Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: Dross of Rafa Benitez's Liverpool legacy now haunting Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson may prove not to be the man for Liverpool but if he does go down, and if the blow delivered by Northampton in the Carling Cup comes to be seen as a killing early assault on his confidence, his defence counsel might run the risk of lockjaw if he cites all the extenuating circumstances.

Chief among them, surely, is the obligation to clear up the mess left by Rafa Benitez.

There always had to be those doubts about whether the new man was the right choice to guide the stricken giant through a crisis that is becoming increasingly surreal. This is because his achievement at Fulham, where demands were so much less oppressive than the ones he faces now, spoke more than anything of a knowing veteran who could fiddle his way to a certain level of glory.

It didn't announce a miracle worker at the highest level of the game, which is pretty much the job requirement of rallying Liverpool has become.

It is a challenge of an entirely different order from the one Hodgson met so successfully at Craven Cottage and perhaps the clearest indicator of this came with the insipid performance at Old Trafford last Sunday.

Yet if defeat by Northampton, from the bottom tier of the Football League, was by far the most serious assault on the spirit of the Liverpool faithful, it did bring one benefit to Hodgson.

It defined the root of his immediate problem. His team is bereft of quality in numbers.

This was the charge levelled, eventually, at both his predecessors, Gerard Houllier and Benitez but the difference in Hodgson's situation is that they had years to select the performers they deemed up to the job of maintaining and developing Liverpool's place in the game.

One brutal fact screamed out of the latest Anfield debacle. When Hodgson came to pick his starting team he turned to seven of Benitez's hand-picked signings, including five — Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Daniel Agger, Lucas, Ryan Babel and David Ngog — who cost a combined total of £27m.

Hodgson also fielded Daniel Pacheco, a star of Spain's triumph in the recent Under-19 European championships and had the pick of one of England’s most expensive academy production lines, but if the manager's brief reign is already under scrutiny he can’t be denied his claim that the team he sent out should have been far too good for a League Two side.

Sickeningly, it wasn't, no more than the one that contained Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher was able to make much of a case that it belonged on the same field as United a few days ago.

There is not so much new to say about the ever spreading disaster slick represented by the club's American ownership. It wouldn't have happened if the Liverpool board, and especially the then chairman David Moores, had been properly alert to the dangers implicit in a deal so heavily based on speculative borrowing. What is beyond dispute is that Hodgson has been bequeathed the results of a Benitez regime that became increasingly exposed for its failure to both galvanise a first team of some individual brilliance but a core of mediocrity.

From his fortress of escape at San Siro Benitez wages tit-for-tat warfare with his old employers, including the claim that it was an impossible burden to work with people who didn't know anything about football.

He would be better advised to keep his head down while attempting to walk in the shoes of Jose Mourinho.

What can Hodgson do? He can say sorry, which he did, he can play for a little time and hope that over the next few weeks he receives at least a fraction of the blind faith offered to his predecessor.

Benitez bemoaned his lack of transfer funds, even after lashing out £19m on the football invalid Alberto Aquilani and stockpiling the biggest squad of professionals (65) in the European game.

It was a performance of some nerve but then perhaps Benitez knew he wouldn't be around to bear the cost. Judge a manager by what he leaves behind is one of football's oldest commandments. However he fares, Hodgson may find it hard to avoid offering a withering verdict.

Belfast Telegraph


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