James Lawton: Hodgson must be given time to clear up the mess left by Benitez
One brutal fact screamed out of the latest Anfield debacle. When Roy Hodgson came to pick his starting team he turned to seven of Rafael Benitez's hand-picked signings
Friday 24 September 2010
Roy Hodgson may prove not to be the man for Liverpool but if he does go down, and if the blow delivered by Northampton in the Carling Cup comes to be seen as a killing early assault on his confidence, his defence counsel might run the risk of lockjaw if he cites all the extenuating circumstances.
Chief among them, surely, is the obligation to clear up the mess left by Rafael Benitez.
There always had to be those doubts expressed by Kenny Dalglish about whether the new man was the right choice to guide the stricken giant through a crisis that is becoming increasingly, and nightmarishly, surreal. This is because his achievement at Fulham, where demands were so much less oppressive than the ones he faces now, spoke more than anything of a knowing veteran who could fiddle his way to a certain level of glory.
It did not announce a miracle worker at the highest level of the game, which is pretty much the job requirement the task of rallying Liverpool has so transparently become.
Certainly, it is a challenge of an entirely different order from the one Hodgson met so successfully at Craven Cottage and perhaps the clearest indicator of this came with the insipid performance at Old Trafford last Sunday.
Yet if defeat by Northampton, from the bottom tier of the Football League, was by far the most serious assault on the spirit of the Liverpool faithful, it did bring one benefit to the embattled Hodgson.
It defined the root of his immediate problem. He simply doesn't have a quorum of adequate players.
This was the charge levelled, eventually, at both his predecessors, Gérard Houllier and Benitez but the difference in Hodgson's situation is that they had years to select the performers they deemed up to the job of maintaining and developing Liverpool's place in the game.
One brutal fact screamed out of the latest Anfield debacle. When Hodgson came to pick his starting team he turned to seven of Benitez's hand-picked signings, including five – Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Daniel Agger, Lucas Leiva, Ryan Babel and David Ngog – who cost a combined total of £27m.
Hodgson also fielded Daniel Pacheco, who starred for Spain in the recent Under-19 European Championship and had the pick of one of English football's most expensive academy production lines, but if the manager's brief reign is already under the most piercing scrutiny he cannot be denied his claim that the team he sent out should have been far too good for opponents from League Two.
Sickeningly, it wasn't, no more than the one that contained Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher, who must be close to his limits of optimism these days, was able to make much of a case that it belonged on the same field as United a few days ago.
There is not so much new to say about the ever-spreading disaster slick represented by the club's American ownership. It would not have happened if the Liverpool board, and especially the then chairman David Moores, had been properly alert to the dangers implicit in a deal so heavily based on speculative borrowing, or if the Premier League had in force the kind of vetoing procedures in keeping with a multi-billion pound industry. What is beyond dispute any longer is that Hodgson has been bequeathed the results of a Benitez regime that became increasingly exposed for its failure to galvanise a first team of some individual brilliance but an unshakeable core of mediocrity.
From his fortress of escape at San Siro Benitez wages tit-for-tat warfare with his old employers, including the claim that it was an impossible burden to work with people who didn't know anything about football.
He would be better advised to keep his head down while attempting to walk in the shoes of Jose Mourinho, among whose achievements has been the banishment of any hint he is capable of allowing the drift in morale and squad strength that Benitez presided over in the years that followed his initial successes in the Champions League and the FA Cup.
What can Hodgson do? He can say sorry, which he did copiously yesterday, he can play for a little time and hope that over the next few weeks he receives at least a fraction of the blind faith offered to his predecessor.
Benitez bemoaned his lack of transfer funds, even after lashing out £20m on the football invalid Alberto Aquilani and stockpiling the biggest squad of professionals (65) in the European game.
It was a performance of some nerve but then perhaps Benitez knew he wouldn't be around to bear the cost. Judge a manager by what he leaves behind is one of football's oldest commandments. However he fares, Roy Hodgson may find it hard to avoid offering a withering verdict.
Liverpool starting XI v Northampton Town
Signed by Rafael Benitez:
D Agger (£5.8m from Bronby)
S Kyrgiakos (£1.5m, AEK Athens)
Lucas (£6.75m, Gremio)
D Pacheco (Free, Barcelona)
M Jovanovic (Free, Standard Liège)
R Babel (£11.5m, Ajax)
D Ngog (£1.5m, PSG)
Signed by Roy Hodgson:
B Jones (£2.3m, Middlesbrough)
D Wilson (£2m, Rangers)
M Kelly (youth)
J Spearing (youth)
Total spent by Benitez £27.05m
Total spent by Hodgson £4.3m
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