Well, the Echo says it's official. Roy Hodgson will be Liverpool's next manager.
It became apparent earlier today that it was only a matter of time. When the various hacks who couldn't wait to stick the boot into Benitez are tripping over each other to praise the hiring (see here and here, among others), finalizing the move is a mere formality. It seems as if D-Day is July 1st, probably so Standard Chartered can have their name all over the press conference when the new sponsorship deal kicks in. Just so you know where priorities lie.
No, it's not who I wanted, not that it matters. And the fact that it took nearly a month, despite Hodgson being the odds-on favorite the entire time, makes me even more annoyed. I'm tempted to think that the rumors about Woy waiting to see if Capello was sacked/resigned are true – it can't just be because of his BBC World Cup gig – and that's beyond depressing. But that's Liverpool these days.
Nothing personal against Uncle Woy. When he takes the job, he deserves our support simply for being Liverpool manager. He's not Phil Brown or Iain Dowie or Sven Goren Eriksson. The club could have done worse, and 'could have done worse' is probably the best the Liverpool can do thanks to Hicks and Gillett.
But it's settling for mediocrity, at best solely in the short term, and it's partly at the behest of the British media. It's Purslow picking their current flavor of the month in the hopes of getting in the hacks' good graces. Were this 2006, it might well be Steve McClaren. 2007? Sam Allardyce. Hence my skepticism of the tabloids' darlings. No offense, Roy.
To be fair, Hodgson ticks a lot of boxes. Pity they're not necessarily boxes we want ticked.
I don't mean to cut him off at the knees before he even begins. I will do my utmost not to let my appreciation for Benitez or my abhorrence of the owners color everything I write. I don't think this blog will change much, although it'll take me some time to get used to Hodgson's style, especially if there are substantial squad changes this summer (not saying there will or won't be, also that's clearly the fear). And the priority is still getting the owners out, although it looks like fan reaction to Hodgson will help catalyze that movement if various internet forums are anything to go by. Maybe this hire at least helps arrest last season's downward spiral on the pitch. Because that was supposedly the point, even though I've written my suspicions otherwise.
First, the positives, in the hope there's some optimism to be found by scouring under rocks.
• He's proven capable of working with a small budget, and getting the best out of players available to him. See: the last two and half seasons at Fulham. That team was bound for relegation when he took over. Andrew Johnson is the only player who cost more than £5m, and he was Fulham's record signing at around £10m. And given what we know about Liverpool's finances, Roy's not gonna have much of a budget unless the worst-case scenario happens and there's a mass exodus of big names.
• He's English... and the media love him! I absolutely detest that this is a "qualification" – especially the latter part – but it's horrifically true. It's a hiring that's already being lauded by Fleet Street, and if you don't think that's important to Hicks, Gillett, Purslow, and Broughton, well, I've got a club to sell you. Got £800 million?
• He's experienced in England and Europe. It may not be title-winning experience outside of Sweden and Denmark, but Hodgson's managed 16 (now 17) teams in eight countries, including the national sides of Switzerland, UAE, and Finland. That he's helmed clubs longer than I've been alive makes me feel young for the first time in a while. Out of 20 Premiership gaffers, only Ferguson's managed longer.
• It's "semi-permanent." Maybe I could phrase it more delicately, but Hodgson is 62. Even in the best of situations, which this isn't, I don't think he'll be managing more than two or three seasons, no matter how long his contract ends up being. Maybe even as few as one if the owners finally find some sucker to take the club off their hands. And I'd imagine Hodgson's okay with that – or he wouldn't have taken the job. No matter what's been said, I still don't think anyone's signing a long-term deal until Hicks and Gillett have been hit by the doorknob on the way out. Hodgson's had a rolling one-season deal in each of his campaigns with Fulham.
• He's not Eriksson or O'Neill or Klinsmann, etc. Just saying.
Now, the worries.
• It's not exactly an impressive hiring. I still think Benitez is, at worst, one of the top ten managers currently working in world football. The likes of Pelligrini or even Deschamps (surprisingly suggested in the last few days) would have seemed like less of a step down. At least with Dalglish, we would have seen the fans happy, with a man who lives and breathes Liverpool at the helm of the club. But now we've got a journeyman manager – again, no disrespect meant – who seems like a big step down from Rafa. And I'm deathly afraid the players will see it the same way.
• He's been at exactly one "big" club. And I'm almost positive Paul Ince was the biggest player he managed at that big club in his one permanent stint with Inter. His second, two years later, was as caretaker for the last month of the 1998-99 season (interestingly, Inter had four managers in the two years between Hodgson's shifts). Sadly, this worry is contingent on Liverpool still being a big club.
• His signings at Fulham are, um, somewhat dubious. 1) Eddie Johnson. 2) £10.5m for Andrew Johnson. 3) A fairly heavy reliance on the underwhelming Scandinavian market. 4) Nearly every transfer is either a free or a loan, although there are a lot of "undisclosed" fees (for example, Duff was rumored to cost £4m). 5) He actually paid money for Eddie Johnson! Eddie Johnson!
• Hicks and Gillett are still here. Needs to be said again. And again. And again. Until they're gone.
At the end of the day, Liverpool paid £6m to send the previous gaffer to the reigning European Champions and then hired Fulham's. But when some of other names discussed are those of Martin O'Neill and Sven Goran Eriksson, Roy Hodgson looks more than acceptable. If I had to list my favorite candidates out of all those leaked to the media, he wouldn't be far from the top, although not number one. To paraphrase one of the most overrated basketball coaches on these shores, Bill Shankly is not walking through that door. And this stage, it's about survival – yes, I just wrote that about Liverpool Football Club – and that's something Hodgson's proven capable of.
Over to you, Roy...