Before Hodgson starts his managerial campaign at the Hawthorns in earnest, I want to revisit one last time, the topic of his time at Liverpool.
I read this week that Roy Hodgson should receive some credit, at least, for the signing of Raul Meireles. It appears that despite his poor record, both in collecting points and playing attractive football, Roy’s legacy at Liverpool could be defined through the Portuguese player. The midfielder has scored 5 times in his last six games since Hodgson left. If Meireles goes on to become a great player, Hodgson will have to take the plaudits. His goals have pleased those in defence of Hodgson, who have criticised the Liverpool team as a whole, saying that the players have been good enough all along, but just not been up for it.
I disagree with this on two levels. Firstly I think a manager’s job in the modern game is just as much about motivation as it is about tactics, and secondly, Hodgson played Meireles out of position.
I have always been a fan of Hodgson, I think he is dignified and should be respected for a long and successful career, but I just don’t think the style of football that he was insistent on, was suited to Liverpool.
He did well at Fulham, building his side around a solid defence. But teams would go to Fulham and try to win, consequently leaving themselves more exposed and open for Fulham to score. But against Liverpool, opposing teams expectations were lower. The majority of teams are happy to draw with Liverpool, home and away, so sit back and play them on the counter, or look to defend. This was something that Hodgson proved himself unable to cope with.
Since Dalglish has arrived, he has allowed Meireles to play a more offensive role. Firstly this lets the player, who has great technique (evidenced by his string of volleys), get into goal scoring positions. Secondly it gives Lucas a more defined role. Before Lucas was one of two deep, holding midfielders, he is now on his own. In this new system, Lucas seems surer of his defensive duties and attacking limitations, he knows what is expected of him. When both central midfielders sat back it seemed that neither was sure who’s turn it was to attack or defend.
Benitez saw great success with this tactics where he had top class players in Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alosno. Once he lost Xabi, neither Lucas nor Aquilani filled this role effectively. This is part of the reason his side failed to succeed and he was sacked. Hodgson, to his own detriment, tried to replicate Benitez’s failed tactics, but since Xabi Alonso and Mascherano had already left the club, he had no chance.
Sad as I am to say it, it seems Dalglish is more in touch of what positions and roles to play the Liverpool players in. But not only does he get the best out of them tactically, he also seems to be able to motivate them in a way that Hodgson could not. You only have to look at some of the most successful managers around, see the relationships they have with their players, to believe how important being a motivator is in a modern manager. That is why Avram Grant, despite all of his tactical knowledge has been unsuccessful at Portsmouth and now West Ham, it is also one of the reasons that Holloway, and at the other end of the spectrum Mourinho, have been so good. Tactics are one thing but motivation is equally important, especially at somewhere with expectations like that of Anfield. Rather than Meireles being a beacon of what Hodgson achieved at Anfield, he will remain as a reminder of Hodgson’s tactical flaws and lack of motivational ability.
Despite his failure at Liverpool, it is too soon to write off Hodgson as a manager, or ‘head coach’ for that matter. He can still be a great coach at WBA and his organisation of the defence would no doubt do them wonders. I hope he keeps WBA up, which won’t be an easy task, but it is a good thing for Liverpool that he has left.
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