The 2009/2010 campaign has been one of the worst seasons in Liverpool’s recent history and has seen England’s most successful club fall to new lows- most notably their failure to qualify from the group stages of the Champion’s League for the first time in 6 years and indeed to qualify for the competition for next year. Their final position of 7th was their lowest league finish for 11 years and according to many media articles, the principal factor in Benitez’s dismissal from the club at the end of the season; although the club maintain that the departure was made by mutual consent.
A top down problem?
Before discussing the entrance of the new manager, it would be prudent to evaluate the successes and failures of not only Benitez, but also of the club’s management up to the top level, where Gillet and Hicks find themselves facing constant pressure to sell up and leave for the good of the club; for the American owners have riddled Liverpool with hundreds of millions of pounds worth of debt and the once strong financial status of Liverpool is now contradicted by their inability to match the transfer fees paid by their rivals like Manchester United, City and Chelsea.
That is not to say however that Benitez did not have the sufficient funds with which to bring in top talent; on the contrary, it was with American money that Liverpool’s talisman Fernando Torres was brought to the club and if you take into account the money paid for such unimpressive yet expensive signings like Ryan Babel, Robbie Keane and Alberto Aquilani, you will realise that Liverpool have spent more than talent-filled clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham.
Money breeds expectations
With all this money spent, Benitez had to achieve the board’s and fans’ desires and when Liverpool so nearly scraped the title in the 2008-09 season, finishing comfortably in 2nd place, three points behind a fantastic Manchester United team, the club and its entourage began to think that a Premier League trophy was by no means a distant prospect. Last season proved otherwise, and Benitez, who was constantly being linked with a move to Italy throughout the season, will be relieved to take over the reins of Jose Mourinho’s old European and Italian Champions, Inter Milan- a club that finds itself nowhere near the problems which Liverpool face.
The vacant Liverpool throne has been linked to many prestigious managers, Kenny Dalglish heading the search and even being linked to the job himself. But none of these names has been brought up more often than that of Roy Hodgson, who enjoyed a phenomenal season with Fulham last year, and with the 62 year old stating that he had “one big job” left in him. Hodgson is expected to be signing his name on the Liverpool contract within the next few days, and is believed to have flown back early from his pundit job on the BBC at the World Cup in order to seal the deal.
Experience and know-how
The decision will surely be met happily by the vast majority of Liverpool fans, who are keen to see the club back under English management and also in the hands of a hugely experienced manager, who has proved his excellent knowledge of the transfer market while at Fulham- one of Benitez’s main faults- and also, his consistency in both the domestic and the European theatre. But many English football fans were not too familiar with the Croydon-born manager before he came to Fulham; in fact, after a small and unremarkable playing career at Crystal Palace and non-league football, Hodgson spent most of his managerial career abroad.
Strangely, Hodgson’s first destination was Sweden, where he won 2 Swedish titles with a usually relegation-battling team- a feat that he referred to as turning water into wine. In 1985, he took over Malmo FF, another Swedish side with whom he won 5 consecutive league titles and countless other trophies. So revered is he still in Malmo, that a stand in their newly built Swedbank Stadion has been nicknamed “Roy’s Horna” – Roy’s corner. His success in Europe was also one of his main attributes, knocking Inter Milan out of the Champions League, who were then the European Champions and while he was at a little know Swiss side called Neuchatel Xamax, he led them to historic European victories over Celtic and Real Madrid. As the national manager of Switzerland, he lost only one game in the qualification stages to the 1994 World Cup in USA, in a group that contained the likes of Italy and Portugal and consequently Switzerland qualified for their first World Cup since 1966, in which they managed to get through to the second round only to lose to Spain.
A history of success
In 1995, Hodgson was appointed Inter Milan manager where he helped turn a failing team back to league and European contenders and from here he went on to his first English Premier League job, with Blackburn. However, apart from qualifying for Europe in his first season, the next was followed with poor transfer dealings and a failed season- perhaps the lowest point of his managerial career. Defying the critics who said he could not adapt to English football management, Roy Hodgson took over Fulham in 2007 and proved them wrong; avoiding near-certain relegation in his first season there, he turned it around completely the next, finishing in 7th, Fulham’s highest ever Premier League finish, and also guaranteeing UEFA Cup qualification for the next year. And what a next year that proved out to be for the Englishman. After inspiring victories over teams like Juventus and Hamburg, Fulham battled it out to their first major European Cup Final in their 130 year history, only narrowly losing 2-1 to a very talented Atletico Madrid.
And thus, none can fault Hodgson’s CV, it is one of the most interesting and decorated in the game and is proof that Hodgson has the ability to revive a team like Liverpool; he will inherit a squad with at least 3 utterly world class players in Torres, Gerrard and Reina and through selling fringe players like out-of-favour Riera or Benayoun or Babel, he should definitely be able to raise enough capital to ensure the arrival of some exciting new faces, with Joe Cole being linked as his potential first signing. As with all managers, only time will tell, but when it comes to knowledge and experience of the game, Hodgson is rivalled by few and despite the difficulty of the task ahead of him, will strive to bring success to a club that needs it desperately more than at any other time in their long history.