Henry silence only adds to Hodgson's agony and state of crisis at Anfield

Liverpool hierarchy urged to make intentions clear as speculation increases over possible replacement for beleaguered manager
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The graffiti scrawled on a Melwood wall yesterday stated "Hodgson Out" but the Liverpool manager was in at an early hour and still at his desk late into the afternoon, even though it was a designated day off for most of the players whose capitulation at Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday night left his job in such jeopardy.

Those who work closely with Hodgson say he is bearing this nightmare experience with equanimity, wise as he is to the brutal environment football can provide, yet the silence from Boston yesterday was deafening. The smartest football proprietors publicly support their managers even while preparing to sack them but this seems to be a lesson John W Henry has yet to learn. He is creating a news vacuum that is making Hodgson's position desperate.

The rumour mill was in overdrive when he emerged to place a bin bag of items in his car. After much deliberation within the club about the merits of protecting him, it seems Hodgson will appear publicly today to discuss Sunday's FA Cup tie with Manchester United.

Though Kevin Keegan, John Barnes and Steve McManaman all came out in favour of Hodgson being given more time yesterday, the manager is not delivering what he claimed privately that he could in the summer. Liverpool's non-executive chairman at that time, Martin Broughton, declared back in July that Hodgson's "extremely thoughtful, prepared, thorough" interview for the job included a commitment to focus "on how we could get more from existing players", which had been most impressive. "It was not [about] how much money he could have."

There are some extenuating circumstances – the injured Jamie Carragher would not have allowed a defensive display like Wednesday's – but the players Hodgson has inherited have become shadows of the individuals they once were.

Henry and the current Liverpool chairman Tom Werner would have appreciated Hodgson's interview pitch. Though discussions of their success at the Boston Red Sox have focused on the appointment of the relatively untried Theo Epstein as evidence of their love of young and highly intelligent managers, Epstein was their general manager – not their coach. The baseball man who turned the Red Sox around was Terry Francona, a seasoned baseball pro, who arrived in 2004, aged 45, with prior experience of handling the truculent pitcher Curt Schilling, whom the club had just signed from the Philadelphia Phillies and who was to prove critical to their first world series championship since 1918. He had also managed to get the best from Michael Jordan at the Birmingham Barons franchise. Now Henry wants someone able to work similar wonders on Fernando Torres.

But Francona was also amenable to the modern baseball ways that the Americans want now to adapt to football, having worked as a bench coach at the Oakland Athletics where general manager Billy Beane introduced the sabermetrics system. The problem for Henry, Werner and their Fenway Sports Group is not to find a modern young manager – there are plenty of those around – but one capable of beginning to lift players in the way that Francona did at Boston, where he remains manager to this day.

The connections that the Americans' new director of football strategy, Damien Comolli, has with continental football have elevated Marseilles' Didier Deschamps, the former Barcelona coach Frank Rikjaard, Porto's Andre Villas-Boas and, in what would be a particularly bold move, Ralph Rangnick, the 52-year-old who recently resigned from Hoffenheim, to the ranks of possible contenders. The latter two are immediately available and with doubts that Rikjaard might be the right candidate, rumour continues to surround Rangnick.

Known in Germany for the offensive 4-3-3 system that secured successive promotions for Hoffenheim from the third tier to the Bundesliga, "the Professor" – as the technocrat Rangnick is known – also worked as an intern at Arsenal and Arsène Wenger was a major influence. Liverpool's owners see Arsenal as a model club.

Yet the picture of Rangnick's suitability is clouded. He was bankrolled by a wealthy benefactor at Hoffenheim, whose €175m (£147.1m) investment over 10 years included a sizable outlay on players. Some of his scientific methods might appeal to the Liverpool owners and to Comolli, a big fan of German football: the players were encouraged to shoot against specific areas of a large electronic wall and there were elaborate devices to get players passing in triangles. But there are doubts that Rangnick's man-management skills match his ideas as a technocrat.

Rangnick, who never won a trophy in Germany, has distanced himself from comments attributed to him suggesting that he wanted the Liverpool job, heightening the sense among some German observers that he might be in contention, as the quotes served only to discredit him. But another consideration is whether the German would be willing to cede control to Comolli, having commanded such power at Hoffenheim. The same goes for Kenny Dalglish who, if he accepted a caretaker-manager's role, may not appreciate a new recruit calling the shots at a club where he is a legend.

