Anfield owners ready to ditch Hodgson for 'the right man'
Fans dispute seals manager's fate but lack of an ideal candidate could delay his exit
Liverpool's owners have concluded that Roy Hodgson is not the manager to take Liverpool forward in the long term and are ready to replace him in mid-season if the right candidate becomes available.
The club's principal owner John W Henry and his Fenway Sports Group are examining the situation closely, with the wedge that Wednesday's defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers drove between Hodgson and the fans a factor in their willingness to replace the 63-year-old now, rather than allow him to marshal the club through to the end of the season. Hodgson cut a lonely and wounded individual yesterday at a press conference which had a valedictory air about it and he expressed "regret" if he had "offended in any way" fans who took against his suggestion after the Wolves defeat that the "famous Anfield support" had never been there for him.
It is unclear what the response of the fans will be for the challenging home match with Bolton today, though Hodgson's midweek comments, taken with a feeling that the club's tactical and physical readiness for matches is not improving, appears to have sealed his fate already.
With Henry seemingly having no appetite for a caretaker – confirming the impressions of Kenny Dalglish, who would be willing to become that individual – the lack of immediately available prospective replacements may mean Hodgson ploughing on until the summer. Among the ranks of young managers Henry favours appointing – replicating the decision to hire Theo Epstein with such prodigious results at his Boston Red Sox – only Frank Rijkaard, the former Barcelona coach, is not under contract and the 48-year-old may not be the ideal candidate. Marseilles' Didier Deschamps – approached by Liverpool last summer – Porto's Andre Villas Boas, Borussia Dortmund's Jürgen Klopp or even Bolton's Owen Coyle are younger individuals whom Henry may prefer.
Hodgson, last season's manager of the year, is not alone in his state of uncertainty. West Ham's Avram Grant – whose side today host the Wolves side which vanquished Liverpool – Aston Villa's Gérard Houllier, whose club's tough run continues tomorrow at Chelsea, and Fulham's Mark Hughes - away today to thriving Spurs – also have reason to fear for their futures. It was Sir Alex Ferguson who observed in the process of discussing his son Darren's dismissal at Preston yesterday, that Christmas is the sacking period for managers. But few managers will feel the sting of dismissal more than Hodgson, who had the courage to turn up and eloquently address the barbed, ironic chants of "Hodgson for England" from fans on Wednesday night and has been damned for it.
"I have been very disappointed and very hurt, in particular by comments I made that I thought were mere statements of fact and which were in no way meant to be offensive," said Hodgson, who has had no contact with his owners since Wednesday. "Funnily enough, I thought I had done a good job in disguising the hurt, the sadness and to some extent, the anger – not only to take the stick from the crowd but to stand up in front of a press conference and say I understood and sympathised with them. It is always going to be the case when things are going wrong you are going to get that type of flak. It was unfortunate for me that this has been turned around and fans have been made to think that I went into a press conference with a view to attacking them because nothing could be further from the truth. I think you all know that."
Hodgson's bewilderment has been compounded by the fact that the Liverpool situation has turned so rapidly. There have been only two bad defeats and two cancelled matches since the halcyon days of early winter, when Chelsea were beaten, with Villa and West Ham pummelled. Even Ferguson reflected, with good reason, yesterday that the quality of a Wolves side which so nearly beat United had been overlooked in the attacks on Hodgson. It is a sentiment the 63-year-old shares.
"It is a strange situation isn't it?" the Liverpool manager added. "A few weeks ago when we were on a good roll and playing good football, everything looked bright and positive. The performance against Tottenham [Liverpool were excellent despite a 2-1 defeat] encouraged people to some extent but now has become just another defeat. The last two defeats have hurt us very badly and hurt me very badly because we haven't played anywhere near our potential. We played badly.
"It has swung things around enormously and put us in this situation where we find ourselves today. I can't do more than emphasise that it hurts me deeply. It hurts my professional pride. It hurts all the things I believe in to find myself in the situation I am in but I have to accept I am in it. In answer to the question of how I am feeling – very bad, very down."
Even Hodgson's experience of football battles past did not seem to offer him succour yesterday. "Nothing really compares to the last game of the [2007/08] season at Fulham and having to win at Portsmouth to stay in the League. Getting relegated from the Premier League for a team like Fulham is something everyone dreads. It has been an uphill struggle since I came here [though] and maybe that was the point I was trying to make. I accept [setbacks are] part of being a big club and accept it as part of taking on a job of this stature. I saw a quote from Benjamin Disraeli when he got the job as prime minister. I have achieved my goal and 'climbed to the top of a greasy pole' and that's really what we do. That is how I feel, coming to Liverpool for me was a pinnacle. And then you come here hoping you keep flying forward. I did know it would be difficult.
"[This] is a time when you are going to be very hurt and upset about everything. Lonely is not the wrong word to use because to be quite honest you don't want company anyway. You want to be left alone with your thoughts which are not pleasant thoughts."
These are extracts from another immeasurably eloquent press conference which was not all doom and gloom. "[Manager of the year] seems a long time ago doesn't it," he concluded. "I hope I can do it again in 2011. Let's end on that positive note. I'll work for that."
But this sounded like an exercise in self-motivation. The die is already cast. That career pinnacle will be a painfully brief one.
Premier League Sack Race: Which manager will be next to lose his job?
Liverpool have taken just 22 points from 18 games, their lowest total going into the new year since 1953-54, which ended in relegation from the First Division. Odds: 10-11
The Israeli has won just three and lost nine of his 20 league games in charge at West Ham. The Hammers enter the new year bottom, and have been in the relegation zone all season. 7-2
Has won just three league games at Aston Villa since taking over in September, and angered supporters last month by intimating that it was acceptable to lose to Liverpool. 11-2
Chelsea went six games without a win in the league last month before beating Bolton, having dropped out of the Champions League positions for 24 hours beforehand. 13-2
Fulham have won just three of 19 league games this season, drawing on 10 occasions and winning just once away from home – a 2-0 win at Stoke earlier this week. 13-2
Wolves have averaged just one league win a month and prior to their 1-0 win at Liverpool this week, McCarthy's team had the worst away record in all four English divisions. 10-1
Who is up next for the managers under pressure?
Today: Liverpool v Bolton, Tottenham v Fulham, West Ham v Wolves
Tomorrow: Chelsea v Aston Villa
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