For man who prides himself on doing his job with the minimum of fuss, the first two months of Roy Hodgson’s reign as Liverpool manager have been a flurry of activity. Whilst the blame for the boardroom wrangling cannot be laid at the door of the affable Hodgson, he seems to be unusually flustered in his dealings. Between juggling reserve goalkeepers, pawning £17 million midfielders out on loan and indulging the new saviour of Anfield, the 62-year old is sowing the seeds that he hopes will harvest a successful tenure in the biggest job of his life. It’s clear he’s going to do it his way.
Yet another shyster has managed to associate his name with the institution that is Liverpool Football Club, the club is turning into a mad-house. Chairman Martin Broughton and managing director Christian Purslow are in charge of finding new owners, and their collective efforts do not seem to have amounted to much. Broughton has so far spent more time hob-knobbing with his chums from the King’s Road than meeting his self-imposed deadline of the end of the transfer window for finding investment.
The much-maligned Rick Parry’s replacement Purslow got off to a good start in his role at the club, negotiating the £80 million sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered. However, his rift with Rafa Benitez was yet an unwanted distraction during last season and now he is struggling to attract bids for the club. The ludicrous valuation placed on the club by cowardly owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett means there is more chance of Liverpool being in the hands of the Royal Bank of Scotland in autumn, rather than in the loving arms of a sugar daddy. It’s going to be an anxious few months in this regard.
This does not make it an ideal working environment for Hodgson. Nor was it for Benitez. But one advantage Woy has is that he plays the media game, something the Spaniard was never willing to do. The Londoner gives his few generic quotes, talking without saying anything, giving the journalists quotes for their copy, and Sky Sports News a sound bite for their reports. Benitez was paranoid, justifiably so in many cases. At times, the relentless and unfair questions been thrown in his direction at press conferences and after games were borderline harassment. He was not witty and charming like Mourinho, passionate and articulate as Wenger, or fiery and confrontational like Ferguson.
So the press turned on him, and he fought back with some churlish, often sarcastic answers. Arguably, the final straw for the former Valencia coach was the coverage provoked by “Rafa’s Rant”. After speaking in a controlled manner, pointing out a few home truths about the influence of Alex Ferguson within the game in England, he was portrayed as a raving lunatic, when the fact remained that the majority of what he said was true. The timing of his words was poor, as Liverpool followed up with draws against Stoke and Everton that arguably cost them the 2009 Premier League title. What followed in the 2009/10 campaign on the field meant it was time to move on, and the Spaniard has landed a pretty plum number by taking over at European champions Inter Milan.
Hodgson has had some major issues to contend with, some of his own doing. The excessive efforts to help Joe Cole settle into the team have become a bit of a distraction. His display at home against Arsenal can be summarised in that Liverpool were more fluid and organised in his absence, despite been a man short. His sending-off was harsh, but the three league games he sits out will give him much to ponder. The following Thursday saw him miss a penalty (his first since he was 13 apparently) against Trabzonspor, making a tricky trip to Turkey even more perilous. There were roughly eight players in the side that night better equipped to take a spot-kick. I would probably include Pepe Reina in that group.
While the miss proved irrelevant, it was just another example of Hodgson trying to give Cole a smooth beginning to live at Anfield. But if it is to the determent of the side, then we can all do without it. All Liverpool fans want Cole to succeed, but they do not want their team to be an audition for Cole to be played in the position he has longed for. It seems more realistic that the former West Ham star will be shifted out to the left, with Steven Gerrard behind a lone striker, and new signings Christian Poulsen and Raul Meireles in the middle.
Reserve goalkeepers at most clubs seem to be along for the ride. Not at Liverpool though. Brad Jones has been drafted in as the new number one; meaning he will observe Reina’s continuing brilliance from the bench, save for an autumn outing in the Carling Cup and perhaps some Europa League games. Former back-up stopper Diego Cavalieri has been moved on to
Cesena, and has started life in Italy as substitute too. His pre-match ritual of tangling himself in the nets of the goal whilst chanting manically caught the eye more than any of his performances. His predecessor Charles Itandje disgraced himself at the service for the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy by giggling during the ceremony, an unforgivable display of contempt for the 96 who perished.
Jones arrives with a £2.3 million price-tag, but a rather unflattering CV. He was relegated with Middlesbrough in 2009, and failed to display anything that would suggest he could keep goal in the top-flight. The £3 million received of Cavalieri ‘s departure shows a small loss on the Brazilian but there is a net profit from both deals. However, with money so tight at Anfield, there were surely more viable options out there. Whilst these transactions will not make or break the club, it seemed another distraction in a summer full of them. Hopefully Jones can perform if called upon.
Alberto Aquilani’s hurried departure from Anfield made sense in many ways, but after the Robbie Keane fiasco of 2008, it was gut-wrenching that for successive summer the marquee signed failed miserably. His loan to Juventus indicates he is still highly thought of in Serie A to have a big club take him on. The Old Lady are in a similar position to Liverpool, after coming seventh last season, they are clinging on to their glorious past and have had a stuttering start to their league campaign. Aquilani’s frequent absences from the team frustrated fans and pundits alike, but he seemed too frail and timid for life in England.
The Javier Mascherano situation was completely out of Hodgson’s hands. His apparent refusal to play at Manchester City will infuriate the masses who worshipped the Argentine during his tenure on Merseyside. Now he claims Liverpool regaled on a gentleman’s agreement to let him leave in 2010 if the right offer came along. Which it didn’t. The insulting fee received for the fiery midfielder is further proof of the power the player have in today’s game. Whilst he motives for leaving were not fuelled by greed, more a desire to be with his family, the distinctly ungentlemanly conduct of both himself and Barcelona left a sour taste in the mouth. The Catalans are getting as bad as Real Madrid in their relentless pursuing of players.
The 3-0 defeat at Eastlands, following by the laboured win at home to West Brom gives Liverpool four points from three games. An unconvincing start domestically, but the four Europa League wins, albeit against mediocre opposition is a positive to take from the opening month of games. Hodgson would have liked more time to mould his squad, and the sale of Mascherano late in the window left him little time to use the funds received. This money will more likely go towards paying off the interest currently crippling the club. Liverpool need new owners and the situation looks like it will get worse before it gets better. Hodgson needs to provide ample distraction, and most importantly results on the pitch.