As Roy Hodgson prepares to sign a two-year contract at Anfield, is the former Fulham boss the right man to steer the ‘sinking ship’ in the right direction?
Firstly, it’s important to analyse the 62-year-old’s managerial career, why did Christian Purslow and Kenny Dalglish make Hodgson their number one choice?
Upon signing with Liverpool, Hodgson will be taking over his 17th role as a manager in a profession spanning 34 years since his retirement from playing in the 1970s. A two-year contract doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he will be here for the long-term either. Speculation has it that should Fabio Capello be relieved of his post as England manager, the FA will set their eyes on Hodgson. In 2012, the end of Hodgson’s Anfield contract, England will either be ready for another international tournament or building for the 2014 World Cup.
In 1976, Hodgson took up his first job as a manager, taking charge of Halmstads in Sweden. Later, in 2009, Hodgson would admit his time at Halmstads brought his “greatest ever” achievement. In four years at the club, Hodgson won two league titles (1976 and 1979). Prior to his arrival the club, the team were generally thought of as relegation candidates. But the Englishman’s impact brought about the kind of success the small Swedish club could never have imagined was possible.
His first stint in charge of an English club beckoned and after becoming assistant manager of Bristol City in 1980, he was promoted to the hot seat two years later. However, after trouble with the funds of the club (ring any bells?) Hodgson was forced to leave. He retreated back to Sweden and found even more success, this time at one of Sweden’s bigger clubs, Malmo. His two league championships and two cup victories saw his stock rise in Scandinavia.
After sighting that he wasn’t prepared to be taxed 65 per cent of his wage from the Swedish government, Hodgson moved to Switzerland with Neuchâtel Xamax. Credited for his impressive victories in Europe, with wins against both Real Madrid and Celtic, he was given the job of Swiss national coach.
His time as the Swiss manager is perhaps why the FA are reportedly so interested in him. Hodgson unexpectedly guided Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup, qualifying from a group that contained Italy and Portugal, losing only one game. At the finals, the Swiss progressed out of the group but were stopped in their tracks after losing 3-0 to a talented Spanish side in the last 16.
Hodgson’s impressive qualifying record was maintained as he led his side to the 1996 European Championships. However, Inter Milan were interested and Hodgson stepped down before the tournament to take over at the San Siro.
While Inter Milan presented Hodgson with his first “major” management role, there was one small problem – he didn’t speak Italian. After sighting that his original translator was too “shy” for the position, it got to the stage were an English girlfriend of one of the players had to intervene – not exactly ideal. Inter finished seventh in Hodgson’s first season in charge. After grasping some of the language, his second season was better, finishing in third place and reaching the UEFA Cup final.
In 1997 Hodgson was tempted back to England by Jack Walker and joined Blackburn Rovers, two years previously they had won the title. Although in 1996/97 they had struggled to stay in the division.
His first season was promising, restoring belief back in to the Ewood Park faithful after masterminding a 6th place finish and subsequent UEFA Cup place. However, the 1998/99 saw Hodgson’s reputation in his homeland tarnished, and one that he’d only win back following his decision to join Fulham in 2007. After spending £20m in the summer of 1998, including a £7.5m outlay for Southampton’s Kevin Davies, Hodgson was sacked in November of the same year when his team found themselves rock bottom of the Premier League.
In the two years that followed, Hodgson took in a further four managerial posts, spending time at Inter (caretaker), Grasshopper, Copenhagen and Udinese. His only real success came in Denmark, winning the title in his only season with Copenhagen.
After joining the United Arab Emirates national team in 2002, Hodgson was sacked just two years later after a disappointing spell in charge. Speaking of his time with the UAE, Hodgson has recently admitted: “That was a period where I didn’t know where my career was going.”
His career took him back to Scandinavia, this time Norway and Viking FC. Once more, he was to have a positive impact, turning a relegation threatened team into UEFA Cup contenders. In European competition, Hodgson re-connected with his ability to overcome much bigger sides, beating more established names in the form of Monaco and Austria Wien.
His penultimate management role to date took him the Finnish national team in 2006. While his team didn’t manage to qualify for Euro 2008, the side collected 24 points, just three short of a qualification spot and were only beaten twice in a group containing Portugal, Poland, Serbia and Belgium.
Hodgson’s Scandinavian triumphs brought interest from England once more and Fulham called upon Roy to save them from relegation in 2007/08. Against the odds, Fulham survived on the final day and in 2008/09 Fulham finished seventh and qualified for the Europa League. Last season was the biggest in Fulham’s history as they reached the Europa League final, only to be beaten by Liverpool’s semi-final conquerors – Atletico Madrid.
Hodgson’s Fulham side beat Shaktar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg as they marched on to the final. Following similar European giant killings with Neuchâtel Xamax and Viking, Hodgson’s forte, it appears, is playing the underdog.
His spell at Fulham has been characterised by his ability to work wonders on a small budget – bringing the best out of Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora, Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera. Perhaps that is why ultimately, Purslow and Dalglish made their decision.
One of Hodgson’s traits throughout his managerial career has been his supportiveness of zonal marking. In fact, Lars Lagerback, the ex-Sweden coach says that Hodgson was the first person to introduce zonal marking to Scandinavian football.
During his time at Inter Milan, Hodgson’s insistence on zonal marking brought him some unwanted criticism from his players. “I’d been afraid, for example, Beppe Bergomi wouldn’t take to my coaching,” explained Hodgson. “He’d won the World Cup and all his life been a man-to-man marker. I wanted him to mark zonally – and play at right-back. But he was very receptive.”
With a number of Liverpool players used to the system employed by Rafa Benitez it’s likely Hodgson could carry on the methods installed by the Spaniard.
Of course his first task at Anfield will be keeping hold of Liverpool’s most prized assets. Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano will all attract interest from Europe’s biggest clubs. Hodgson must promise them almost instant success. Torres especially, will be eager to sort out his future. Sighting that he came to Liverpool to win trophies, Hodgson must express his credentials can help turn things around.
The budget (if there is one) for Hodgson to strengthen the current playing squad is likely to be around £5m, although that could increase if Yossi Benayoun’s expected move to Chelsea goes through. While one of Hodgson’s key attributes in attaining the Liverpool post was the ability to deal with a limited source of funds, his Fulham side never had the expectation of a fourth place finish. And that surely must be the expectation of the Liverpool board? Otherwise Rafa Benitez would still be manager.
But is fourth a realistic ambition for Liverpool under Roy Hodgson? Probably not. The growing spending power of Aston Villa, Man City and Spurs (highlighted in detail here), means that while Liverpool could compete for the European places (relying on Torres and Gerrard stay) they shouldn’t be expected to finish in a Champions League place. A realistic fact that won’t exactly put Fernando Torres’ mind at ease.
The right man?
This piece set out to discover whether Roy Hodgson is right for Liverpool FC. In short, it’s difficult to say.
The big problems at the club remain the owners that have plunged the club in to millions of debt. In addition, Christian Purslow and Martin Broughton – two men who were brought (no pun intended) in to sell the club aren’t exactly making any friends. Both have claimed investment was forthcoming and yet the club remains £350m in the red and still under the stewardship of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
With the future of the club uncertain off the pitch, matters on the pitch will inevitably be affected. The decision to cull Benitez for £6m and compensate Fulham £2.5m for the services of Hodgson remains baffling considering the debt hanging over the club.
While many supporters remain angry over the way the club is being run, one thing Hodgson will get though, like Benitez, and any other Liverpool manager before him, is 100 per cent backing from the Kop.
Good luck, Roy.