As the Kop calls for Dalglish, the clock is ticking for Hodgson
The Kop really didn't need to launch into those muffled chants of "Dalglish" on Sunday afternoon for Roy Hodgson to know that the threat to his Liverpool future lies right on his shoulder. A glance up at the front row of the directors' box tells any manager at Anfield that the eyes of Liverpool's rich and historic past are upon him. Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush looked on like a Greek chorus as Hodgson's Merseyside career began unravelling a little more against Blackpool. Alan Hansen often completes a formidable triumvirate.
Ray Clemence, a less frequent visitor but still a deeply committed Liverpool fan, had to laugh when it was put to him yesterday that this is a more forbidding front row than any other manager has to contend with.
"Well, maybe they sit further back at Spurs," he said of the side he left Liverpool for in 1981, his swansong being the Merseyside club's European Cup win over Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Clemence fell in line behind Hodgson – as, for now, does the senior management at Anfield. Hodgson's future is not in immediate doubt and questions about the board's view on the issue were met with some derision yesterday.
But the England goalkeeping coach, an icon of those days when Liverpool swept all aside in the First Division, does not dismiss the idea that Dalglish, who so badly wanted to succeed Rafael Benitez, could return to front-line football, 10 long years after his brief period as caretaker at Celtic ended in acrimony. "I don't think Kenny's really been out of the game, even though he hasn't managed for so long," Clemence said of his former team-mate. "He's been working behind the scenes, he's a football man."
Clemence correctly insisted that Hodgson's two months in the job is not long enough to draw conclusions. "Are we now judging a manager on two or three months? That's a sad state of affairs. He is the right man." But Dalglish would certainly restore to Liverpool the rich sense of their own history which Hodgson has not allowed Liverpool's supporters to bask in during his brief tenure.
For a time, Hodgson's attempts to lower expectations were something to make light of. "We've been elevated as high as Jupiter. The Champions League... might take a year I suppose," he said in July, lightly mocking his new signing Joe Cole when the former Chelsea midfielder suggested that the title was not beyond Liverpool's reach. It was a reasonable strategy to a point. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have both made a top-four finish the only aim.
But the lowered horizons seem to have permeated the club, from the public utterances to the unambitious outlook of the sides Hodgson has fielded.
Clemence argues that Liverpool's financial woes have put the club on the defensive. But the financial strictures which prevented them from luring Frank Rijkaard, now of Galatasaray, to replace Benitez this summer – the club made an approach but quickly concluded the Dutchman was way beyond their pay scale – have not applied to the money made available to the new manager in the transfer market.
Raul Meireles (£11.5m), Paul Konchesky (£5m) and Christian Poulsen (£4.5m), plus the £90,000 per week which persuaded Joe Cole to choose Anfield over a reunion with Harry Redknapp at White Hart Lane, represent a substantial investment – and certainly no worse than Sir Alex Ferguson's at Manchester United. The tragedy was that Liverpool's covert attempts to approach Rafael van der Vaart, behind Benitez's back, earlier this year came to nothing, but Hodgson does have new players and a fair few of his predecessor's.
The new manager's prosaic style has allowed the impression to take root that he is a caretaker, at Anfield as a two-year stopgap at most, to keep the ship afloat until proprietors Tom Hicks and George Gillett can be pushed through the door and a new financial framework can be put in place.
But the frenetic competition of the Premier League does not allow for temporary managers. Thus, Liverpool head into the Goodison derby a week on Sunday looking by far the weaker side and the one more likely to flirt with relegation throughout this season.
Much more of this and Gerrard, initially convinced by his old friend and ex-Liverpool team-mate Danny Murphy that Hodgson was a good appointment, may find motivation hard to come by. Ironically, the defeat to Blackpool was followed by a less prickly and more assured post-match performance than we have seen from Hodgson since the season began, a sign perhaps it is the result to break him and his team from their malaise.
"He's coached in Italy for goodness sake and there's plenty of pressure there," Clemence said. But Hodgson’s two periods at Internazionale lasted two years and one year respectively and on those occasions, unlike this, there was no legend in the background, champing at the bit.
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