Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson's deft ruthlessness spells end for Rafa’s Anfield lightweights

By Tim Rich

The Anfield boot room, where championships were once plotted, now serves as Liverpool's press room and sometimes Rafael Benitez would point to the pictures on the wall.

They showed the team that won Liverpool the European Cup in Istanbul and Benitez would gesture towards the photographs and remark that most of these footballers, whom he inherited from Gerard Houllier, were not very good. “I wonder how we ever won it,” he said.

The squad Benitez left behind is considerably better than the one he inherited from Houllier but Roy Hodgson knew it needed breaking up and rebuilding.

With his half-a-dozen languages and his studied, professorial air, the new boss may be the nearest thing to an English Arsene Wenger, but he has begun his first month in office with a deft ruthlessness.

A manager's first signing sets the tone. In his first summer Benitez brought in four Spaniards and allowed Michael Owen and Danny Murphy, products of Liverpool's once flourishing academy, to move on.

Persuading Joe Cole to leave London was an invigorating move. He may have been a free agent but he was a name who did not require a Google search or a subscription to Marca and when he talked of Liverpool being the “biggest club in the world” he talked the Kop's language.

More importantly, Cole secured Steven Gerrard's future.

The Liverpool captain had not enjoyed last season and at 30, he had one move left and did not give his commitment to Anfield immediately after Hodgson's appointment.

Though he did not wait too long. If there is a photograph that sums up Liverpool's summer it is the one of England team-mates Cole and Gerrard grinning as they cycle beside each other at the club's training camp in Switzerland.

It was not a surprise that Emiliano Insua and Fabio Aurelio had been the first to join Yossi Benayoun on the road out of Anfield.

Just as Wenger seemed unable to bring a high-class goalkeeper to Arsenal, full-backs were Benitez's blind spot. Josemi, his debut signing for Liverpool, was the first in a long and dispiriting line, especially as he lost faith in another academy product, Stephen Warnock, who was to prove better than those brought in to replace him.

Wayne Bridge is not the best left-back in England but he is more consistent than Insua and as good as Fabio Aurelio and, if Manchester City are spending £17m to bring Aleksandar Kolarov from Lazio, he would very quickly become a bit-part player at Eastlands.

Meanwhile, the extras in Benitez's productions are being moved off stage. Albert Riera will join Olympiakos for around £4m in the next few days. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, a bargain basement buy from AEK Athens, is likely to follow him to Greece.

On the other side, Peter Crouch may be persuaded back or Hodgson could invest £12.5m in Loic Remy, a 23-year-old who scored 14 league goals last season and who is rated by his club, Nice, as a striker with the potential of a Thierry Henry.

Nevertheless, despite Hodgson's assurances that it was perfectly normal for Javier Mascherano not to return his calls, it seems extremely unlikely that the captain of Argentina will be protecting the back four when Liverpool's season begins against Arsenal.

Frankly, it would be hard for anyone to deny Gabriel Milito's assertion that: “It is unrealistic of Liverpool to think they can keep hold of him when they can't offer him Champions League football and are not close to challenging Chelsea or Manchester United for the title.”

As for Fernando Torres, perhaps the biggest factor in Liverpool's favour is that there are very few clubs that could raise the fee for the striker.

Perhaps that is why there was a realism about Hodgson.

“It is not going to be an overnight thing,” he said. “I don't want to dupe the Liverpool public by telling them everything is rosy because Joe Cole has signed. There is a lot more to be done and many more players needed.”

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph