After Roy Hodgson dragged Fulham from the brink of relegation to the final of the Europa League, the club's most famous fan, Hugh Grant, used the premiere of one of his films to suggest he would like to sleep with the manager. Jimmy Tarbuck has yet to make his feelings known but, given the way, Hodgson has begun at Anfield it may only be a matter of time.
He may have led Liverpool in just one competitive match in a corner of Europe that will resonate little on Merseyside but, in his first month as manager, Hodgson has been able to secure the two jewels in Liverpool's crown, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. He signed Joe Cole, a player coveted by both Arsenal and Tottenham – who could offer him Champions League football – and although it is nothing to do with him, the bleak years of American ownership appear to be numbered.
At 62, Hodgson is an unlikely catalyst. When his candidacy was first announced, it was as part of a shortlist so unimpressive that Kenny Dalglish, the man charged with overseeing the search for Rafael Benitez's successor, suggested he might do better. Hodgson inherited a club that was up for sale; that required a billion pounds worth of investment to wipe out its debts, build a new stadium and put together a side capable of returning to the Champions League. Should Kenny Huang's bid succeed, those objectives could suddenly become more achieveable.
Of the senior players Hodgson inherited, only Pepe Reina seemed to have no question marks over his future. Javier Mascherano had wanted to go for the best part of a year, while Gerrard, at 30, had one move left and was being courted again by his old flame, Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid. Torres might have gone to Chelsea after the 2006 World Cup and some, including his Spain strike-partner, David Villa, thought he would go once the 2010 tournament was over. The popular perception is that succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson will be a poisoned chalice. But the Liverpool job appeared to be a cup of strychnine.
That Cole was his first signing was critical. Unlike some of the men brought by Gérard Houllier or Benitez, you did not need to Google him. His name carried a resonance in the streets of Liverpool and in Formby, where Gerrard lived. That the captain of Liverpool disliked Benitez as a person, although he respected him as a manager, was an open secret. He once joked that there was no need for him to move to Real Madrid because he was already at a Spanish club. Had Manuel Pellegrini – one of the scores of men to have managed Real Madrid in recent seasons – rather than Hodgson, been appointed, Gerrard may have wondered why he did not try the real thing. Once Hodgson had signed Cole, though, a man Gerrard liked and whose language he spoke, the captain made his declaration of loyalty. Admittedly, it may not last. This week, Mourinho was asked about Gerrard and replied that he liked players "of 33 and 34 who still have something to offer". That affair may not be over.
Hodgson was fortunate that Torres had no real suitors beyond Chelsea's rather lukewarm interest. Had Manchester City qualified for the Champions League and offered £70m in cash, the club's resolve may have been more firmly tested. If he is still offering Europa League football a season from now, there seems little doubt Torres will leave. Had Barcelona managed to offload Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they may have been able to test his resolve this summer.
Unlike Torres and Gerrard, Mascherano was beyond persuasion. The moment Benitez succeeded Mourinho at Internazionale – a move both men would have found deeply ironic – his agent, Walter Tamar, began talking of Mascherano's "dream move". Unlike Torres, who had signed a contract committing him to a maximum four years on Merseyside, the captain of Argentina had not done so. He had cost £17m. Inter might pay £25m for him but, with two years remaining on his contract, Liverpool would not get their money back in 12 months.
That Mascherano will leave seems a certainty, although there has been no formal contact between Internazionale and Liverpool apart from a telephone call to express interest. Hodgson will probably look to Christian Poulsen to replace him, a midfielder with whom he worked at Copenhagen.
"I know they have spoken since and it is not unthinkable that Poulsen will go to Liverpool, although no decision has been made about anything," said the Dane agent, Joern Bonnessen, who added that Hodgson and Poulsen "really got on". That perhaps is the key to Hodgson: he gets on with people, even if he doesn't especially want to sleep with them.Reuse content