THEY like a good song at Anfield. Rodgers and Hammerstein, Johnny Cash, Pete St. John, Irish-American Civil War ballads delivered with a feverish bounce. They’re all part of the leitmotif of supporters who have feasted on 18 league titles and five European Cups.
But for more than 12 months Liverpool’s faithful have resembled the massed chorus on the barricades of Les Miserables.
Fair enough. It’s the longest-running musical of all time in London with an inventory of songs which would enrich even the Kop. And a plotline that could capture the heart of even the most mawkish football fan (downtrodden worker has to prostitute herself to survive and is ultimately rescued from dastardly establishment forces by a noble, and put-upon, working class hero).
Step forward Roy Hodgson, to muted applause, in the role of Jean Valjean.
Rafael Benitez has segued, profitably, into the home of the Champions League winners. Nice work for a man who has spent two seasons looking like he had been imprisoned in Dr Who’s Pandorica by a treacherous alliance of cybermen, daleks, Americans and the dark forces of global capitalism.
Hodgson accomplished his own minor miracle by being chosen as the Premier League’s top manager after steering Fulham to the dizzy heights of 12th place and losing a Europa League final. And he represents a throwback in style of more than three decades.
The South Londoner – a journeyman player with Crystal Palace who never made it into the first team – speaks in a strangely archaic way which would have made him a natural for a part in a black and white Ealing comedy, perhaps as the corner grocer in Passport to Pimlico, or as a plucky and grimly humorous Able Seaman in David Lean’s wartime propaganda epic In Which We Serve.
“Yuss, sir, Jerries on the port bow; shall I stand the men to and steer Nor-Nor East?” Just the sort of thing required for a sinking ship.
The lukewarm reception for Hodgson is based, in part, on the absence of serious silverware on a managerial CV which has spanned 17 different clubs and countries in 34 years and which was marred by an, arguably unfair, dismissal at Blackburn Rovers.
His only comparable appointment in a job of the scale of Liverpool came during his two years at the San Siro with Internazionale when he steered them to seventh and third places and the UEFA Cup final where they lost on penalties over two legs to Schalke 04, who had Jens Lehmann in goal. The following year Inter were runners-up in Serie A and lifted the UEFA Cup by thrashing Sven-Göran Eriksson’s moneybags Lazio 3-0.
Hodgson has the ability both to make shrewd signings and get the best out of players. His captures of Brede Hangeland and Mark Schwarzer were inspirational for Fulham and offloading the popular Jimmy Bullard to Hull for their record fee of €6m just 45 minutes before he got injured must rate as one of the best pieces of business of the past ten years.
Liverpool fans might also speculate on what a coach who made Bobby Zamora into a lethal threat might be able to do with Ryan Babel, one of the best potential talents in Europe until the Benitez regime got their hands on him.
Apart from his stars, Hodgson has other underachievers at his disposal: Riera, Aquilani, Agger, Rodriguez, the little-seen Krisztián Németh, and attacking midfielder Daniel Pacheco. Milan Jovanovic is on his way from Standard Liege where he averaged a goal every two games.
That the administration at Liverpool were desperate to see the back of Rafa is evidenced by the fact that they have paid more than €11m in compensation to their former manager and to Mohamed Al-Fayed.
It is unlikely, anyway, they could attract any of the big beasts of club football who would be seeking not a famous tradition and enormous fan base but the resources to keep winning trophies.
Quite what the urgency was remains a mystery. Several outstanding coaches, including Joachim Löw and Ghana’s impressive Milovan Rajevac, have been engaged in the World Cup. Martin Broughton, the Chelsea-supporting British Airways chairman parachuted in to find a buyer, has come up dry and there are no realistic purchasers at the prices being demanded by Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
The wishful thinking, shared by the new gaffer, that Liverpool will find a suitor of the magnitude of the rulers of Abu Dhabi overlooks the small matter that Manchester City already had a new stadium paid for by taxpayers.
Hodgson’s legacy is to make do and mend, starting with a symbolic first game against Arsenal on Saturday, August 14.
There is a precedent of a dignified London coach with sophisticated continental ideas and a liking for pragmatic football taking over one of the Northern giants. Dave Sexton was respected by Manchester United fans but he failed to excite them or deliver any big prizes. And was sacked.
How does that verse go again?
“Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men, it is the music of a people, who will not be slaves again.”
Just give it a season, lads.
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