Roy Hodgson ready for his swansong
Perhaps it was a Freudian slip last Saturday evening when Roy Hodgson said he hoped that the “clockwork oranges” of his side would put in the shifts when the superstars were rested.
Hodgson meant the ‘clockwork soldiers' — or perhaps ‘Duracell soldiers' as the Marseilles coach, Eric Gerets described Liverpool's infantrymen two seasons back — and the line was struck from the record, but who can really blame him for that reference to the dystopian world Anthony Burgess depicted and Stanley Kubrick committed to screen?
There might not be violence around Anfield but there is certainly the madness.
The latest ‘drama' surrounded Liverpool's decision yesterday to spare Hodgson the indignity of a press conference at which he would have fielded an avalanche of questions about his future. Since even this cancellation quickly constituted ‘breaking news’ the club's decision seemed wise, in a week when the feverish rumours surrounding the manager.
Some of the most disillusioned Liverpool supporters now feel only empathy for the way Hodgson has been left in limbo by owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG), with the latest individual to occupy the news vacuum yesterday being the former captain and assistant manager Phil Thompson.
Thompson is seen by some as a fallback if Kenny Dalglish does not step into the temporary manager's role John W Henry is considering creating, though prospective managers do not attack the incumbent.
Thompson said Hodgson should admit “that the issues are just too big” for [him] to handle,” adding that “we are wallowing in mediocrity.”
In truth, there was little else for Hodgson to add about his job prospects, other than perhaps to suggest that FSG — who currently have no corporate PR representation in the UK — should back or sack him.
Hodgson's absence from the Melwood press room was a tragedy because of the wealth of proper football questions which might have been put about tomorrow lunchtime's FA Cup Third Round tie at Old Trafford.
He and Sir Alex Ferguson have a good relationship — “Sir Alex is not really a Liverpool man so I'm a bit concerned about my excellent relationship with him,” Hodgson said in far happier times last summer.
And the Liverpool manager has the potential to replicate the Scotsman's own journey if one of those soldiers of his can deliver what Mark Robins did for Ferguson in the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest precisely 21 years and one day ago, today. That Robins goal sent Ferguson forward into another 21 years of continuous employment and counting.
Hodgson would probably take another 21 weeks if they were offered to him now but this weekend can be simply about the football if Liverpool's fans allow the occasion to release them — and him — from the current purgatory.
The supporters have voted with their feet in the last two weeks but Liverpool will take 9,000 fans to Old Trafford — and those of them willing to put aside their grievances will remember that Hodgson has the potential — again, painfully improbable — to be
come the first Englishman to lift the FA Cup with Liverpool. (The legendary 1977 final Liverpool lost to United, depriving them of the treble, was the closest Bob Paisley ever came.)
It was left to Liverpool's in-house TV station yesterday to gauge the manager's outlook ahead of what has been a miserable FA Cup fixture, Liverpool having won three of the 15 encounters with United.
Hodgson said: “We're all hurting in this situation” and reflected on “a poor, poor defensive performance to let in the goals we did” at Blackburn. It would be “a remarkable coup” to defeat United, he added. “The important thing for me to do is make that point clear [that a win would lift the club] but also to emphasise that to win it will require a lot of intelligent football. We're not going to do it through heart alone.
“It needs to be a combination of endeavour and desire, but also people using their heads to play well tactically, negate Manchester United's strengths and take advantage of some of their weaknesses.”
Raul Meireles is also fit so Hodgson can, Jamie Carragher apart, at least boast a full strength squad.