The assertion by former Liverpool striker John Aldridge that Roy Hodgson faces the toughest challenge of any incoming Anfield manager since Bill Shankly – who arrived in 1959 to a club in the bottom half of the old Second Division, with a crumbling stadium, poor training facilities, a sub-standard playing staff recently knocked out of the FA Cup by non-league Worcester City – sounded like hyperbole. It was actually an understatement.
The stadium is intact, though not a place Liverpool want to be as they survey a business plan with projections of millions more in match-day revenues from a new purpose built facility. Hodgson's job is to prevent Liverpool sliding down among the also-rans for as long as it takes his board to find the financial salvation of a new owner, to build the stadium and provide a serviceable transfer budget.
The big imponderable is whether he will have his three prime players – each now weighing up his options – along for the rocky ride. Steven Gerrard gave Hodgson's appointment his tacit approval when told of it last week, though that does not mean he will be staying. Gerrard is in two minds about whether finally to break his ties. If he stays, he will throw everything into the effort. If he goes – and there has been no bid from Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid just yet – then it will only be after the same soul-searching we witnessed when Mourinho's Chelsea came calling five summers back. Hodgson's most vital task is to convince Gerrard there is something to stay for.
He may have to give up on Javier Mascherano, who seems to want out, and there are good grounds to say he should not flog himself coaxing Fernando Torres, either. Torres has been in a stew about Liverpool for so long that you wonder whether, if he stays, he can apply himself to the task ahead like Gerrard. Any club meeting a £50m valuation would be paying more than the value Torres has offered in the past injury-plagued season, compounded by a poor World Cup. Manchester City may be the only one willing to make that investment. David Silva's eye-catching move to City might persuade Torres that he should join him. Torres to City looks far more of a prospect than it did when Roberto Mancini publicly declared his appreciation of him, two months ago.
The payout would give Hodgson the chance to invest on the wide players and left-back that Liverpool need, though if Torres stays Hodgson may have even less to spend than the £20m he was assigned by Jack Walker to invest at Blackburn Rovers 12 years ago. Either way, he will need the eye for a bargain which saw him sign Brede Hangeland relatively cheaply and turn him into a commanding Premier League defender; the ability to revive new life out of players who seem to be heading over the hill, to which Danny Murphy, once of Liverpool, Damien Duff, Zoltan Gera and Bobby Zamora stand testament.
He will also need the temperament to handle the ownership of owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, whose £500m demands for a club worth nearer £300m is crippling it; and the nerve to deal with Liverpool fans' eternally huge expectations at a time when the club is being financially eclipsed. Hodgson's appointment today will coincide with Manchester City announcing signings to take their summer outlay to over £60m. This is Anfield. A place far more forbidding today than the one Shankly ever found.Reuse content