Belfast Telegraph

Hodgson to kick off the great sack race as Liverpool look elsewhere

By Ian Herbert

The graffiti on a Melwood wall yesterday stated ‘Hodgson Out' but the Liverpool manager was in at an early hour and still at his desk late into the afternoon, even though yesterday was a designated day off for most of the players whose capitulation at Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday night left his job in such jeopardy.

Those who work closely with Hodgson say he is bearing this nightmare experience with equanimity, wise as he is to the brutal place football can be, yet the silence from Boston yesterday was deafening.

The wisest football proprietors publicly support their managers even while they are preparing to sack them but this seems to be a lesson John W Henry is yet to learn. He is creating a news vacuum which is turning the world into a desperate place for Hodgson to occupy.

The rumour mill was in overdrive when he emerged to place a bin bag of items in his car. After much deliberation within the club about the merits of protecting him, it seems Hodgson will appear publicly today to discuss Sunday's FA Cup tie with arch-rivals Manchester United.

Though Kop heroes Kevin Keegan. John Barnes and Steve McManaman all came out in favour of Hodgson being given more time yesterday, the manager is not delivering what he claimed privately that he could this summer.

Liverpool's non-executive chairman at that time, Martin Broughton, declared back in July that Hodgson's “extremely thoughtful, prepared, thorough” interview for the job included a commitment to focus “on how we could get more from existing players” which had been most impressive. “It was not [about] how much money he could have.”

There are some extenuating circumstances — the injured Jamie Carragher would not have allowed a defensive display like Wednesday's — but the players Hodgson has inherited have become shadows of the individuals they once were.

Henry and the current Liverpool chairman Tom Werner would have appreciated Hodgson's interview pitch.

Now Henry wants someone able to work on bringing the best out of Fernando Torres.

The problem for Henry, Werner and their Fenway Sports Group is not to find a modern young manager — there are plenty of those around — but one capable of beginning to lift players in the way that Terry Francona did at Boston, the man who lifted the Red Sox World Series hoodoo.

The connections that the Americans' new director of football strategy Damien Comolli has with continental football have elevated Marseilles' Didier Deschamps, the former Barcelona coach Frank Rikjaard, Porto's Andre Villas-Boas and, in what would be a particularly bold move, Ralph Rangnick, the 52-year-old who recently resigned from Hoffenheim, to the ranks of possible contenders.

The latter two are immediately available and with doubts that Rikjaard might be the right candidate, rumour continues to surround Rangnick.

Known in Germany for the offensive 4-3-3 system which secured successive promotions for Hoffenheim from the third tier to the Bundesliga, ‘the Professor' — as the technocrat Rangnick is known — also worked as an intern at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger was a major influence. Liverpool's owners see Arsenal as a model club.

Yet the picture of Rangnick's suitability is clouded. He was bankrolled by a wealthy benefactor at Hoffenheim, whose 175m euro investment over ten years included a sizable outlay on players for Rangnick.

Some of his scientific methods might appeal to the new Liverpool owners and to Comolli, a big fan of German football: the players were encouraged to shoot against specific areas of a large, electronic wall and their were elaborate devices to get the players passing in triangles. But there are doubts that Rangnick's man management skills match his ideas as a technocrat.

Rangnick, who never won a trophy in Germany, has distanced himself from quotes attributed to him suggesting that he wanted the Liverpool job, heightening the sense among some German observers that he might be in contention as the quotes served only to discredit him.

But another consideration is whether the German would be willing to cede control to Comolli, having commanded such power at Hoffenheim.

The same goes for Kenny Dalglish who, if he accepted the manager's job in a caretaker role, may not appreciate a new recruit calling the shots at a club where he is a legend.

Another Anfield legend, Keegan, led demands for more time for Hodgson yesterday.

“It's not easy but Liverpool have been in decline for a number of years and I think Roy Hodgson is just picking up the tab,” he said.

“Where are all these youngsters they signed? None of them have come through. I think there are a lot of questions that need to be asked way beyond Roy Hodgson.”

Hodgson's question is a simple one. Does he have a job, or doesn't he?

In the meantime, he is looking for an immediate response to the embarrassing defeat at Blackburn.

It may not be the one he wants but it could be the one he half expects and fears after presiding over a ninth Barclays Premier League defeat in 20 matches.

The 63-year-old was in a precarious position even before the trip to Ewood Park and while a last-gasp win over Bolton on Saturday did little to strengthen his position and he must now fear the worst after watching his side be outplayed by a Rovers team who had eight first-teamers missing and had lost three of the last five matches.

Next up for is that third round tie at the home of United and Hodgson said he hoped to see a reaction from his players.

“Football unfortunately throws up some good moments and bad moments and when it throws up a bad moment there is no amount of talking which is going to change it,” said the former Fulham boss..

“It is going to be the next performance which is going to change things. You keep going as best you can. You make certain that you try to get over the result and make certain the next result is better and wipes away the memory.”

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