Defeat stings but the real work begins now

IT wasn’t exactly a “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” moment was it?

FYI, I was writing this article. That’s how sadly, pitifully inevitable it was. One of the least pleasant things about following the one true religion is that everybody else has to have an opinion about us, and they’re never too sluggish about letting you know it either.

Most of it can be slung into the tribal waste disposal unit where it belongs. It comes from the sort of people who were one of the 5,000 Jesus fed and then complained about the service. There’s nothing you can ever do to impress them.

There are, amidst the tiresome cackling and derisive snorts, some legitimate concerns about how LFC have gone about this, about what kind of club we may become; whether we have now become part of the commonplace.

It’s usually tagged on to some snide remark about being another Spurs, Newcastle or City, those clubs where the manager’s office has a revolving door.

What they never tell you is that it’s very rare even for those clubs to dump someone that actually deserved to stay. So much ink was spilt for Chris Hughton, yet a few wins later and those crocodile tears have all but dried.

We last won the league in 1990. The four managers who stood a hope in hell of winning a title after that got 19 years between them. I believe we’ve earned the right to one paltry jerk of the knee.

No-one will be more wary of this particular slippery slope than Liverpudlians, so often allied with managerial devotion that it often provokes endless mockery and borderline contempt.

Had Rafa intimated that he was setting up his own compound in Guyana or Waco, Scouse travel agents would have been swamped.

But not Roy. Oh no. That became abundantly clear almost from day one. Few loved Moores and Parry but they were respected enough to have their decision about Houllier universally accepted. When Rafa arrived, few could remember the Frenchman’s first name.

Not so this time. Benitez was still hugely popular, and those who did think he should go wanted Kenny or Pellegrini.

The men that selected Roy were disliked and even detested in some quarters. With Hicks and Gillett’s fangs still furiously sucking our blood many didn’t think it mattered too much.

A caretaker was all we really needed until the future of the club was back in safe hands again, preferably one that actually, y’know, took care?

So when that momentous court battle was won more swiftly than we’d imagined possible it left Hodgson in a mightily awkward position. Lots of managers have started poorly, that was never really the issue; what he said, how he conducted himself, how he made Rafa look positively adventurous and how he’d spent what little money he’d been given all poured water onto the flood.

In fairness he’d been given few of his predecessors’ advantages. A loyal Kop, for starters. Evans had done the job for months with the Souness leftovers, and had an unencumbered summer thanks to England’s absence from the World Cup. Pre-season is vital.

Houllier got a year at the club to gauge what we were all about. When he did receive funds the fans saw the class in Hyypia alone and trusted Gerard despite another dodgy start.

Rafa also stumbled initially but used the Champions League to distract attention from domestic frailty and could point to Alonso and Garcia as talismans for an exciting future.

Roy? Well, the important stars limped back from South Africa, Mascherano sulked and eventually flat-out downed tools until he got his move, the Europa League threw us into competition (of a sort) way earlier than everyone else.

And he bought Poulsen and Konchesky. He could not figure a way to get the better recruits, Cole and Meireles, into a working formation with Gerrard who, little realising his immense good fortune previously, no longer had to play where Rafa told him to.

The media by and large refused to put the boot in. This recently rediscovered magnanimity and fairness bizarrely became one of the biggest weapons in the internet war against Hodgson.

Where was this decency for Benitez, they cried. There were attempts at less hysterical interjections but it was an enormous waste of time.

Hodgson probably is a decent man, but saying so was tantamount to treachery and in the end what use is that if your team tumbles down the table and raises the grisly spectre of relegation.

Rafa’s run of six wins in 21 games last season, between Fiorentina and Reading, was arguably as bad as I’d seen for many years but it was largely forgotten. Some still cling to a notion that he could return and that doesn’t make for a pleasant atmosphere sometimes.

One suspects the ‘Come Home Rafa’ banner will not be getting an airing any time soon now the king has returned. That and the ‘Hodgson for England’ chants were indicative of a fall from grace, one dead horse the media almost inevitably continue to flog.

Apparently we’ve got ideas above our station, we are no longer a big club! Poking angry bears through the bars is the pastime of choice for the childish, but just in case people slept through the previous decade, we won six cups, appeared in two other finals and came second in the league twice.

Failed to get in the top four once. Got 80 points or more three times, reached the last eight of a European competition eight times, knocking Porto, Roma (twice) Barcelona (twice) Chelsea (twice), Arsenal, Real, Juventus and Inter out in the process.

Not bad for minnows.

We haven’t had two bad seasons in a row since Souness, and even this one may see some solace in Europe.

Appointing Kenny short-term has its advantages and possible pitfalls, not the least is what happens if he does a decent job. Bridge, cross etc.

What happened yesterday at Old Trafford will sting in the short term. The real work begins now, to remind people where Liverpool ought to be and can be again.

A goal that was never remotely within Roy Hodgson’s reach.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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