30 December: The day the tables finally turned on Gentleman Roy
The sycophancy in the national press has been a blessing and curse for Roy Hodgson in his short and disastrous reign at Anfield. It helped him into the job (with “pomp and circumstance”) and has shielded him from serious scrutiny, but it has also blinded him to his many errors and the changes of plan that could have saved him.
And now its seamy underbelly – the inevitable and long-deserved backlash – could finish him.
Because after weeks of ignoring the clear and voluble discontent of the Liverpool support — at the ground, in the pubs and online – Hodgson’s old friends in the press are not only reporting what the fans are feeling, but digging into the reasons why.
James Lawton of the Independent was the first to acknowledge what a majority of supporters have known for months, that the manager is way out of his depth. He attributes Hodgson’s spiral downwards to “vanity (which) surfaced, you had to believe, when he decided that he was up to the job of sorting out the chaos of Liverpool Football Club”. He concludes that:
He is a good football man, unquestionably, but he is in the wrong place at the wrong time and without, it seems increasingly obvious, any striking ability to do much about it. Fans are fans, no more, no less, and he should have realised that when he made his desperate appeal. Fans only help managers – in 99 per cent of cases, anyway – who prove that they can help themselves.
Lawton’s colleague, Ian Herbert, reports the discontent during and after the defeat by Wolves, and appears to have been briefed by sources close to Kenny Dalglish – if the code phrase “Dalglish is understood”, used twice here, means “said off-the-record”, as it usually does:
The owners are understood to have been surprised to find that Hodgson had questioned the supporters after the 1-0 defeat, during which ironic chants of “Hodgson for England” and calls for Kenny Dalglish were heard. Though Dalglish is understood to feel Liverpool still have no appetite to appoint him as caretaker, the club’s owners believe that the fans should not have been further alienated after a performance in which the club’s principal owner, John W Henry, was not convinced the players were sufficiently committed…It is understood Dalglish would jump at the chance if he received any encouragement for a return which would restore the link to the supporters
The Guardian’s Blog was quite straightforward on the topic. The headline: “Liverpool have to sack Hodgson now”. The logic:
Pass and move, it’s the Liverpool groove? Not any more. The Hodgson way is more hoof and pray. As endless long punts were hammered towards Fernando Torres and David Ngog during last night’s defeat to Wolves, it became increasingly impossible to justify Roy Hodgson lasting at Anfield beyond the end of the week…no matter what financial constraints Hodgson has had to work under, is a grotesque underachievement for a club of Liverpool’s elevated standing.
Rory Smith of the Telegraph was equivocal in a lunchtime webchat, when he acknowledged Hodgson’s shortcomings but also found other reasons for the current disarray at the club. His later article also stopped short of venturing an opinion on the matter, but at least revealed the extent to which Hodgson has been found wanting by the support. What he doesn’t note is that polls showed that 90%+ wanted the manager dismissed before the Wolves game.
Roy Hodgson’s grip on his position as Liverpool manager appears to be loosening after comments suggesting he had never enjoyed the full support of the fans prompted a furious backlash on Merseyside. His remarks, made in the aftermath of the 1-0 defeat to bottom club Wolves, are also believed to have caused concern among the club’s hierarchy, who fear his relationship with the Anfield public may now be stretched beyond repair. Hodgson stated after the defeat to Mick McCarthy’s side on Wednesday that he hoped Liverpool’s “fans would become supporters” after failing to offer him their backing throughout his six-month reign. The comments were seen as a serious error of judgment by the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group. Thousands of fans demanded his dismissal on websites and internet polls, with one survey finding that 97 per cent of supporters favoured his departure.
The more sensationalist newspapers were unsurprisingly more sensational about the matter, but made the same point. A Mirror article headed “Six reasons why Hodgson must go” concluded
Hodgson’s remarks about the missing Anfield roar sound much worse in isolation than they did during his fairly reasonable post-match comments. However, he just shouldn’t have gone there. Remember David O’Leary’s throwaway remark about Villa’s “fickle” crowd and the subsequent “we’re not fickle, we just don’t like you banner”. Where is O’Leary now? And where will Hodgson be in a fortnight?
The BBC was on the case early in the day, and put the knife in with some tact but no little force. Phil McNulty, the Chief Football Writer, listed most of Hodgson’s failures and then noted:
Hodgson was a logical choice by Liverpool’s board to succeed Rafael Benitez. Mature and experienced – not to mention manager of the year after taking Fulham to the Europa League final – he looked the perfect fit to oversee what would inevitably be a transitional period on and off the pitch. It was an appointment, however, that was greeted with a wave of indifference by supporters who craved a more high-profile figure. Needing a fast start, Hodgson stumbled as events off the field conspired against him and he proved incapable of coaxing any consistency or quality out of the squad Benitez left behind.
Finally, and perhaps most damagingly, the verdict from closer to home. Ben Thornley, Liverpool Daily Post columnist, cannot be called sycophantic here:
He is the antithesis of what a Liverpool boss should be, his manner and approach to the game completely at odds with Anfield’s traditions…Even before his disgraceful attack on the Kop on Wednesday he had lost even the most moderate of Liverpool fans. Now it’s time for him to lose his job.
This has to feel bad to Roy Hodgson. Not just because the words are harsh, but because they’re so completely opposed to what he’s heard from most of the same people as they campaigned for him to get this job and conspired to keep him in it.
But however harsh they feel, they’re no more harsh than he deserves. He is not a bad manager, he is far from a bad man. But he has proved a bad manager of Liverpool and a bad judge of what he’s achieved, how it’s been reported and how a Liverpool manager should respond.
He’s been left bleeding by those who helped him into power, and now it remains only for the people who reluctantly inherited him to put him out of his misery.