Liverpool spare Hodgson media glare as Anfield drama plays out
Under-pressure manager looks for lift from Cup visit to old rivals Manchester United
Perhaps it was a Freudian slip last Saturday evening when Roy Hodgson said he hoped that the "clockwork oranges" of his side would put in the shifts when the superstars were rested.
Hodgson meant the "clockwork soldiers" – or perhaps "Duracell soldiers" as the then-Marseilles coach, Eric Gerets, described Liverpool's infantrymen two seasons back – and he corrected himself, but who can really blame him for that reference to the dystopian world Anthony Burgess depicted and Stanley Kubrick committed to screen? There might not be violence around Anfield but there is certainly the madness.
The latest "drama" surrounded Liverpool's decision yesterday to spare Hodgson the indignity of a press conference at which he would have fielded an avalanche of questions about his future. Since even this cancellation quickly constituted "breaking news" the club's decision seemed wise in a week when the feverish rumours surrounding the manager included the suggestion that Radio 2 had broken news of his dismissal. The reaction to the tweet "Roy has been sacked" from the Daily Mail's Des Kelly on Thursday evening was giddy. "I meant to say Roy Keane is sacked. Silly me," Kelly added seconds later. Irony doesn't work on Twitter.
Some of the more disillusioned Liverpool supporters now feel only empathy for the way Hodgson has been left in limbo by owners Fenway Sports Group, with the latest individual to occupy the news vacuum yesterday being the former captain and assistant manager Phil Thompson.
Thompson is seen by some as a fallback if Kenny Dalglish does not step into the temporary manager's role John W Henry is considering creating, though prospective managers do not attack the incumbent. Thompson said Hodgson should admit "that the issues are just too big for [him] to handle," and added that "we are wallowing in mediocrity".
In truth, there was little else there for Hodgson to add about his job prospects, other than perhaps to suggest that Fenway – who currently have no corporate PR representation in the UK – should back or sack him. Hodgson's absence from the Melwood press room was a shame because of the wealth of proper football questions which might have been put about tomorrow lunchtime's FA Cup third-round tie at Old Trafford. He and Sir Alex Ferguson have a good relationship – "Sir Alex is not really a Liverpool man so I'm a bit concerned about my excellent relationship with him," Hodgson said in far happier times last summer. And the Liverpool manager has the potential – painfully improbable though it might be – to replicate the Scotsman's own journey if one of those soldiers of his can deliver what Mark Robins did for the Manchester United manager in the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest precisely 21 years yesterday.
That Robins goal sent Ferguson forward into another 21 years of continuous employment and counting. Hodgson would probably take another 21 weeks if they were offered to him now but this weekend can be simply about the football if Liverpool's fans allow the occasion to release them – and him – from the current purgatory. The supporters have voted with their feet in the past two weeks but Liverpool will take 9,000 fans to Old Trafford – 6,000 more than on League occasions – and those who are willing to put aside their grievances will remember that Hodgson has the potential – again, painfully improbable – to become the first Englishman to lift the FA Cup with Liverpool (The legendary 1977 final Liverpool lost to United, depriving them of the treble, was the closest Bob Paisley ever came).
Sadly, the chance to ask Hodgson, as Liverpool manager, for his thoughts and memories of Paisley will probably never come – the suspicion still being that behind that wall of silence the Americans are preparing to dismiss him – and it was left to the club's in-house TV station yesterday to gauge the manager's outlook ahead of what has been a miserable FA Cup fixture, Liverpool having won three of their 15 encounters with United. Hodgson, who was not asked about his future, said: "We're all hurting in this situation," and reflected on "a poor, poor defensive performance to let in the goals we did" at Blackburn on Wednesday. It would be "a remarkable coup" to defeat United, he added. "The important thing for me to do is ... make that point clear [that a win would lift the club] but also to emphasise that to win it will require a lot of intelligent football. We're not going to do it through heart alone. It needs to be a combination of endeavour and desire, but also people using their heads to play well tactically, negate Manchester United's strengths and take advantage of some of their weaknesses." Raul Meireles is fit so Hodgson can, Jamie Carragher apart, at least boast a full-strength squad.
For once, Ferguson was a side-show to a press conference which didn't even happen. He said just enough to make clear his indignation about the prospect of Hodgson's dismissal. "Roy Hodgson doesn't need to justify his record as a manager. His experience and performance level everywhere he's been have been terrific so I'm not going to get into that." Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney, who with Edwin van der Sar are expected back in the side, are both still seeking a first FA Cup winner's medal and Ferdinand has revealed he has deposited his two runners-up medals from 2005 and 2007 in the bin.
"They get thrown away, runners-up medals. I don't even keep them," he said. "They are the ones that you think about more than anything else, to be honest. I don't really think about the ones I've won, just the regrets and if only from the ones we lost. I need to win the FA Cup."
Hodgson's need is by far the greater in these dark times and considering that on five of the past six occasions these teams have met in this tournament, the winners of the tie have gone on to lift the trophy, he can only have hope. There is nothing left to cling on to.
United and Liverpool: An FA Cup history
Tomorrow's game at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Liverpool will be their 16th FA Cup meeting, United leading by eights wins to three. The last four winners of ties between the two have gone on to lift the trophy.
1977: Man United 2-1 Liverpool: Final
Liverpool were champions and heading for their first European Cup success but Tom Docherty's side triumphed at Wembley through goals from Stuart Pearson and Jimmy Greenhoff.
1979: Man United 1-0 Liverpool: Semi-final
Liverpool were beaten in a replay at Goodison Park after a 2-2 draw in the first game. Greenhoff scored once more in the replay to send United to the final, where they lost 3-2 to Arsenal.
1985: Man United 2-1 Liverpool: Semi-final
A four-goal thriller at Goodison resulted in a replay at Maine Road, where Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes booked Ron Atkinson's side a place at Wembley after Paul McGrath's own goal. United beat Everton 1-0 in the final.
1999: Man United 2-1 Liverpool: Fourth round
United trailed to an early Michael Owen strike with just two minutes remaining before goals from Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer earned a famous win.
2006: Liverpool 1-0 Man United: Fifth round
Peter Crouch's header was enough for the Reds to record a first FA Cup win over United in 85 years. The match was marred by a horrific leg break suffered by the visitors' Alan Smith.
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