His predecessor, Rafa Benitez, was a great fan favourite. By the end of his tenure he may have divided opinion somewhat, but the Spanish tactician had led Liverpool to seven semi-finals, five finals and four trophies in his six years in charge and brought Liverpool back into the footballing mainstream in terms of huge, successful European clubs.
Whoever took over the reins was always going to have a big job on their hands; not just in terms of following Benitez’s initial popularity on the terraces but also because the club was in the midst of a huge split between the boardroom and the fans.
So why was Hodgson appointed?
A dreadful 2009/10 season saw Liverpool finish in a lowly seventh position, after a year of poor results and inconsistent performances. Roy Hodgson was seen as the man who could bring stability to the club; to arrest the slump on the field and help the club through a difficult period off it with the impending board takeover.
Hodgson had just won the League Managers’ Association award and led Fulham to the Europa League Final in the previous season and was perceived – at least by most in the media and one or two in the temporary Liverpool boardroom – as the steady hand the club needed on its tiller; a man who could take the rough with the smooth and could work within a budget in the transfer market, as well as getting the very best out of the players already at the club, something which Benitez had failed to achieve the previous season with a group who had finished second in the Premiership the previous year.
So why were Liverpool fans so unimpressed?
The answers were to become very apparent in the following six months which led to Hodgson’s swift departure from the club.
First and foremost for a large number of supporters would be the results. After all, as we are so often told, management is a results-based business. But Liverpool’s results were nothing short of unacceptable. Defeats at Anfield to Blackpool and Northampton and away from home to the likes of Stoke City, Newcastle United and of course, Liverpool’s closest rivals Everton, saw players who had won major finals and taken on the finest teams in Europe with a swagger only eighteen months previously, struggle to impose themselves and keep any sort of attacking momentum going against teams such as Wigan and Wolves.
Hodgson amassed an extremely poor 25 points out of a possible 60 from his league matches in charge of Liverpool, in addition to 10 from 18 in the Europa League and a third round defeat to Northampton in the League Cup. Hardly inspiring stuff, any way you look at it. And this was nothing new – Hodgson’s 35% Premiership win rate at Liverpool compared almost exactly with his 33% rate at Fulham and 34% at Blackburn. Liverpool supporters knew what was coming.
So what of the performances? Defeats can perhaps be accepted, if not liked, were the performances to be brave and committed. If luck isn’t on your side – if a beach-ball interferes, for example – then what can you do?
The performances were not inspiring, were not committed and were not full of self-belief and a unified dedication to improve the team’s league standing.
They were limp, tepid, defensive and cautious. The tactics were wrong, the player selections were arguably wrong – though who is to say which players would have performed better given the jobs asked of them – and the astonishing lack of any kind of alternative match plan to turn to when results were going against Liverpool belied a man out of his depth with the level of expectation that comes with managing this Football Club.
Hodgson himself alluded to the fact that he had no intentions to change the way he worked to suit the players at Liverpool FC – his methods, he said, had translated from the clubs he had managed in Sweden, Switzerland and beyond, and he had firm belief that they would do the same at Liverpool.
Now, in fairness to Roy, a manager must have an absolutely iron-clad belief that what he is doing is right; if a manager doubts himself and his methods, how can any other coach or player buy into them? But a sign of a good manager is also one who takes note when his approach is not working and is able to change accordingly to make the best use of the players at his disposal.
Hodgson’s archaic and ill-fitting 4:4:2 system may have worked a treat at Fulham, where defensive organisation and forwards who hold the ball up were the name of the game, but the players at Liverpool are rather more inclined to take the initiative in any given match; to press their advantage of being superior players and, in the best instance, to pass the opposition into submission. To winning matches.
The narrowness of Liverpool’s attack, especially away from home, only served to enhance the view that this was not the approach the Reds should be taking to win games, while the continual line of deep defenders stopped both the team’s ability to break out of their own third for any regular length of time and, just as importantly, prevented Pepe Reina from performing his natural role of dominating his penalty area and cutting out opposition chances before they became fully formed.
