Austria is a country that’s produced famous actors, revered composers and distinguished sportsmen but never a pioneering meteorologist – now we know why.
Occasionally when you travel to small towns with small grounds, you see things that do not add up and that was again the case in the picturesque Austrian outpost of Altach on Saturday, where Roy Hodgson was supposed to launch his Liverpool career.
It was clear to see from the filthy, heavy grey clouds that formed over the Alps early in the afternoon that rain was on the way yet that did not stop the local fire brigade soaking the playing surface at the Cashpoint Arena with gallons of water before kick-off. Bizarre.
So once the heavens opened, quickly forming huge puddles and saturating the pitch, it was inevitable Liverpool’s game with Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal would be abandoned without a ball being kicked.
“We gave it our best shot,” said Hodgson. “I thought the people from Al Hilal were very good and we did everything we could to try and get the game on. But you can’t beat the elements and you can’t play football on a waterlogged pitch.
“To play football, you have got to have a pitch that you can play football on. There was no pitch to play football on here. We didn’t have the game called off because we were worried about picking up injuries. It was called off because it was impossible to play.”
Though some were quick to recognize the irony that Hodgson’s reign was literally starting under a cloud, just as Rafa Benitez’s reign had ended under one, there were no long faces in the Liverpool camp – if anything, the opposite was true.
The most bizarre sight of all was a portly local gentleman trying to shield his considerable frame from the elements with the tiniest pink umbrella, his doomed efforts leaving Hodgson, head of sports science Peter Bruckner and many of the Reds’ entourage chuckling.
Hodgson, however, will know there will be no time for laughs in the next few weeks, as he begins the serious business of reshaping a squad that must play its first competitive fixture in 10 days and has to challenge for a Champions League spot once again.
Emiliano Insua has gone to Fiorentina, Olympiakos want Albert Riera, Damien Plessis and Nabil El Zhar will be ushered through the exit door too – ditto disgraced keeper Charles Itandje – and then there is the small matter of Javier Mascherano.
To say Hodgson has been diplomatic in the way he has spoken on this issue is putting it mildly but the longer Mascherano keeps ducking Hodgson’s calls and ignoring his text messages, the quicker he will alienate himself from those who support him.
Better players than the Argentine have left Liverpool in the past and if he really wants to move to Inter, the quicker he hands in a transfer request, the better – there is absolutely no room on this journey for sulkers or those pursuing their own agendas.
Quite simply, the pace around Liverpool now is going to be frantic, as Hodgson tries to implement his ideology on the team, make new signings and welcome back those who have been on World Cup duty; he doesn’t need to be bothered by other distractions.
Some, of course, may say the Europa League is a distraction and listening to Hodgson speak in the tunnel of the Cashpoint Arena, as co-owner George Gillett hovered in the background, it’s clear the fixture against either FC Rabotnicki or FC Mika is something he could have done without.
Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Jamie Carragher might be returning to training at Melwood this week but none will be fit to play on July 29; Pepe Reina and Dirk Kuyt will still be on holiday, while its unlikely Daniel Agger or new boy Milan Jovanovic will be ready, either.
“The sports science people tell me it would be very foolhardy to use players who have only been training for three or four days or who have come off the back of a World Cup,” Hodgson said. “To risk them early on would affect us later on down the road.
“Their advice is: ‘Do not use these players.’ If we have enough players to put a team out without them, that is another question, so we will have to wait and see. Things (signings) can happen before July 29 but there’s no point me speculating on that.”
It’s likely players like Martin Kelly, Stephen Darby and Laurie Dalle Valle – a Finnish striker with a keen eye for goal – will get a chance to shine in Macedonia or Armenia, which is why the rain in Altach could not have come at a worse time.
Hodgson was anxious to see what they could do against decent opposition – Al Hilal are one of the strongest teams in the Middle East and are managed by Eric Gerets, the Belgian who once led Marseille to victory at Anfield.
“We are here with a group of players, very few of whom have played in Liverpool’s first-team,” said Hodgson. “They are a group who have been on the fringes or who have never even seen first-team football. We will have (another) 13 players back at Anfield soon. We will start training (with those) on July 25. So I see this training camp for what it is. It’s a chance for me to get to know some of the younger players and give them a chance to show what they can do.
“So this was a major disappointment, for the fans in particular who had come this far to see us play and a major disappointment for the young players. They were building up to their first game in the first team and they would have gone to bed dreaming of success.
“I could see how anxious they were to play and the concentration on their faces. But we have got two more games. All that has happened is they have their début postponed.”