Liverpool boss Hodgson walking a tightrope
Liverpool’s owners have decided that Roy Hodgson is not the manager to take Liverpool forward in the long term and are ready to replace him in mid-season if the right candidate becomes available.
The club's prinicipal owner John W Henry and his Fenway Sports Group are examining the situation closely, with the wedge that Wednesday's defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers drove between Hodgson and the fans a factor in their willingness to replace the 63-year-old now, rather than allow him to marshall the club through to the end of the season.
Hodgson cut a lonely and wounded individual yesterday at a press conference which had a valedictory air about it and he expressed “regret” if he had “offended in any way” fans who took against his suggestion after the Wolves defeat that the “famous Anfield support” had never been there for him.
It is unclear what the response of the fans will be for the challenging home match with Bolton Wanderers today, though Hodgson's midweek comments, taken with a feeling that the club's tactical and physical readiness for matches is not improving, appears to have sealed his fate already.
With Henry seemingly having no appetite for a caretaker — confirming the impressions of Kenny Dalglish, who would be willing to become that individual — the lack of immediate availability of prospective replacements may mean Hodgson ploughing on until the summer.
Among the ranks of young managers Henry favours appointing — replicating the decision to hire Theo Epstein with such prodigious results at his Boston Red Sox — only Frank Rijkaard, the former Barcelona coach, is not currently under contract and the 48-year-old may not be the ideal candidate.
Marseilles' Didier Deschamps — approached by Liverpool last summer — Porto's Andre Villas Boas, Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp or even Bolton's Owen Coyle are even younger individuals whom Henry may prefer.
Hodgson, last season's LMA manager of the year, is not alone in his state of penury.
West Ham's Avram Grant — whose side face a critical visit to face the Wolves side which vanquished Liverpool — Aston Villa's Gerard Houllier, whose club's tough run continues against Chelsea, and Fulham's Mark Hughes — away to thriving Tottenham — also have reason to fear for their futures.
It was Sir Alex Ferguson who observed, in the process of discussing his son Darren's dismissal at Preston yesterday, that Christmas is the sacking period for managers.
But few managers will feel the sting of dismissal more than Hodgson, who had the courage to turn up and eloquently address the barbed, ironics chants of ‘Hodgson for England' from fans on Wednesday night and has been damned for it.
“I have been very disappointed and very hurt, in particular by comments I made that I thought were mere statements of fact and which were in no way meant to be offensive had been turned,” said Hodgson, who has had no contact with his owners since Wednesday.
“Funnily enough, I thought I had done a good job in disguising the hurt, the sadness and to some extent, the anger — not only to take the stick from the crowd but to stand up in front of a press conference and say I understood and sympathised with them.
“It is always going to be the case when things are going wrong you are going to get that type of flak. It was unfortunate for me that this has been turned around and fans have been made to think that I went into a press conference with a view to attacking them because nothing could be further from the truth. I think you all know that.”
Hodgson's bewilderment has been compounded by the fact that the Liverpool situation has turned so rapidly.
There have been only two bad defeats and two cancelled matches since the halcyon days of early winter, when Chelsea were beaten, with Villa and West Ham pummelled.
Even Ferguson reflected, with good reason, yesterday that the quality of the Wolves side which so nearly beat United had been overlooked in the attacks on Hodgson's Liverpool. It is a sentiment Hodgson shares.
“A few weeks ago when we were on a good roll and playing some good football, everything looked bright and positive,” continued Hodgson.
“The whole mood everywhere I thought was very positive. The performance against Tottenham (Liverpool were excellent despite a 2-1 defeat) encouraged people to some extent but now has become just another defeat.
“The last two defeats have hurt us very badly and hurt me very badly because we haven't played anywhere near our potential. We played badly.
“It has swung things around enormously and put us in this situation where we find ourselves today. I can't do more than emphasise that it hurts me deeply.”