‘Patience is a Virtue’: Why Anfield needs to give Roy Hodgson time…
SportingBlogs takes a look at Liverpool’s poor start to the season under new manager Roy Hodgson, paying particular attention to comparisons with the beginning of his managerial stint at Premier League rivals Fulham, whilst also noting the unsettling background factors currently enveloping the Anfield club…
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When Roy Hodgson took over at Anfield in the summer, the reaction was mixed. Numerous pundits, fans, and ex-players praised the well-travelled incoming successor as the right man to return the famous club to winning ways, citing a long career that had seen him win League titles across Europe, take both Inter Milan and Fulham to European finals, and achieve relative managerial success at the international level, most notably in the early nineties when he worked wonders with the unfancied Swiss team, getting them to the World Cup Finals in America (something, lest we forget, England failed to do).
Most recently, Hodgson had enjoyed a highly successful two-and-a-half season stint with league rivals Fulham, where he engineered an unlikely survival for the seemingly-doomed side in his first season in charge, took the club to their highest ever league finish in his second season, and then to the Europa League final (Liverpool went out in the semi-finals) in his last season at Craven Cottage. Indeed, so impressive were Hodgson’s achievements with the diminutive London club, that he was duly named manager of the year by his fellow managers.
However, many Liverpool fans were unhappy at seeing the back of Rafa Benitez, the manager who had memorably brought Liverpool the prestigious Champions League in his first season with the Merseyside club, and were naturally immediately distrusting of his replacement. Furthermore, apprehensive detractors found arguments all too easy to come by: that Hodgson’s league successes had come in the relatively minor European leagues (Sweden, Denmark, etc); that his sides had failed to win any of their European finals (unlike Rafa, of course); that he had been sacked as Blackburn Rovers boss during his only previous stint in the Premier League.
With an abundance of sceptics ready to jump on his back at the first opportunity, anything but immediate success was likely to result in questions being asked of his capacity to manage such a powerful and historically successful club. And duly this is how it has transpired, with an inauspicious start to Liverpool’s league campaign seeing them languishing in the relegation zone and knocked out of the League Cup to lowly Northampton Town. Consequently, dissenting voices have emerged, some more vociferous than others, perhaps non more alarming for Hodgson than when the Anfield faithful who started singing Liverpool-hero and potential alternative managerial choice Kenny Dalglish’s name at the recent shock home defeat to league minnows Blackpool.
Liverpool is a club whose fans are typically given to patience when it comes to new managers, but with results going against Roy, the dissenting cause gains momentum. However, recent history should tell such sceptics to abate and permit Hodgson the patience he deserves. His time at Fulham began in an equally-inauspicious manner, with his team being knocked out of the FA Cup at the hands of League One Bristol Rovers, and the Cottagers only picking up one win (and two) draws in their first nine games under his stewardship.
However, with the London side gradually taking to their managers methods, results picked up for the relegation-threatened club, culminating in a remarkable last-day survival, with much thanks being directed towards four wins from their final five games, including three on the bounce away from home – a feat that no other league club (title challengers included) had managed that season. Then, as mentioned above, further time at Fulham resulted in a highest ever league finish and an entirely unexpected European final for the Whites. Liverpool should by no means count themselves relegation candidates (not just yet, anyway), but if Hodgson’s form over time with Fulham is anything to go by, then the Merseyside fans of the red persuasion should expect a turn around in fortunes over the coming months.
Part of why it took a few months for Hodgson to stamp his authority on Fulham was in persuading his players to believe in his style of play and execute his plans; the man himself said: ‘It’s about leadership skills, practice, repetition and bloody hard work’. He targeted a passing game, based on a solid and compact defence (and midfield), which was in stark contrast to his predecessor Lawrie Sanchez’s long-ball tactics that the players had become adjusted to (see graphic below [click to enlarge], note increase in passes made, and the lower percentage of long passes).
Whilst Liverpool are far from a long-ball team, chances are that Hodgson is attempting to get his new players to adjust to a more compact formation and approach to games, something that takes time, practice, and finally results on the pitch to convince the players – and fans – that it works. With time, results and belief, Hodgson is highly likely to have yet another self-playing piano…
For the fans and pundits that have been quick to jump on his back they must bear in mind the undoubted state of turmoil the Anfield club is in – an unfortunate factor, albeit one that was always going to be present, that has further complicated his early days at this prestigious English club. Furthermore, Hodgson has had to contend with the sale of key-player Javier Mascherano to Inter, as well as star-striker Fernando Torres’s well documented troubles with form and fitness; both are vital issues that have negatively impacted on his early days at the club. Patience with both on- and off-field departments is required from the Anfield faithful if they wish to get the best out of Roy Hodgson and his Liverpool side.
Their greatest blessing is that Hodgson has a higher standard of player quality to start with at Anfield compared to what he had at Craven Cottage. As such, it should mean that once he has recruited further suitable talent and has his team playing the way he so wishes (not to mention the potential solving of off-field problems), there is every possibility that Liverpool might end up seeing a return to glory days of the past.
Guaranteed on-field success is certainly far from set in stone, but should Roy be forced to jump or indeed pushed before he has had adequate time at the helm, then the club and fans would only have themselves to blame for denying themselves the potential of a golden era under the affable and widely-respected Roy Hodgson. He has a track-record of disgnosing and curing problems with struggling teams, and a track-record that points towards a future of success, even – as in this instance – when it involes slow and unemphatic starts. Here’s hoping he is afforded the patience he deserves…