Amid the take-over swirl, Hodgson urges team to get down to business on the pitch

Manager says players must put off-field events out of their minds as they seek to revive Liverpool's fortunes
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The Independent Online

The wreckage of Tom Hicks and George Gillett's ill-fated debt-financed forages into sport was everywhere to be found yesterday. A Texas courthouse was the scene of an auction for Hicks' bankrupt Texas Rangers, a proud sporting institution which he has been forced to sell, in part to keep afloat his listing financial commitment to Liverpool FC. The American duo's Anfield project will sink, too, before long, though only time will tell if their departure means the famous club will begin to rise again.

Liverpool's future is mired in as much fog as ever, despite the fact that businessman and potential new owner Kenny Huang now seems to have the sovereign funds of the China Investment Corporation (CIC) behind him. CIC has an interesting investment history: it owns a 9.9 per cent stake in Morgan Stanley and also has a penchant for companies that have influence on western governments, such as airlines. It likes to buy into firms which invest in China, too.

As potential answers to Liverpool's problems emerge, however, there are yet more questions. Is Liverpool an investment proposition like any other to CIC? What is their corporate ethos? Will the Chinese government want some kind of influence?

Roy Hodgson wasn't contemplating any of that yesterday, though the fact that he sent his scouts to Turin on Tuesday with a view to spending just £8m on a defensive midfielder (Christian Poulsen of Juventus) to replace Javier Mascherano, who will fetch between £20m and £25m, says something about the financial straits Liverpool are in.

An ownership dogfight is certainly not what Hodgson thought he would find when he learned that his long and varied managerial career was to bring him to this legendary club, who entertain FK Rabotnicki in the second leg of their Europa League third qualifying round match tonight – a dead rubber, with Liverpool 2-0 up from the first leg against a weak Macedonian side.

But while Rafael Benitez would probably not have been able to resist having a say in the bidding process, Hodgson has been the steadying influence Liverpool were looking for. Some feel Fernando Torres' decision to stay has helped to create the sense that Hodgson has a Midas touch. The manager certainly did not disguise his pleasure when the notion was put to him.

"I'm told that is being said and that's nice to hear," Hodgson said. "I suppose if it's being mooted then that puts extra pressure on me. But I have to say the work that I have been doing here has been done in splendid ignorance of those facts and long may that continue. Sometimes you are better off doing your job not knowing the outside world is saying you are fantastic or useless."

Torres' decision had much to do with a growing awareness that the Americans will soon be history, though Hodgson's insistence that he, like any other player, must take responsibility for his own actions revealed a little of why he has a reputation for inspiring those willing to accept his obsession with team shape and match routine.

"As a player you have a chance to change things," Hodgson said. "If you don't think the team is doing as well as it should, as a player you can do something about it. If you are a big player, maybe you will. My attitude is that we want our big players because they will help the team to win. Now if they are not playing well and not helping the team to win, I will be advising them to look into the mirror rather than look for excuses elsewhere and blame the owners for not having spent £500m.

"If we look at Real [Madrid], last season they spent a fortune on two or three and it didn't give them what they wanted. They didn't win the Champions League, or even get to the semis, and they didn't win the Spanish league or the Spanish cup. I rest my case. The two most expensive players in the world didn't help them get what they want. Are those players then entitled to say 'I should not have come here because the club lacks ambition,' or is the club entitled to say 'We spent £150m on you two, we wanted you to help us win'?"

It was a welcome and timely divergence from the received wisdom that a billionaire owner can change the course of a club's history, rather than the deeply-ingrained football experience which Hodgson possesses. "I have always been a coach and coaches get close to players. We have our ups and downs and we push them and some don't like it," the manager added.

On this, of all days, there was a deep, unintentional irony to Hodgson's statement that "football is about teams and players, not managers and administrators" but for a few seconds before kick-off tonight it will not be about only him. "You read and learn about the famous roar when you walk out at Anfield," he said, imagining his welcome. "It still does affect you today, and maybe it affects me even more today than [in the past.] I'm not one who will be wanting to go out on to the pitch and have something spectacular happen. I'm hoping my tenure will be a long one here and I can build up a rapport with the fans."

That's precisely what Hicks and Gillett said when they arrived in February 2007 – all history now. The sale of the Rangers was delayed, incidentally, because of uncertainty about the precise value of the bids. Liverpool fans will empathise with that.

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