Back to the future is Hodgson's mission
Sunday 04 July 2010
For the scale of the task facing Roy Hodgson, you need only look back a few months to the miserable ending to Liverpool's Europa League campaign that followed their miserable Champions' League campaign.
Trailing to Atletico Madrid on away goals at Anfield, Rafael Benitez was only able to call on Nabil El Zhar, Philipp Degen and Dani Pacheco to swing a semi-final their way.
A club for sale, still in the stadium they acknowledged they had to leave behind years ago, with a squad lacking any depth beyond a competitive but failing first team, Liverpool limped to seventh place – and a first title since 1990 has rarely felt as far away.
Unveiling Hodgson, the chairman Martin Broughton was bullish about the prospects of a sale, claiming the reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett could be over by August. Whether that time frame is optimistic remains to be seen but rumours of potential investors swirl around Merseyside almost on a daily basis.
Only when the sale goes through can talk of rejuvenation take over from worries about refinancing. Until then Hodgson must battle with what he has got before him. Until they can definitely move forward, sideways should be seen as an achievement.
Real Madrid continue to put out feelers for Steven Gerrard, who held talks with the new manager on Thursday before heading off on holiday, and Hodgson was making a priority of speaking to Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres, still involved at the World Cup, on the phone. Mascherano has rarely missed a chance to link himself with a reunion with Benitez at Internazionale, while doubts continue over the future of Torres.
Hodgson accepts he cannot afford to "bullshit" his players about the direction the club is taking. The £6m sale of Yossi Benayoun to Chelsea will push Hodgson's transfer budget to about £17m, which may buy one top-quality player.
With Tottenham in the Champions' League and Manchester City continuing to spend, it is not the time to be attempting to match them by assembling a squad on a budget. Further money could be on its way if Albert Riera and Ryan Babel follow Benayoun out of the club but Hodgson admits he must give chances to players who have underperformed or been completely sidelined in recent months.
Hodgson has his eyes wide open and although he is faced with limitless negatives, which should decrease expectations on him to such an extent that Champions' League football would be like a title win, he merely sees footballing issues that must be overcome.
Success with Fulham was brought about with a clear tactical plan, drilled into the players relentlessly on the training ground, and Hodgson hopes to get Liverpool back on track by employing the virtues that brought the club success in the 1970s.
"The weight of tradition at this club weighs on the shoulders of every player who comes through the door," he said. "We shouldn't be taking anybody through the door who doesn't think what a privilege it is to play here.
"Therefore I have to give everything I can give and maybe even a bit more. Funnily enough, all the things that I've always liked are the things Liverpool were famous for in their heyday. Pass and move, always move it quickly and when you lose the ball, get back in position. That was the mantra that took Liverpool through their great years.
"I know Alex Ferguson is not a Liverpool fan so I'm a bit concerned about my excellent relationship with him," he joked. "I sincerely hope he forgives me for moving north and will welcome the fact that we can have a glass of wine together, maybe in secret."
Though he views his work at Fulham with immense pride, if Hodgson is able to make his old friend fear Liverpool as genuine title rivals again, it would surpass all else.
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