Roy Hodgson keeps a cool head as Anfield seeks salvation from the south
IT'S the last throw of a desperate club: turn to a southerner. Roy Hodgson, the genial gent from Croydon is the first English southern man to manage Liverpool in 51 years.
Phil Taylor, his Bristol-born predecessor, had played for England three times, even played a bit of cricket for Gloucestershire, but found the task of getting Liverpool out of the second division beyond him. He was succeeded by a mouthy Ayrshire lad called Bill Shankly and the rest is in the record books.
Liverpool found decades of glory and trophies under Scotsmen, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, and Taylor's two assistants, the Scouser Joe Fagan and the Mackem Bob Paisley. Every manager since Taylor has managed to win something with Liverpool, even Roy Evans and Graeme Souness.
Its a daunting prospect then, even for a manager as experienced and even-tempered as Hodgson. Its understandable if he wants to hear the comforting glottal stops and dropped aitches of old London town on the training ground, even if it costs the club 90,000 a week for Joe Cole's chirpy Cockney banter.
Cole joins Glen Johnson and Romford's own Jonjo Shelvey at Anfield, probably a sufficiently sizeable cadre to put jellied eels on the players lounge menu, even if Barking boy Paul Konchesky doesn't join from Fulham. Londoners haven't exactly got an illustrious history on the playing side at Liverpool, although they enjoyed colourful nicknames.
The highest-profile example was David James, now generally respected as a decent keeper with a keen wit and articulacy. His time at Liverpool though coincided with his awkward goalkeeping adolescence when he was blamed for the Spice Boys' fashion disasters, and his on-field errors earned him the hard-to-shake label Calamity.
Paul Ince, the self-styled Guv'nor arrived from Internazionale with the tasks of saving Evans's job and making the Kop forget that he had played for M******ter United. He failed with the first and never entirely succeeded with the second.
Tubby defensive liability Neil Razor Ruddock was held in greater esteem, perhaps because he once broke Andy Cole's leg. Paul Walsh is remembered only for his mullet hairstyle and Michael Thomas is destined always to be famous for the 1989 goal that denied Liverpool the title rather than any contribution to the club.
Cole has made all the right noises so far, talking about Liverpool being the biggest club in the country and suggesting that the Anfield atmosphere was the main reason behind his decision to join the club (although those Scouse cheers must sound all the sweeter when you are picking up 90 grand a week to hear them).
Cole must also have been persuaded by the quiet assurance of Hodgson. At Cole's present age, Hodgson was just embarking on his managerial career. At the end of that first season, in 1976, Hodgson had won the Swedish title with Halmstad, a feat akin to winning the league with Blackpool. Thirty-four years ago, the young manager secured what he recognises as his greatest achievement. He hopes he will be able eventually to add the supplementary until . . .
His first weeks at Liverpool have been taken up with clearing out Rafael Benitez's clutter, getting some respectable cash for fringe players while casting around for a few bargains of his own. His biggest dilemma concerns the destination of Javier Mascherano. In an era when every successful side seems to be built around defensive midfielders, Mascherano's desire to rejoin his old manager at Internazionale could leave Hodgson with another gaping hole in the Liverpool team alongside the one Benitez never filled after selling Xabi Alonso.
Hodgson also has the matter of a competitive fixture to fulfil next week. It's an unusual indignity for Liverpool to be playing in July, but Hodgson is used to it, having started in the Europa League at this juncture with Fulham last season. He won't resent the competition, given that Fulham's thrilling progress to the final gave Hodgson the profile that brought the Liverpool offer.
His Anfield career opens with a tie against Rabotnicki of Skopje, where he will field a team without any of its World Cup luminaries (or its England players). It will be an opportunity to gauge the depth of his squad. If major doubts concern key players like Mascherano, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, Hodgson won't be too dismayed by the names he has to work with. Jose Reina is one of the best goalkeepers in England, Johnson is a dangerous (if cavalier) full-back, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtl resilient centre-backs, and Hodgson must believe he can get more than Benitez out of players like Maxi Rodriguez, Alberto Aquilani and Lucas Leiva. He talks of spending sensibly and intelligently, but wont be helped by the broad awareness that Liverpool are desperate for a left-back and attacking cover for Torres.
At Fulham Hodgson was adept at spotting the potential in obscure players, at reviving careers that had stalled elsewhere. At Liverpool the challenges are different, with weighty expectation falling on every player who pulls on a red shirt. His assets are that equable temperament that will allow him to remain calm when the flak starts flying, and managerial experience that stretches back to an era when Bob Paisley was winning his first title. Hodgson is a survivor, a leader adept at steering clubs through troubled waters.
If results start to go awry, and he needs a spot of consolation it might be worth giving a call to his southern predecessor. Phil Taylor is still around, at 93 proving that there is life after Liverpool.
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