Hodgson overwhelmed by high expectations as Liverpool manager
Sunday's 2-1 home loss to Blackpool was humiliating not just because the visitors were so unfancied, and not just because it left Liverpool in the bottom three, but because of the pitiful nature of the performance. Liverpool fans have always been noted for their patience, but just seven games into this season, they were chanting for
The great strength of Hodgson's past sides has been their ability to retain their shape. At times they lacked flair, but they were at least solid. And that is what makes Blackpool's second goal so unsettling. Hodgson set out his side with three central midfielders, with
That area is what the Switzerland and former Bayern Munich manager
The common line from players is that what goes on in the boardroom doesn't affect them, but it surely must. If players are being sold, new investment is not forthcoming and there is a sense that the club is going backward, why wouldn't players start to wonder about the future and question their commitment? And when fans -- quite understandably - begin to demonstrate against the owners, how could that sense of anxiety and dissatisfaction not influence a team that must be low on confidence anyway?
The politicking is unhealthy. Dalglish looms like the ghost of Liverpool's glory, the last manager to lead the club to the championship, and somebody who, after being asked to consult on the appointment of
Hodgson is further undermined by the probability of an imminent change of ownership, for it is long established that new owners replace the manager sooner rather than later -- just as Sheikh
There are other, mitigating factors.
Some blame Benitez for the squad he left behind, and it certainly has weaknesses, but he was hamstrung by the lack of resources available. Again, his critics point out his expensive flops -- most notably
Seventh, though, is a whole lot better than 18th. The Benitez knockers say it's an issue of the squad, but every one of Sunday's starting 11 was part of a World Cup 23 in the summer. None of Blackpool's had that status. That, of course, may be part of the problem. Although
Just because there are mitigations, though, does not mean Hodgson is not culpable, just as the fact that Benitez can largely be exonerated does not mean Hodgson is to blame. As
Yet Hodgson has a very good record as a manager, having won titles in Sweden and Denmark, led Internazionale to a UEFA Cup final and Fulham to the Europa League final, the last of which led to his being named Manager of the Year last season. His critics, though, would point out that, with the exception of Inter, he has never before led a club whose fans demand not merely success, but also a certain style.
Worse than that, in his other English job, he left Blackburn 14 games into the 1998-99 season, having won only once. The club went on to be relegated that season, despite having the second-most-expensive squad in the country. What is often forgotten is that, the season before, Hodgson had taken a team that had finished 13th the previous season to sixth, earning qualification for the UEFA Cup, and that in that second season he was beset by injuries and dressing-room unrest. He certainly wasn't a success at Blackburn, but there were reasons for his second-year failure. At Inter, meanwhile, Hodgson's record was impressive. He lifted a struggling side to seventh, and then took it to third the following season.
His record is admirable, and the last 14 games at Blackburn don't change that. The problem is that because his success has largely been with smaller clubs, he arrived at Anfield with the reputation of being a smaller-club manager. Perhaps he does have a small-team mentality, and perhaps that would have been a problem anyway, but at the moment he is seen almost as a self-fulfilling prophecy: When a club is fighting against diminishing status, the last thing it needs is a manager perceived as being of a lower status.
Hodgson, through no great fault of his own, has been cast as a receptionist at mediocrity's door. He may or may not be the right man for the job, but it's hard to avoid the feeling that at the moment managing Liverpool is an impossible task.