The appointment of Roy Hodgson as Liverpool’s new manager, after weeks of leaks from those senior sources that it’s about to happen, will come as a massive disappointment to a large number of the club’s supporters.
It was 50 years ago last December that Bill Shankly arrived at the club to begin what became a golden age for the club, and although not every manager since then has left the post with as much respect as they had when they started, every single one of them has been supported from day one.
Shanks was succeeded by Paisley, who made way for Joe Fagan, who handed the keys to the bootroom onto Kenny Dalglish. All of those men ended their time in charge with even more respect from supporters than they had when they arrived.
But even when that tradition of promoting from within came to an end, the supporters always greeted the next manager with respect and support. Whatever feelings fans had about them when they ended their time at the helm, Souness, Evans, Houllier and Benítez all started out with the backing of the Reds’ passionate support.
That support is vital for any new manager. But that is just not going to happen with Roy Hodgson.
This isn’t a threat and it isn’t a call to fans to join together in not supporting the new manager. We all make our own choices on that one, and we all need to respect each other’s choices. As fans we have to stop fighting – it’s fine to disagree with each other, but not right to fall out about it. As we’re fighting they’re pillaging.
This is just a prediction. It’s not a guess, it’s a prediction based on general observation over the weeks of leaks and in particular views aired in the last 24 hours.
Some fans have made it clear he won’t have their support. Maybe they’ll calm down in a few days but only a naive out-of-touch banker with years of leveraged buyout experience and none at all in football would take that for granted. And calming down doesn’t guarantee they’ll give their support, it just means they may scale down their opposition.
Then there are the fans who have made it clear that ending the reign of the current regime and their management team will come before any support for a manager who proves just how much the club has let its standards slip in the three years since Tom Hicks invented “Man Ham” and George Gillett first lied to Liverpool supporters. Where did “Snoogy Doogy” go? Is it true he was sent to buy shovels and never came back?
Another large group of fans are those who have said that even though they didn’t want him, they feel it’s their duty to get behind him, or that they’ve no alternative, or that even though they aren’t keen on the idea they are willing to give him a chance. In other words, their support is forced, based on guilt or a sense of duty. That kind of support usually starts to falter at the first conceded goal, let alone the first dropped points. By the time games are being lost the support has all but evaporated and the patience has run out. And of course that leads to more pressure, more dropped points, more despair.
The only genuine, unconditional, unforced support for the new boss seems to come from those most active in calling for the head of the last manager. The same people who wanted that manager sacked for only coming second in 2009 and used that as a starting point for judging him the following season know deep down that their pressure has brought this new manager onto the club. So deep down they told themselves he’d be a great replacement, told themselves to ignore his lack of major trophies and to ignore the fact he was sacked by Blackburn after taking them to the bottom of the Premier League. They wanted the last manager gone, and they really didn’t care about what might happen next. They never cried out for a better manager, they weren’t thinking that far ahead – they just wanted shut of the one they didn’t like.
Obviously there are a lot of generalisations in those observations but they are genuine observations. Some of those who wanted the last manager out are even more devastated at the ultimate replacement than many of those who wanted the last manager to stay! But whether it’s mild disappointment or seething anger at the appointment there’s no getting away from the fact that it was a decision made against the wishes of the vast majority of the supporters. A recent Times poll gave Hodgson less than 7% of the votes for who the next boss should be, and that seems to be very indicative of opinion.
How people feel now and how they’ll feel in a few months is obviously subject to change. But unless results are positive and performances exciting from day one there’s a risk that fans will move rapidly towards vociferous opposition to the manager.
There will always be days when it doesn’t go to plan despite the best efforts of all, days where players fail to follow simple instructions or had a crisis of confidence. All the planning in the world can’t overcome bad luck and every manager makes signings he wishes he hadn’t. If the fans respect a manager from the start, if they see that whatever the outcome that at least the required effort was put in, there’ll be some leeway, some allowances. The hype from the Sky Sports pre-game scriptwriters will be ignored.
But to get that respect the manager has to be wanted in the first place and the majority of the supporters have to be more than just “willing to give him a try”, or feeling as if they’ve been forced into showing their support; they have to be full of hope that this is the man with the experience to make it good again.
That hasn’t happened on this occasion, instead of hope there’s a sense of hopelessness, from countless supporters. Those supporters are trying to come to terms with the contempt the board has shown them.
People are asking why Benítez was sacked if the replacement the club had lined up was Roy Hodgson. People are asking why Hodgson is here when Kenny Dalglish felt he would be far better at the job than Hodgson.
People are asking why the club was willing to spend close to £9m on swapping Benítez for Hodgson. One comment seen yesterday compared swapping Benítez for Hodgson to swapping Torres for Heskey.
Although the vast majority of Liverpool fans don’t see Hodgson as their first choice there is an even more worrying twist. The worry is that the feeling is mutual, that Hodgson doesn’t see the Liverpool job as his first choice either. It’s the England job he really wants and he’s been on the record before to say as much, “I regard the job as the pinnacle of English football.”