Hodgson also appeared to be unable to coax the very best out of his players. Fernando Torres has had the finger pointed at him all season – but he is not the only one who hasn’t shown his true ability. Dirk Kuyt, Glen Johnson, Milan Jovanovic and Joe Cole have all struggled to find any kind of regular form and there can be little doubt that, aside from the prohibitive tactics employed by their then-boss, Roy’s man management skills left something to be desired.
Torres was not defended by his own manager when Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson accused him of diving at Old Trafford – a foolish comment in itself given that his own defender O’Shea was lucky not to be sent off for fouling Torres – while Cole and Johnson both suffered public accusations of poor form from Hodgson.
Then we have Hodgson’s substitutions – or lack of them. Quite aside from waiting far too long to make the changes themselves, Roy’s like-for-like switches failed to change the game in Liverpool’s favour and, even more bewilderingly, on occasions he failed to even utilise his quota of three subs, despite Liverpool not leading and attacking substitutes being available on the bench. Case in point: versus Birmingam at St. Andrews, 0-0, Pacheco, Babel and Ngog all on the bench. Roy’s two changes were made after 76 and 78 minutes, and none of the three attackers were brought on.
Hodgson’s entire match attitude reeked of mediocrity and acceptance of avoiding defeat.
The transfer dealings of Roy Hodgson were also poor pieces of business. Though it is difficult to truly know how much of a hand he had in them all – ex-MD Christian Purslow is widely ‘credited’ with the signing of Joe Cole for example – there can be no doubts that Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen, two of Liverpool’s biggest failures since the infamous summer transfers of 2002, came in under the instruction and request of Hodgson. Brad Jones was necessary cover so can be discounted, while Raul Meireles, surely the club’s best signing during the Hodgson period, was so frequently played out of position in a bemusing right midfield role that it must be questioned just how much Roy knew about him before he joined the club – and if he did know that Meireles was a central midfielder, why he purchased him with little intention of playing him there.
But perhaps the most damning indictment of all that Hodgson was patently unsuited to being manager of Liverpool FC came in his press conferences and media interviews.
Previously seen as something of a media darling, Hodgson’s quotes – after, admittedly, several convincing and encouraging initial statements during pre-season – quickly became something rather horrifying to fans. A series of mystifying at best and downright ludicrous at worst statements would follow each game, which somehow always failed to reflect what everybody had seen during the match and inevitably tried to dampen down expectations at the club – not something that supporters want to hear.
From the post-derby interview, surely Liverpool’s most desperate performance of the season at the time, during which Hodgson tried to claim that it was the best performance of the team in his tenure and that we had matches our cross-city rivals and were unlucky in defeat; to the misguided attempt to placate fans after the horrendous loss in December to Wolves at Anfield; suggesting that expecting to beat teams bottom of the league was unrealistic and disrespectful.
Suggesting, of all things, that the fans might have to get used to such defeats.
Liverpool FC fans do not want to hear that defeat might be a necessary outcome. They want to hear, and rightly so, that their team will produce improved performances so that the risk of defeat will be minimised. And that their manager is a leader who offers a vision to make Liverpool a side which is not just hard to beat, but difficult to not lose against.
Up until that point, Hodgson had not won over the Liverpool supporters. But his comments afterwards ensured that he never would. He referred to the famous Kop support, and stated how he had never been afforded it.
But there are things that Roy never understood about Liverpool, and never will. Goodwill and unswerving support aren’t just given, they are earned. Though the team might not win every game, fighting the club’s corner, working hard, believing in the cause and respecting the knowledge of the supporters goes a long way to proving a manager to the club’s fans.
It is hard to see just where Hodgson ever immersed himself in the traditions of this football club, on or off the pitch.
Roy Hodgson was never the man for Liverpool Football Club. And most supporters knew that from the very beginning.
This article was originally published in Well Red magazine issue 6. The magazine by Liverpool fans, for Liverpool fans.
- Dalglish pays tribute to Hodgson (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Roy Hodgson’s Spell at Liverpool FC: Giving Credit Where It’s Due (bleacherreport.com)