Six disappointing months since the departure of Rafael Benitez, no remnants now remain at Liverpool Football Club of the early optimism and promise granted by new ownership, new management and new recruits. Indeed, Roy Hodgson’s appointment was received with much fanfare in post-Benitez euphoria and I was no exception.
It all seemed a good fit – Liverpool were in decay, slipping from a second-place finish in 2009 to seventh in 2010, and it was Hodgson, the architect of Fulham’s recent European triumphs, that was brought in to stop the rot and restore Liverpool to their position amongst England’s elite. The caveat, though, was that Hodgson would not be afforded the small fortunes imparted to Liverpool managers past; his shrewd man-management and maximisation of marginalised talents were the motivators behind his appointment.
Since, Hodgson has appeared to be out of his depth, struggling to align the crucial cogs within the club and unable to grasp the system with which his squad might work best. With success on the pitch becoming increasingly infrequent, confidence has drained. His fostering of talent is conspicuous in its absence in nearly every performance this season. His subtle man-management has come to nought.
The nadir of his reign came last week with the 1-0 defeat to Wolves, where the Anfield faithful watched the likes of Gerrard, Torres and Cole fall to a side bottom of the table and previously unable to muster a win against Liverpool in 27 years. Coming from behind on New Year’s Day to beat a troubling Bolton side has given Hodgson a brief respite, but the result is not fooling anyone. Something at Liverpool does not compute and the new owners now have a short window in which to commit to a decision on Hodgson’s future.
It all looks rather bleak, but the decision is not a clear one. Hodgson has cut a helpless figure on the touchline and in interviews this season, but he is not fully culpable for all of Liverpool’s misery. The quality of the squad he inherited had long been under a sustained period of dilution due to scattergun transfer policies, both with the inflow and outflow of players, and Benitez’ deficiency in buying suitably. How Hodgson would love to turn back the clock and have Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in his side. Instead, his budget constraints have forced him to scour for players in much the same fashion as he would have at Fulham. Enter Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic who are all well below the standard expected of Liverpool. Admittedly, Joe Cole and Raul Mereiles have shown promise, but Hodgson has yet to get the best from them.
Hodgson’s future ultimately depends on the board’s propensity to push the panic button. If relegation is a genuine fear, wholesale change at the top may be the preferred option. However, this seems unlikely. What does seem likely is that Liverpool will continue to perform at their current rate, which is strikingly similar to how Fulham performed under Hodgson’s stewardship. Hodgson’s footballing philosophy looks ill-suited to the global aspirations of a club like Liverpool, but for now, the club would be shooting themselves in the foot in dismissing him. Some transfer funds this month may help Hodgson in implementing his vision at Liverpool, but either way, he deserves until the Summer to prove whether this is possible or not.