Hodgson, by contrast, has fitted comfortably into his relationship with Comolli. They do not share views on all things – Comolli is far more absorbed by the science of metrics, for instance – but Hodgson's experience on the continent has enabled him to work with the Frenchman. Since Comolli has the Americans' ear, it is conceivable that their good relationship is helping preserve Hodgson's fragile tenure.

Another Anfield legend, Keegan, led demands for more time for Hodgson yesterday. "It's not easy but Liverpool have been in decline for a number of years and I think Roy Hodgson is just picking up the tab," he said. "Where are all these youngsters they signed? None of them have come through. I think there are a lot of questions that need to be asked way beyond Roy Hodgson." Hodgson's question is a simple one. Does he have a job, or doesn't he?

Hodgson at Anfield

Odds to be next manager sacked: 1/3

Liverpool record: P 31 W 13 D 9 L 9

League pos: 12th Appointed: 1 July 2010

Next game: Manchester Utd (a), Sunday

Next league game: Blackpool (a), Wed

Anfield alternatives: Contenders for the Liverpool job

Ralf Rangnick

Odds: 4/1

The 52-year-old German is keen on the job. "He would be interested in Liverpool and it's possible he could manage there," his agent said this week. "He is a big fan of the Premier League and would go to England if he had to make a decision." Lauded for his work with Hoffenheim, who he took from the fourth tier in German football to the top of the Bundesliga, briefly, last season. He resigned last Saturday.

Frank Rijkaard

Odds: 6/1

Popular former Netherlands midfielder, who led Barcelona to the Champions League in 2006. After a glittering playing career, the 48-year-old began his managerial work with the national team, leading them to the Euro 2000 semi-finals, before moving onto Sparta Rotterdam. Spent five years with Barcelona before a brief spell in charge of Galatasaray, where he was sacked in October.

Didier Deschamps

Odds: 7/1

The 42-year-old former Chelsea midfielder has enjoyed a successful managerial career. Led Monaco to the 2004 Champions League final before moving to Juventus, where he stayed for a year. The Frenchman is now in charge at champions Marseilles, who sit fifth in Ligue 1, three points behind leaders Lille. Last season's league triumph, in Deschamps' first season in charge, was the side's first title in 18 seasons.

Andre Villas-Boas

Odds: 16/1

The 33-year-old Portuguese worked as an assistant to Jose Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Internazionale before taking charge of Academica. Now at Porto, who are unbeaten and eight points clear in the Primeria Liga.

Owen Coyle

Odds: 16/1

The 44-year-old has impressed at Bolton this season, keeping them in contention for Europe. Won promotion to the Premier League with Burnley in 2009.

James Mariner

Title quest: Liverpool managers since 1991

Liverpool's last title came in the 1989-90 season under player-manager Kenny Dalglish. He resigned the following year and since then five managers have tried and failed to replicate the Scot's feat.

Graeme Souness

Time in charge at Anfield: 1991-94

Record: P157 W65 D47 L45 Win% 41.40

Trophies: FA Cup 1992

Highest league position (full seasons only): 6th

Lowest league position: 6th

Roy Evans

Time in charge at Anfield: 1994-98 Record: P244 W123 D63 L58 Win% 50.41

Trophies: League Cup 1995

Highest league position: 3rd

Lowest league position: 4th

Gérard Houllier

Time in charge at Anfield: 1998-2004 Record: P325 W165 D81 L79 Win% 50.77

Trophies: Uefa Cup 2001, FA Cup 2001, League Cup 2001, 2003

Highest league position: 2nd

Lowest league position: 7th

Rafael Benitez

Time in charge at Anfield: 2004-10

Record: P350 W194 D77 L79 Win% 55.43

Trophies: Champions League 2005, FA Cup 2006

Highest league position: 2nd

Lowest league position: 7th

Roy Hodgson

Time in charge at Anfield: 2010-

Record: P30 W13 D8 L9 Win% 43.33

Highest league position: n/a

Lowest league position: n/a