Pooling Resources; Our regular analysis of the antics at Anfield
IT’S been a frustrating season for Liverpool. With new owners, and a manager moving perilously close to the edge, supporters of the Merseyside outfit are not quite sure what lies ahead, as Póg Mo Goal ponders….
Another Anfield night, another nail in Roy Hodgson’s coffin? That’s what many Liverpool fans are hoping anyway. The last game of the Europa League group stage for Liverpool ended in a goalless stalemate and did little to quell the growing feeling around Merseyside that Roy Hodgson simply isn’t the man to bring the glory days back to the Kop faithful. Too rigid, too cautious, questionable selection policy and a sense of disillusionment amongst the senior players; it’s taken Roy Hodgson five months to get to the state Rafa Benitez was in after five years at Anfield.
It’s probably just about still a question of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ NESV decide action needs to be taken on Roy ’s job but the next few matches are crucial to Hodgson if he sees himself at Anfield for the long term. ‘Ever so crucial’ as the man himself might say. The new owners have made open communication with fans a key feature of the early days of their tenure and their refusal to offer Hodgson unequivocal support during the live fan’s phone-in on LFC TV earlier this week spoke volumes about their uncertainty regarding the manager. In fairness to the LFC TV producers, they didn’t give the new owners an easy ride as, one by one, Jimmy in Bootle, Steve in Huyton, Olaf in Oslo and Rafa in Milan (maybe not that last one) came on to criticise the coach and demand that he be replaced. Some of the more cunning fans actually lied to the researchers about what they were going to ask the owners and once they got on air revealed that what they’d actually rung up to say was they wanted Hodgson out. It made for good tv, unless you were viewing from the Hodgson household.
Yet is Roy simply the victim of unrealistic expectations? Would any other manager in world football do any better with this particular Liverpool squad? Hodgson’s supporters say that Rafa left the squad in an awful state, that Roy’s hands were tied as soon as he got into Liverpool due to financial constraints and important players like Yossi Benayoun and Javier Mascherano ready to jump ship. The club was in turmoil and Roy ’s done well just to steady the ship even a little bit. Liverpool fans are living in the past, expecting too much and failing to grasp the new reality. Roy himself has played the game of trying to dampen expectations and talked down the quality of player at his disposal since he got to the club. He’s convinced some in the media of his claims, but Liverpool fans seem capable of seeing through the spin.
Most Liverpool supporters, even after supporting Rafa to the end, agree that the time probably was tight for the Spaniard to make his Anfield exit during the summer. Things had gone stale under Benitez and rumblings of discontent amongst the senior players meant that the time seemed right for a change of regime. One shouldn’t forget that Liverpool made steady progress under Benitez however and just 12 months before his departure he was leading the club to a creditable second place in the league with a points tally that would have been enough to win the championship in many seasons. Sure, Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Sami Hyypia soon left the club following but the nucleus of that team stuck around. Even now, the likes of Reina, Agger, Johnson, Kuyt, Torres, Gerrard and (for another season at least) Jamie Carragher make up an impressive spine to a squad – and not a mid-table squad at that.
Just look at last summer’s World Cup; Liverpool sent more players to the World Cup than any other Premiership club and their goalkeeper and main forward came home with winners’ medals whilst two more of their forwards came home with runners-up medals. In terms of international experience, this Liverpool squad is right up there. The changes Roy has made to the squad in the admitted limited timeframe he had look to have weakened the squad rather than strengthened it. Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen, signed for a combined £8.5 million pounds (or £500,000 more than a Rafael Van der Vaart), have between them managed to push Lucas up into the position of third most exasperating player in the squad. Those two signings seemed to reveal Hodgson’s mid-table mentality; both decent players but both plainly not Champions League quality. Of Hodgson’s other signings, Joe Cole looks bereft of confidence and only Raul Meireles has been what could be described as a qualified success, although even his sheen fades a little when you think he cost a significant £11.5 million pounds.
NESV themselves have shown how much (or little) faith they have in Hodgson’s recruitment capabilities by bringing in Damien Comolli to oversee scouting and player recruitment and it’ll be interesting to see who makes the call on signings in January, assuming Roy is still there at that stage of course. There are reasons for fans of the club to feel optimistic. There seems to be some genuinely promising youngsters on the fringes of the team and the owners’ early PR strategy has gone down well (although the same happened early on with Hicks and Gillett). Gerrard is staying, Torres and Reina might just stick around. The top four looks an impossible task for this season though. Mid-table looks a more likely final position; perhaps reflecting the quality of manager at the helm.