Roy Hodgson facing up to his first big Anfield battle

Roy Hodgson’s short tenure as Liverpool boss has been characterised by a series of unhelpful news stories about his star players being discontented. This summer’s rumour mill has placed Gerrard with Madrid, Torres with a move to another Premier League club and Mascherano to Internazionale. He has been boosted in recent days by Gerrard’s decision to all but commit his future to the Merseyside club. This positive news though was largely attributable to the acquisition of the former Chelsea midfielder, Joe Cole. Does it not seem peculiar that the presence of last season’s LMA Manager of the Year cannot appease these want away players?

Hodgson is a manager of almost unparalleled experience having managed the national sides of Switzerland and Finland together with a host of European club sides including Internazionale. Most recently he transformed the fortunes of Fulham from perpetual relegation strugglers to European contenders taking on the might of the Old Lady on their way to the inaugural Europa League Final only to be denied at the last by the brilliance of Diego Forlan. Does Hodgson not deserve greater respect and kudos from these big name players he has inherited?

Hodgson’s reference to the doom and gloom hanging over Anfield may be something of an understatement. This most illustrious of clubs which Joe Cole described as the, “biggest in the country” slipped ignominiously to seventh place last season and faced a humiliating group stage exit from the Champions League. Unsurprisingly players such as Torres and Mascherano who can claim to be amongst the best in the world in their respective positions are dissatisfied. If it’s any consolation their grievances are directed at the previous management and the American owners. “His beef is not with me,” said Hodgson of Torres’s reluctance to commit himself to Liverpool. But both Torres and Mascherano have done nothing to ease the pressure on their new manager to lift the depression surrounding the club’s plight.

Hodgson has made no secret of his attempts, however embarrassing, to keep hold of his star names. He made a special detour on route to Liverpool’s Swiss training camp to meet Torres personally. During their meeting he expressed how much he was looking forward to working with him. Attempts to contact the midfield enforcer, Mascherano have proved less fruitful. “I have sent him voice messages and sent him texts but had no reply. I have tried to make clear I am happy to talk with him at his convenience”. All very convivial but would it be so difficult for Torres to take some time out of his summer break to meet his team mates and new gaffer at their training base? Would it be such an imposition for Mascherano to answer his phone or make some form of contact with the club?

Whilst Hodgson deserves more credence from these players he also faces a dilemma about how far he should go to gain their loyalty. His detractors will point to lack of experience with star players. At Fulham he restored the fortunes of older players such as Murphy and Davis and transformed players such as Zamora and Pantsil whose confidence had been eroded. Even the conventional 4-4-2 system he deployed there embodied this team spirit in which no one player was king. They were well drilled and organised as each player knew his position in the team.

For Hodgson the situation he has inherited is not without precedence. During his first spell at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium with Inter his task was to rebuild the prospects of this Italian giant. After poor recent form, consolidation was the watchword of his first season. For the next campaign it was progression as the blue and blacks finished third in the league and reached the final of the 1997 Uefa Cup. A lack of star names was apparent during his time there and the Inter curva never forgave Hodgson for selling a young Roberto Carlos after just 34 games for the club. He will need to manage the players who have attracted much of this summer’s transfer speculation with care but the sooner the players realise that they now have a manager with the wherewithal and nouse for the job the better for them and Liverpool FC.


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