A team packed with experienced players makes a poor start to the season. Frustrated fans turn on the new manager who, they say, doesn’t understand the culture of the club and demand that he be replaced by a legendary former player. The club’s board act upon the advice yelled at them from the stands and bring back the legend. Things get worse and the club ends up getting relegated.
That was what transpired over a torrid 18-month period at Newcastle when two hugely popular figures, Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer, did considerably worse as managers than the vilified Sam Allardyce. The new breed of club owners who have come into football from the corporate world have shown time and again that they often don’t know the first thing about the game. But surely the people in charge at Liverpool would at least know not to go down the route taken by Mike Ashley and his assorted advisers in 2009?
With one win in their first seven league games, Liverpool have made their worst start to a season since 1953-54, when they were relegated. Indeed Roy Hodgson has begun pretty much as his predecessor ended; after looking disjointed for much of last season Rafa Benítez’s side finished seventh, their lowest placing in 16 years. Hodgson made a similarly poor start at Fulham, winning only one of his first ten games while being criticised for the quality of his signings one of whom, Brede Hangeland, was to be a key player in the Fulham side that reached the Europa League final a few months ago.
Hodgson is not among the all-time greats of management but he is the only English member of the group of travel-hardened international football coaches who are never out of work for long – Sven-Göran Eriksson, newly arrived at Leicester, being another. Indeed Hodgson could have picked up one of Sven’s old jobs had Fabio Capello decided to resign as England manager after the summer debacle and he might still be Capello’s successor.
However, possibly as a consequence of his having worked abroad for much of his career, Hodgson doesn’t seem to have a network of allies in the press who will dissemble on his behalf. So the calls for the departure of the man now known to the Sun as “the disastrous Kop boss” are mounting on a daily basis.
It’s understandable that Liverpool fans would be dismayed by a limp home defeat to Blackpool just ten days after losing a penalty shootout to League Two Northampton in the Carling Cup. But Kenny Dalglish, whose name was chanted around Anfield at the end of the Blackpool match, hasn’t been involved in day-to-day management of a football club for over a decade so there is no reason to think that he would be capable of firing up an under-achieving squad; Kevin Keegan’s “return home” to Newcastle was put in perspective at the outset when Obafemi Martins admitted that he had never heard of him.
While recent back-page headlines have focused on the anger directed at Hodgson, most Liverpool fans are acutely aware of the cause of the club’s paralysis. Following an ownership model that the venal Premier League has encouraged, George Gillett and Tom Hicks funded their takeover in February 2007 by saddling the club with an enormous debt which deepened after the onset of the recession two years ago and currently stands at over £250 million. Plans for a new stadium, the main thing that lured the Americans to Liverpool in the first place, were shelved after estimates of the cost had quadrupled to around £450m.
The Americans’ departure has been announced prematurely a couple of times already – at the start of this season the Times was so confident that Hong Kong financier Kenneth Huang was poised to take over that they announced it in a front-page exclusive. However, at the time of writing, it seems likely that John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox among others, will soon take over.
Supporters seeking a greater say in the running of the club, such as the Share Liverpool group, will then have to find some common ground with the new regime who will rush to declare their devotion to the Liverpool brand. In the meantime, Roy Hodgson should at least be given time to improve on what he was bequeathed without being in fear of his job every time the team fails to win a match.
From WSC 285 November 2010