Wiping the slate clean – Hodgson breathes new life into Reds ahead of the 2010/2011 season
By Phil Dickinson
Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool limped to the finish line in May, battered and bruised, marked by all the scars of another campaign without a Premier League title. Not only were performances poor, morale low and boardroom tensions severely strained, but uncertainty about the club’s ownership and rumour-mongering in the press had driven fans into states of despair, fury and outright siege mentality.
The players themselves either needed a long rest or a decisive change, and with a rest not an option with the World Cup and a gruelling Europa League campaign on the horizon, a decisive change is what the club has delivered. New kit, new sponsor and, crucially, a new manager.
But as far as Roy Hodgson is concerned, ‘new’ isn’t really the word, such is the level of the man’s experience. Beginning his managerial career in the late 1970s, his CV boasts managerial roles at the likes of Inter Milan, Udinese, Malmö FF, Grasshoppers and three international sides.
Although as well-respected as Roy Hodgson is as a coach, his appointment has to be seen in context as a ‘safe’ choice. He has been chosen not for any proven pedigree as a manger who consistently wins top flight titles, but for his track record of stabilising clubs in short but relatively successful coaching tenures.
His rolling contract at Fulham made him a cheap option; the uncertainty surrounding the future of the club’s ownership made him a sensible option. No ego, no red carpet, just a good, honest manager charged with the task of generating some fresh optimism at Anfield while the club navigates its way through tricky financial times. Also, unlike Benitez, he is a man who the press already like and a man who won’t feed the national media’s lust for turning Liverpool Football Club into a laughable tabloid soap opera.
And without spending a great deal of money, the Croydon-born Liverpool boss has already injected a renewed confidence. Steven Gerrard has spoken of how he wants to prove himself to his new manager, Fernando Torres has spoken publically of his intention to stay and the little magician, Joe Cole, has chosen to move himself up north to play for the Reds despite being a London boy through and through.
And unlike one of Liverpool’s previous ‘shrewd’ free transfer signings, Andrey Voronin, Milan Jovanovic actually appears to be making sincere attempts to settle in England and, as a result, make the most of his Anfield career. Whereas Voronin spent the majority of his time with the Reds complaining to the press about English food and weather, Serbian recruit, Jovanovic has already spoken of what it means to him to sign for the club:
“When I knew I was signing for Liverpool I felt it was very important to learn as much as I could about the club, the city and the people.
“I have always known about Liverpool’s great history. Eighteen times champions of England, five times winners of the Champions League.
But I also learned about the culture of Liverpool. Things like the Beatles and the famous accent that the people have.
I know about the Kop, about You’ll Never Walk Alone, and these years can be the best of my career, when I achieve things that my family can be proud of.”
Liverpool’s first competitive home game of the season, albeit against Macedonian minnows, Rabotnicki, was encouraging. With Gerrard marshalling the centre of the pitch, bursting from deep to add extra weight to attacks and Cole pulling out tricks, flicks and beautiful crosses for striker, David Ngog, Liverpool looked to have an extra cutting edge. There was at least some sense that Benitez’s shackles were slowly being loosened.
A new season always brings mindless optimism and not one Premier League season begins without every single Liverpool fan believing, even for only a fleeting second of fantasy, that this could be the year. Hodgson himself is being modest about the team’s Premier League chances:
“After seven training sessions with what I regard as the key players it is pretty obvious to all we are a long, long way from being a team like United, Arsenal or Chelsea who have been working under the same coach for at least a year
“I don’t even pretend the team after six or seven training sessions are going to be anything like the team we want to be.”
Crucially, Hodgson realises that, aside from any tactical deficiencies, last season’s disastrous form was compounded by a combination of the huge burden of expectation and some confidence crushing defeats in the earliest part of the season. Confidence will be earned from making a good start, not from needlessly taking up the club’s title chances.
In fact, this season we could have the opposite force in operation. Last year’s seventh place finish will naturally lead to people underestimating Liverpool. That will only play into Hodgson’s hands.
The Premier League’s new rule on ‘home grown’ players will also have a big say in Liverpool’s future this season too. With Premier League squads of 25 players now needing to include 8 ‘home grown’ or under 21 players, Liverpool will have no option but to give their youngsters a chance. The Reds only have 4 senior ‘home grown’ players – Gerrard, Carragher, Cole and Johnson – and will almost certainly turn to Pacheco, Kelly and new signings Danny Wilson and Jonjo Shelvey to complete their squad quota.
With extra game time under their belts, the Anfield faithful are hoping a new Kop hero can finally be blooded. Spanish wonderkid and star of the recent European Under 19 Championships, Danny Pacheco, has already been handed the number 12 shirt surely in the hope of persuading him that he does have a bright future in Liverpool’s senior squad.
The fixture computer has not been kind to Hodgson’s Liverpool; The Reds have to play Arsenal, Man City and Man United in 3 of their opening 5 games. But Hodgson has clearly got the players and fans ready for the challenge, anticipating far more joy than last year’s bruising struggle delivered. The message is, whatever the teamsheet, whatever the status of the club’s ownership, this season doesn’t have to be a repeat of last.
So, what are your expectations for Liverpool’s season ahead of the opener against Arsenal? Has Hodgson impressed you so far?
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