The impression he wants the England job more than the Liverpool job is not just based on the old quotes, or even the signs that maybe he was waiting until the FA made an announcement on Fabio Capello’s future. Perhaps more will be revealed if the club actually schedule a press conference to unveil him, but so far the hierarchy have decided not to answer the questions put to them about the issue.
How popular Hodgson will be should those fears be realised doesn’t need much thought. Some fans won’t mind, but we all remember how Michael Owen was criticised heavily whenever it was implied he was putting his country before his club. To find out the next manager of this club was the same would rapidly and heavily cut down the numbers of fans willing to give Hodgson a try.
Some Liverpool fans do follow England but it’s very much second – or much lower – in their hearts compared to LFC. Liverpool fans hear “St George” and don’t think of the flags now discarded by the roadside in their thousands. Liverpool fans think of the place where Bill Shankly stood all those years ago to speak to his people. In fact St George’s plateau is the place where thousands of Liverpool fans will gather this Sunday for Liverpool Football Club’s very own Independence Day.
We want our club back. The owners have had long enough to sort out their mess and their damaging personal differences. They drafted Christian Purslow in last year but somehow he found a way of making the mess even worse. And now we’ve got Martin Broughton in place he seems content to leave Purslow to carry on as before, devaluing the club by the day.
Standard Chartered must be horrified at what they’re about to be associated with. They officially become the club’s main sponsor on Thursday, arriving at the time that discontent amongst supporters will be at its highest since the club was taken over. Alternative Liverpool shirts with a variation on the Standard Chartered name are already out. “Standards Corrupted” is the message. The logo looks remarkably like the Standard Chartered logo, but on closer inspection it turns out to be a pair of snakes.
The club claim record sales for the new home shirt – but Standard Chartered will soon find that the alternative version of the shirt is popping up time and time again. Many of the places they thought they would see their name displayed will instead display the alternative version, a dig at the owners but a dig by association at the sponsors. They didn’t pay all that money – whatever the amount might actually be when performance is taken into account – for negative publicity. But that’s what they’ll get, as protest after protest takes place during matches – not just at half time or afterwards.
Claims this week from two separate Liverpool FC supporters’ forums that Christian Purslow had used lawyers to threaten them with some rather strong action should they not remove certain information suggests that the man now running the club is no longer interested in engaging the fans.
Those sites are run by people who would have responded just as quickly to a quiet word; in fact one of them had removed the information in any case, before the legal threats were received. The information is easily accessible to anyone with access to Google and ten minutes to spare, there’s no need to pay extra to get it either, it’s all available on free sites.
But that development and the release of the alternative shirts comes hot on the heels of the embarrassment FIFA officials and South African authorities caused themselves for their heavy-handed approach to some “ambush marketing”. Would anyone put it past the club to eject supporters wearing the new shirt?
The board were well aware of the opposition to Roy Hodgson yet persisted in their chase for him.
The owners have left the running of the club to Christian Purslow. Leaving someone in charge who refuses, point blank, to even listen to any advice (let alone take it) will always lead to problems.
Liverpool fans want that next league title and some trophies. That is why some fans were calling for the last manager’s head so early last season. That he eventually only finished seventh isn’t why they wanted him gone. They wanted the league, thought they could have it after he’d finished second, then saw it go wrong.
But blaming Benítez for the club falling short of its main target is blaming the wrong person. If it’s not, can we expect the league this season? Will we also win one of the other trophies? Nobody seriously expects that to happen, yet that was one of the main reasons Benítez was under pressure for the whole of that last season. If it was mainly the fault of Benítez last season, surely the same would apply to Hodgson?
Like it should have been last year, the finger of blame should be pointed first and foremost at the owners and also, very importantly, at the managing director. Purslow is paid very handsomely to run this club but the only football experience he had before was as Chairman of the youth section of his local amateur side Corinthian Casuals. That’s the youth section, not the whole club. As far as I know Corinthian Casuals of Surrey have nothing to do with the Corinthians side Tom Hicks was involved with some years before arriving at Anfield.
To win the league again and to keep being in contention for it this club needs to be run far better than it is now. That means it should be owned by an entity that has the means to see their investment through, obviously, but those owners also need to recognise the difference between say running a French property company or a chain of gyms and running one of the biggest and most popular football clubs in the world with almost 120 years of history and heritage behind it. Those owners need to see that football might be a business these days, but that it’s still unlike any other business and so will not work well when run by, for example, a power-hungry and egotistical banker.
It doesn’t matter who the current regime install as manager, although the appointment of Hodgson suggests they’ll settle for mediocrity. What matters is that we fight for a new regime so that we can get a manager who is capable, and empowered, to start winning things for this club of ours.
With all due respect that manager isn’t Roy Hodgson, and although we will wish him luck it will be impossible to look at him standing on the Anfield touchline without thinking about what his appointment really represents.