Hodgson cast as 'Bad Santa' after gifting critics more ammunition

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The Independent Football

It says something for Roy Hodgson's often tortured tenure at Liverpool that what was supposed to be a piece of smart PR and a helpful steer to journalists finished with an apology.

Completely separately, the club had offered free entry to children with every adult ticket for Wednesday night's dead Europa League fixture with Utrecht while Hodgson had let it be known that Fernando Torres would lead the Liverpool attack.

When Torres was withdrawn on medical advice, the Liverpool manager apologised and was forced to answer questions on whether he or Peter Bruckner, the club's head of sports science and medicine, controlled selection.

Hodgson replied that it was not Dr Bruckner but "the physical conditioning people" at Melwood who had asked him not to play Torres in what turned out to be a tedious goalless draw against a side lying ninth in the Dutch Eredivisie. He added that Brad Jones rather than Pepe Reina had started in goal so that the Australia coach, Holger Osieck, could watch him.

It ensured that the aftermath of a goalless draw in a meaningless Europa League fixture had Hodgson portrayed as a Bad Santa on the message boards of the Liverpool Echo, with one post reading: "I took my boy for the first time; he wanted to see his hero, Nando, playing for the team he loves. He doesn't want to go to Anfield again."

The utter tedium of the evening may have contributed to this but Hodgson emphatically denied he had talked of playing Torres merely to boost ticket sales. "We had sold almost 40,000 tickets before the game so there was no question of my using his name to sell tickets," he said. "I had thoughts of Fernando playing a great 45 minutes, gaining some confidence and scoring a goal. But when we got back to Melwood I began to have second thoughts. When I discussed it with the physical conditioning people they made me see the error of my ways.

"And it was not going to be a fluid, open game against Utrecht. Away from home, they play very deep and make it very difficult and it would not have been an easy game for Fernando. It might well have been a complete waste of his time."

Asked if sitting on a bench for an hour and a half at Anfield could have helped Torres prepare for Saturday evening's encounter with Fulham, Hodgson replied that to excuse the Spaniard substitute duties would have encouraged a "them and us" attitude in the home dressing room. "I think in the end it was the right decision," said Hodgson. "All the players will be fresh for Fulham."

One of the reasons Hodgson had wanted Torres to play against Utrecht was that he wanted to judge how he performed alongside Ryan Babel, although the Dutchman was told Torres would not be starting an hour before kick-off. "On Tuesday we were working together," said Babel. "To be honest, I have never played up front with Fernando and was looking forward to it."