Roy Hodgson claimed yesterday he had found it almost impossible to fulfil his role as manager of Liverpool while Kenny Dalglish was "waiting in the wings", admitting it had been difficult to compete with the "icon" he now believes should be confirmed as the Anfield club's permanent manager.
Hodgson's new club, West Bromwich Albion, face Liverpool, the club who relieved him of his duties 85 days ago, at the Hawthorns today, when Dalglish will be in the visitors' dug-out. Asked whether he believed he would have had a better chance of success at Anfield had the Scot not been a contender for the post last June, the 63-year-old replied: "It's difficult to compete with icons. I came to the right club, but perhaps not at the right time because Kenny did make it clear at that time that he wanted the job."
The much-travelled manager, whom Dalglish has described as "an old friend", hinted that the former Liverpool player and manager's presence as a club ambassador with youth-academy duties had cast a shadow over his efforts at Liverpool. "The people who were making the decision back then decided to go for me," said Hodgson. "Of course, as a result, that left Kenny in a difficult position because he was the one that wanted the job. So when things didn't go well, having him in the background wasn't easy and wouldn't have been easy for any coach."
Hodgson maintains that Dalglish, who turned 60 last month, should now be reappointed to the position the Scotsman relinquished early in 1991. "He has got the backing of the fans and they're very important at Liverpool. If they don't give it to him now then it's going to be very difficult for the next man who gets the job."
Having led Fulham to the Europa League final last season, Hodgson was appointed by Liverpool's then-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, last summer. He survived poor results, including a home defeat in the Carling Cup by League Two Northampton, and took only 25 points from 20 matches before new proprietors, in the form of John W Henry's Boston-based Fenway Sports Group, bought control last October. In January, six months into his reign, Hodgson was sacked, entering the Anfield record books as the shortest-lived appointment in the club's history.
"I took the job in good faith. I knew I was taking a risk because a change of ownership was in the offing. And I knew that in order to win the fans over, we'd need to have a flying start. When you don't get that, and there's a change of ownership, I'm afraid you're at risk as a manager – especially when there's a man of Kenny Dalglish's iconic stature waiting in the wings and prepared to take over."
However, he does not view today's encounter, which is of vital importance to Albion's hopes of avoiding relegation and Liverpool's prospects of qualifying for Europe, as a grudge match. "There's no vindication factor at all. It wouldn't be strictly true to say I enjoyed my time at Liverpool but I was treated correctly by everyone at the club. I had a very good relationship with the players, who I thought did their very best for me.
"It didn't work out, either for them or me for that short period of time. I'm pleased it's working out for them now. I have a lot of respect for Liverpool and the players there. I know and admire their qualities. They've had a good spell of results so their confidence will be high. Of course I desperately hope it's not going to work out for them this weekend."
Did he expect a favourable reaction from the Kopites who chanted for Dalglish after a defeat at Stoke during his reign? "I don't know. The reaction to my appointment was not well received from the bigger section of fans so I don't know if that's changed since I left. It would be nice if their reaction was a good one. If it isn't I'll have to live with it."
Hodgson, who has "found pleasure" in his new role, expressed satisfaction that Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher went on the record this week about the positive aspects of his sojourn on Merseyside. Since his departure Dalglish has recruited Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, players he said he and Liverpool's scouts had assessed.
Albion are undefeated in the four games since Hodgson succeeded Roberto di Matteo and he is optimistic they have "the quality" to stay up. "We're unbeaten though it's only one victory. If teams in our situation can take six points every four games they'll be very happy. That would give us 12 points from the last eight. If you're relegated with 45 you're very unlucky."