Football: Hodgson the victim of player unrest

Bottom-of-the-table Rovers chose to react to the views of a team divided by internal disputes, says Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
WHILE A chorus of boos greeted the final whistle after Saturday's home defeat to Southampton at Ewood Park there were no chants of "Hodgson out", no banners calling for his removal. Blackburn supporters were happy, it seemed, for Roy Hodgson to remain as manager for the time being.

But though the fans may not have been agitating for Hodgson's removal, the players were and once a manager loses his players it is only a matter of time before his job follows.

Blackburn's results, seven wins in 31 League matches this year, are indication enough but there was hard proof on the news-stands even as word of his departure was filtering out. The first edition of the News of the World, which would have greeted London-based Rovers' supporters when they returned to the capital on Saturday night, had no mention of Hodgson's exit but it did contain an interview with Tim Sherwood in which the Rovers captain effectively called for his dismissal.

"He believes that if we keep on doing what we did last season we will be fine," Sherwood said, "but results now suggest we need to change things... we need something new to inspire us... ultimately it is down to the manager.

"It's his head on the chopping block. He is the one who has to pay the price if things don't improve. If things stay the same the players will be there long after he has gone. It is not a happy ship here and it is no use pretending it is... the team spirit is not there any more."

On the facing page Chris Sutton weighed in by accusing some of his team- mates of having "no long-term commitment" to Rovers and being happy to just "train, pick up their wages, then clear off home. They don't seem interested in staying to talk about what we need to do to put things right."

Reading between the lines it is clear his ire is mainly aimed at the overseas players brought in by Hodgson at the expense of English footballers like Graeme Le Saux, Stuart Ripley and Ian Pearce. Of the eight foreigners Hodgson signed only Stephane Henchoz has even been a limited success and several have already departed. Not that his domestic transfer dealings have been any better, Christian Dailly and Kevin Davies cost pounds 12.7m between them yet both have struggled to hold down a regular place.

It was all so different last autumn as Rovers headed the Premiership and players queued up to talk about the impressive new training techniques Hodgson had brought to the club. Then things started to slide and Rovers were beaten by four goals at Old Trafford and Elland Road and by three at Spurs and Southampton before being humiliated at home by Arsenal.

A run of heavy defeats is often an indicator of trouble behind the scenes and Sherwood was already making his dissatisfaction known as the season opened. The situation was exacerbated when Colin Hendry was allowed to join Rangers and the team's failing confidence dipped further as bad results were compounded by a freakish run of injuries.

The old solution would have been the cheque book but now that most clubs can afford to pay big wages, Jack Walker's wallet no longer carries enough allure to overcome the outsider's perception of Blackburn as a football and cultural outpost. With Rovers struggling it is even harder to bring in new talent, as was shown when Dion Dublin preferred Aston Villa.

While the 51-year-old Hodgson has good contacts abroad - coaching in Sweden, Switzerland and Italy have seen to that - he has been unable to attract the really big stars, while domestically his name does not exert remotely the same pull as Kenny Dalglish's. He may be a regular in the media but players care little for that and, with the team struggling, it may not have helped his relationship with Walker either.

Not that he neglected the team. He continued to take charge of coaching for every session but, though regarded as innovative and shrewd he was often ill-at-ease with the earthy reality of an English dressing- room. He recently admitted he was unhappy at finding himself swearing at a player and apologised.

He would make the point of shaking hands with every player every day and exchanging a word or two but such pleasantries, refreshing at first, would soon be seen as a sign of weakness or a source of fun by disaffected players. Respect is the key to man management and, for all his success abroad, Hodgson was bound to suffer the "show-us-your-medals" syndrome after a nondescript playing career in semi-professional football.

Hodgson may now return to the Continent where his stock remains high. There is even talk of his returning to Internazionale where Gigi Simeone is wrestling with the problem of constructing a selfless team from a superstar squad. An alternative is international management though not, for the foreseeable future at least, with England. He has influential support within the FA and may be well-suited to the international game but he would be a risky choice given the doubts over his ability to deal with English players and his judgement in the transfer market.

He leaves behind him a Rovers side in danger of being relegated just four seasons after being champions. Walker may give Tony Parkes another extended run as caretaker but unlike his last, successful spell in charge, he inherits a team who seem riven by individual and factional disputes.

BLACKBURN UNDER HODGSON

INS

Kevin Davies, Southampton (pounds 7.5m), Sebastian Perez, Bastia (pounds 3m), Darren Peacock, Newcastle (free), Jim Corbett, Gillingham (pounds 500,000), Christian Dailly, Derby (pounds 5.2m), Nathan Blake, Bolton pounds 4.25m), Anders Andersen, Malmo (free), Martin Dahlin, Roma, (pounds 2.5m), Alan Fettis, Nottingham Forest (pounds 300,000), Stephane Henchoz, Hamburg, (pounds 3m), Patrick Valery, Bastia (free), Stephen Bywater, Rochdale (pounds 500,000), Callum Davidson, St Johnstone (pounds 1.75m), Tore Pedersen, St Pauli (pounds 500,000), John Filan, Coventry (pounds 700,000), Dario Marcolin, Lazio (loan), Oumar Konde, Basle (pounds 500,000).

OUTS

Stuart Ripley, Southampton (pounds 1.5m), James Beattie, Southampton (pounds 1m), Shay Given, Newcastle (pounds 1.5m), Colin Hendry, Rangers (pounds 4m), Henning Berg, Manchester United (pounds 5m), Matt Holmes, Charlton (pounds 250,000), Paul Warhurst, Crystal Palace, (pounds 1.25m), Nicky Marker, Sheffield United (free), Graham Fenton, Leicester (pounds 1.1m), Graeme Le Saux, Chelsea (pounds 5m), Ian Pearce, West Ham (pounds 2.3m), Chris Coleman, Fulham (pounds 2.1m), Lars Bohinen, Derby, (pounds 1.45m), Patrick Valery, Bastia (pounds 80,000), Tore Pedersen, Eintracht Frankfurt (undisclosed fee), Per Pedersen, Strasbourg (pounds 900,000), Martin Dahlin, Hamburg (loan).

LEAGUE PERFORMANCE SINCE JAN 98

Jan 98 to May 98

Played 17, won 5, lost 10, drawn 2, goals for 19, goals against 31

August 98 to Nov 98

Played 14, won 2, lost 9, drawn 3, goals for 14, goals against 22

Total

Played 31, won 7, lost 19, drawn 5, goals for 33, goals against 53

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