Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Hodgson dismisses Rafa rumours

Roy Hodgson

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson does not feel threatened by predecessor Rafael Benitez's arrival back on Merseyside, admitting it would be “surprising” if the Spaniard was considered the man for the club's future.

Hodgson has so far failed to win over a large number of fans and speculation about his future has persisted since his side's woeful start to the season.

Benitez's confirmed departure from Inter Milan after just six months in charge is seemingly imminent and his return to the home he kept on the Wirral this week has led many supporters to step up their campaign for his reinstatement at Anfield.

Banners declaring their support adorned a fence outside his house yesterday and one online poll had 65% of respondents expressing their desire to see Benitez back at the helm.

Hodgson, however, remains unmoved and unaffected by the continued speculation.

Asked whether he felt under any additional pressure considering Benitez's proximity, he responded: “None at all, no.”

And when quizzed about suggestions Benitez could be a contender for his job, he said: “You'd have to ask the owners about that. It would be surprising.

“If he was the right man for the job it would have been wiser not to let him go for six months and then have to bring him back again. This job will always be linked with lots of people.

“When you are in one of the top jobs in the country it would be very strange if there were not other people being linked with my job.

“I am sure there are many people who are envious of my job and would like to take my place.”

Benitez left Anfield in June, when former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett were still in charge, with a huge pay-off after a seventh-place Barclays Premier League finish.

His relationship with senior figures at the club contributed to his downfall, but many of those have now left.

Hicks and Gillett have been replaced by John Henry and Tom Werner, whose New England Sports Ventures completed a £300million buy-out in October, while the search for a new chief executive is expected to be concluded early in the new year after Christian Purslow — one of Benitez's significant opponents — stepped down two months ago.

Hodgson has been concentrating on preparing his side for the Boxing Day trip to Blackpool after last Saturday's home game against Fulham was postponed because of the heavy snow which fell in the north west.

Bloomfield Road has no undersoil heating and is therefore exposed to the threat of sub-zero temperatures, despite the Seasiders' best efforts to maintain a playable surface.

That only reinforces Hodgson's belief that a winter break is long overdue in England.

“I don't understand the opposition to the winter break,” said the Reds boss, who has also managed in Scandinavia and Italy.

“I come from European football where winter breaks are a necessity and for many years has been accepted as the norm. The insistence everyone plays all of their football month after month without a break and then spend over three months without a game I don't understand any more.

“For me it would make sense to divide the calendar up so you play a certain number of matches, have a break and then play some more matches. Then the break you have between the end of one season and the start of the new one would not stretch from the middle of May to the middle of August.

“I am a fan of a winter break because I think people need a break from the intensity that English football brings.

“I know it is difficult to say when that break should be because you can get good weather in

January and bad weather in February, but you don't get that many games called off because of unfit pitches any more.

“The beauty of the winter break is that you have this nice flow to your season where you have a shorter pre-season and you get into the season.

“But then when players are just beginning to get a little bit tired and everything is beginning to weigh down on them you get a month to free your head.

“That month may only be two weeks away from football and two weeks doing preparation, but I think that way you go into the second half of the season so much more refreshed and I think that can only be of benefit to the players and the quality of football.

“The fans don't lose anything because it means the games they would be watching in unpleasant weather conditions in January they are watching in May or the early part of June.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will return to action against Blackpool on Boxing Day after manager Roy Hodgson confirmed he is now fit.

The 30-year-old midfielder has been out since tearing a hamstring in England's friendly against France on November 17.

“It is a big boost to have Gerrard back going into five games in 15 days,” said the manager.

“It is a season-changing period for every team in the Premier League.

“He would have been fit to play against Fulham as well.

“It doesn't hurt to have an extra week to get some training in but what he needs now is matches.”

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