And Hodgson thought life was cruel when he was Roy of the Rovers...

Liverpool manager's tormented reign could reach defining moment today

Roy Hodgson is not a humble man; his past is something to be rolled around and contemplated like a fine single-malt whisky. The miracle at Halmstads where, not yet 30, he took a town with the population of St Albans to the Swedish championship. The rebuilding of Internazionale, the transformation of Fulham, the triumphs in Denmark and Switzerland.

However, there is grit in the glass. The few, disastrous months at Bristol City and Udinese; his inexplicably poor beginning at Liverpool and, most intriguingly of all, his season and a half at Blackburn that finished with relegation four years after they had won the championship.

"I don't like the way my time at Blackburn is perceived," he reflected as he prepared to face his former club in an encounter that may be a decisive moment in his brief, often tormented, time at Anfield.

"At Blackburn, I took a team that had avoided relegation [by two points] into the Uefa Cup," he said. "That somehow seems to be forgotten. But in that first season we were being fêted everywhere and I was being tipped as the next England manager. After a poor start the following season, I didn't get a chance to follow it through. I am sure that, if I had been given a chance to follow it through, I would have done."

His second season finished after 14 games, only two of which – against Leicester and West Ham – were won. His captain, Tim Sherwood, who skippered the club to the title in 1995, wanted to move to Hertfordshire to be nearer his family, which corroded his relationship with his manager.

The club was overburdened with injuries and after a 2-0 defeat by Southampton – the club that sold him Kevin Davies for £7.5m – Jack Walker relieved him of his duties on a November night that saw them bottom of the Premier League.

"I think we got rid of him too early," reflected Kevin Gallacher, who led Blackburn's attack under Hodgson. "He fell out with a couple of players and that didn't help but everyone falls out with people in football because it is such a tense environment. And at that stage there were injuries, there were fallings-out and there were calls to get rid of the manager because the players didn't understand his way of working."

Some resented him changing the training methods which the players were used to under Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford. "We were so used to having Wednesdays off," said Gallacher. "Roy's day off consisted of a Tuesday afternoon and a Wednesday morning. We trained every day, we never had a proper day off and, although some complained, he got us into Europe in his first season. The second season was very different; we had five or six injuries to key players who just never seemed to get back. He brought in players who never adapted as quickly as he'd hoped and the season just slid away from us.

"Hindsight is a great thing. At the time his methods were hard to understand and it was only when I started studying for my coaching licenses that I understood what it was all about. He wanted to make us mentally tougher. That is a great thing to have – and he succeeded with that at Fulham."

Hodgson recognises that Liverpool have to be mentally tough now. "The doom and gloom that surrounds us is not coming from within the club," he said. "It is coming from people outside who are having a field day and delighting in the fact we are having a bad time." Then he returned to the internet rumours that hounded Liverpool during their time in Naples – that Hodgson's time was up and that one more slip, against Blackburn or Bolton, would see him sacked and replaced by Frank Rijkaard. "Rijkaard has just been sacked from Galatasaray – he must be a great manager to have been sacked by Galatasaray," said Hodgson. "What you are talking about is Frank Rijkaard's agent, who is putting his name around.

"It is all speculation. I had two and a half years of that at Inter when every day there would be stuff in the papers that someone was going to get my job. It ended up with my being offered a new contract when I left for Blackburn. If I took two and a half years of that in Milan, I can take two and a half years of it here."

Points per pound make sorry reading

If you judge a manager purely on how many points he squeezes from every pound made available to him, then the downfall of Blackburn Rovers in 1999 has few equals. Next month sees the release of Pay As You Play, a book devoted to how 49 managers who completed more than two full seasons in the Premier League have performed in relation to their budget. It has been compiled by Paul Tomkins, the Liverpool writer, whose website, The Tomkins Times, provides perhaps the most intelligent guide to Liverpool available on the internet.

His analysis is based on a transfer price index which rates a manager's spending in terms of 2010 prices. The Blackburn which Hodgson inherited were still big spenders. They boasted the third most expensive average XI in his first season and the fifth most expensive XI in the campaign that saw them relegated.

In his only full season at Ewood Park, his squad cost 87 per cent of the most expensively assembled side, the Newcastle of Kenny Dalglish, which finished lamely in 13th place. His spending in his 16 months at Ewood Park would in today's terms be worth £75 million. For the successes – Stéphane Henchoz stands out – there was Kevin Davies, a signing from Southampton that brought one goal at a cost of £17m in today's terms.

Pay As You Play demonstrates that at Fulham, Hodgson's points per pound ratio and his transfer record were highly successful but the 16 months at Ewood Park have still left a scar on one of English football's most fascinating CVs.

Tim Rich

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