Sack race: Hodgson left hanging by owners' lack of support
No public backing for struggling Liverpool manager ahead of vital FA Cup game
Roy Hodgson's tenure as Liverpool manager was left in limbo last night, as his club's American owners failed to respond to the most intense 24 hours of rumour yet about his future by either supporting or removing him.
While sources both at Chelsea and Aston Villa moved to indicate that the club's managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Gérard Houllier are safe for now and there was a suggestion that Avram Grant, a third manager reeling from defeat on Wednesday evening, would live to fight another game at West Ham, the silence from Liverpool was deafening. Hodgson is expected to appear this lunchtime at a press conference ahead of their onerous visit to Old Trafford in the FA Cup third round, despite an understandable desire in some quarters to spare him more of the introspection which is crippling the club once again.
That appearance today suggests that he will be in charge for Sunday lunchtime's match, allowing him to make good on his declaration, after the miserable 3-1 defeat at Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday, that he would be staying to prepare his side to face United.
Hodgson put in a full day's work at the club's Melwood training ground yesterday, with the only ray of hope being the confirmation by Marseilles coach Didier Deschamps – who was interviewed for the Liverpool manager's job last summer and is a leading candidate now – that he wants to fulfil the contract which keeps him at the club until its new stadium is redeveloped in 2014. "When I talk about being coach of Marseilles in the new stadium, I mean it," Deschamps said. "It is an idea that pleases me. Now, 2014 is a very long way away in my profession. But I have said people should understand I am not a tramp. I proved it last year. I could have left."
The Hodgson rumour mill reached its most intense – and bizarre – in mid-afternoon when it was tweeted that Radio 2 had broken news of the manager's dismissal, leading Richard Burgess, the BBC's head of sports news to respond: "Just for clarification, Radio 2 has not reported that Hodgson has been sacked." First suggestions that Hodgson had been handed his cards surfaced on Twitter within a few hours of Wednesday's defeat.
Though Liverpool's principal owner John W Henry is known to be considering the appointment of a temporary manager, rather than wait until the summer, there are few candidates and it remains unclear whether the obvious one – Kenny Dalglish – is wanted. Though many imaginative scenarios have been suggested by fans – the idea of Jamie Carragher working, initially with Dalglish, as a player-coach for the remainder of his two-year playing contract is one – Dalglish may be looking for assurances that he would be considered for the post permanently if he succeeds. The only word from the Scot, who is on a cruise in the Middle East, was a tweet from the former manager's wife, Marina, asserting that speculation of their location was wrong. "Not cruising in Dubai but you are close," Mrs Dalglish said.
The distance of Henry and chairman Tom Werner from Anfield and the absence of a chief executive – Liverpool are yet to recruit one – contributes to the sense of a club in a severe state of drift and a manager condemned to purgatory. The absence of any word from Boston, where Henry's Fenway Sports Group is based, meant there was very little idea what Hodgson's fate might be. The Americans' admitted in a recent discussion on the club's television station that they "believe in what Roy is doing" but "certainly feel like the performance has to improve". Henry said: "Where we are at this point is not acceptable."
It is possible that United's Sir Alex Ferguson has helped preserve Hodgson's job for a little longer, with Liverpool perhaps unwilling to dismiss a manager 48 hours before such a huge fixture. Kevin Keegan said the size of the occasion may work for Hodgson. "If Roy can get his boys up for it, get them all together rowing the same way, they can get a result," he said. "People say it's the worst game they could have but I think it's a great game, an opportunity to turn the season around."
At least Liverpool will have maximum support at Old Trafford, unlike the relatively poor turnouts against Bolton and Blackburn which was a statement of fans' disillusion with Hodgson. A total of 9,000 visiting supporters are expected on Sunday lunchtime and Greater Manchester Police have passed on secret routes to the stadium to Liverpool fans, in an attempt to avoid flashpoints. There will also be an alcohol ban in the area surrounding the stadium.
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