his plate. The squad was polluted with under achieving players and a distinct lack of quality and confidence. Many had expected Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League title in 2009 but that petered out in a season of finger pointing and disgruntled attitudes towards owners Tom Hicks and Tom Gillett. However, with new owners in New England Sports Ventures and a new manager, many Liverpool fans were cautious but certainly optimistic coming into the new season. It started badly with a slow start in the League and a shock exit in the League Cup to lowly Northampton, followed by losses to Blackpool, Newcastle, and to the hated Everton. An inspired home win against Chelsea seemed to indicate that a corner was being turned, but last night, a horrendous home loss to Wolves showed that things are moving from bad to worse.
Anfield fans have been relatively tolerant towards Hodgson’s dilemma, but while they haven’t been 100% supportive, they knew Benitez had to go and were prepared to show patience with the new regime. Old faces left the squad and new ones joined and whilst no major signings were made, it seemed Hodgson was building his team thoughtfully, except it now seems, out where it matters. I have talked to people who have sat on the Kop this season, and while there are definitely some detractors, highlighted by those chants for, “Dalglish” and, “Hodgson for England”, the fans have been patient. This morning, at a press conference, Roy Hodgson committed the ultimate sin and turned on his critics in the Kop.
Liverpool and Man Utd, along with Newcastle, fall into that “special” category when it comes to their fans who follow their club in their masses, mostly regardless of the product on the field, but they are very knowledgeable about what they see. Most of the time their support is unilateral, but the moment you “blame” them for their criticsm, you’re done. It’s over, and this morning, apparently all that’s left are the signatures and the contract settlements. Petitions are already forming on the internet pleading for his head, and when you have highly respected commentators within the game agreeing, you know the end is near and I can’t wait to hear Hodgson’s reception at the next home game against Bolton on Saturday.
He does, however, have one shred of hope. Looming on the horizon, on January 9th, is the monumental FA Cup 3rd Round tie versus Man United at Old Trafford. If he can hold on to the job by his fingernails until that day, and if, God forbid, he can get out of there with a draw, and bring United back to Anfield and win the replay, he’ll buy himself the rest of the season. A win over us with my grandma as manager would put her in Scouse folklore.
If not, then the fat lady will be front and center.