Monday, December 27, 2010

Hodgson - No Magic Wand

Roy Hodgson insists Liverpool fans cannot expect him to wave a magic wand and fix his side's problems.

The Reds, whose Boxing Day clash against Blackpool has been postponed due to the cold snap, currently sit mid-table having struggled in the Premier League this season, winning six out of their 17 games played so far.

A top four finish remains in under-pressure Hodgson's sights, but he has called for a sense of reality from the club's supporters.
"Fans are waiting for a man with a magic wand that can turn all of the ills that everyone has seen into something different," Hodgson said in the Sunday Mirror.

"Those of us who work in the game and have been working in the game a long time know that magic wand doesn't exist.

"Two years ago people were suggesting Arsene Wenger had had a good run at Arsenal and it was time to bring in the man with the magic wand. That's what we have to live with."

Hodgson succeeded Rafa Benitez at Anfield in the summer having guided Fulham to the Europa League final last season.

And the manager feels his success at Craven Cottage has not helped the unreasonably lofty expectations placed upon him.

He said: "I know that I am capable of doing this job, but maybe the expectations and ambitions of the club were too high and weren't lessened by the fact that I came off the back of such a good season.

"People may have thought I would turn it around and unfortunately that's not been the case and we have to battle in the same way that Rafael Benitez had to in the latter part of his time at the club.

"Maybe what we have realized is that there is plenty of work to do here, but I am certainly very satisfied with the job I have done here.

"The fact that it hasn't gone as well as I'd have hoped results-wise is just the nature of football. I haven't worked any differently here than I did in the last six months at Fulham.

"Yes, it's been topsy-turvy in the sense that having defied people they have started to crucify me, but that's part of the business and the way things are.

"Pedestals are built to put people on then knock them off and I have a fairly mature attitude to that. I can't do more and the players can't do more so we hope that work will turn our fortunes around and we get some batter results."

Regardless of his halting start to life on Merseyside, Hodgson remains hopeful of guiding the Reds back to UEFA Champions League football.

He added: "We still haven't given up the hope of finishing in the top four and reaching a Champions League spot and will not until it's mathematically impossible.

"I didn't inherit a top four team but I inherited some good players and I believe in them and the club. A bad start is always difficult to overcome."

Roy Hodgson’s Troubles Are Not All Of His Own Making

It says much about Roy Hodgson’s fortunes since arriving at Anfield that the latest unenviable landmark of a difficult season was reached without his team even playing.

The inevitable postponement of yesterday’s Boxing Day clash visit to Blackpool consigned Liverpool to having won only two away league games in the calendar year.

Not since 1936 have the Anfield outfit suffered such a miserable record on the road, with the only other worse campaign coming 99 years ago.

Of course, having only taken over in the summer, not all of that blame should be laid at Hodgson’s door.

And that is something that can be applied to much of the 63-year-old’s rollercoaster reign thus far.

The job as Liverpool manager has lost none of its lure and lustre but few previous incumbents could have stepped into the uncertainty that greeted Hodgson on his arrival in July.

Taking over from a popular and European Cup-winning manager in Rafael Benitez was never going to be easy.

But the task has been made exponentially more testing by inheriting an under-performing squad without the finances to strengthen thanks to the failing ownership of Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

The quest to oust the American pair also drew to a close during the opening months of the season and, despite Hodgson’s admirable insistence to the contrary, must surely have contributed to the air of gloom that quickly enveloped the team and resulted in Liverpool’s worst start to a top-flight campaign since 1953.

To think there was an oft-quoted ‘feelgood factor’ going into the campaign.

Joe Cole arrived on a free transfer, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard were persuaded to stay and the feared loss of many leading players failed to materialize, although nothing could prevent Javier Mascherano from departing to Spanish champions Barcelona.

Hodgson may have feared the omens were already against him when Pepe Reina, Liverpool’s player of the previous campaign, made an uncharacteristic mistake to gift Arsenal an injury-time equalizer on the opening day.

Heavy defeat to Manchester City the following week suggested a struggle for Champions League qualification, but no-one could have predicted a fall from grace that led to Hodgson’s self-confessed “low point” of the 2-1 home defeat to Blackpool in October.

A Goodison derby defeat a fortnight later meant only goal difference prevented a 19th-placed Liverpool from holding up the rest of the Premier League.

But with New England Sports Ventures – now the Fenway Sports Group – having days earlier ridden to the rescue by winning a courtroom battle to push through a £300million takeover deal, fortunes were already turning.

Sixteen points from the subsequent nine games will not have any of the top four overly concerned – not least with an away record that sees six defeats in nine and only Bolton Wanderers beaten on the road – but represents a steadying of the ship.

The postponements against Fulham and Blackpool have left Liverpool playing catch up both in terms of games played and points, seven adrift of a top-six place and nine away from the top four.

But Hodgson remains cautiously optimistic that Champions League qualification is not beyond his team in a Premier League season where mediocrity and average-ness are prevalent from top to bottom.

“We are in a position to strike for the top four but we are a good few points off,” says Hodgson.

“Some people would say it is pie in the sky to suggest we can do it but I don’t think there is such a thing as pie in the sky in terms of football.

“I have seen so many times in the past teams who have been doomed to relegation not get relegated and teams like Leeds United many years ago who were so obviously going to win the first division and didn’t do so.

“Everything is possible and while things are possible we will play for them but we are realistic and we are not making any vain promises.

“We know we have given ourselves a severe handicap but we will work to bring in that handicap.”

The January sales provide Hodgson an opportunity to bolster his resources for a concerted push during the second half of the season, although the manager has intimated he won’t waste big money on players for a short-term fix.

Indeed, the jury is still out on his summer purchases.

Raul Meireles continues to impress, but Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen have struggled while Brad Jones has been no threat to Pepe Reina in goal.

Even Joe Cole – the player Hodgson said he must “share responsibility” for buying with former managing director Christian Purslow – has made only negligible impact so far.

Hodgson, though, remains intent on bringing down the squad numbers having been consistently critical of the amount of professionals on the playing staff.

But the Liverpool manager admits that it will be difficult to coax many of the club’s high earners through the exit.

“It’s the usual question – money versus playing,” he says.

“How much does playing mean to you and how much does money mean to you?

“Some players not in the team will find other clubs want them, but the same sum of money (in wages) is not there.

“So the player has to ask if they are so uninterested in playing, will they sit for three years despite the fact that the club has made it perfectly clear they don’t want them and there’s no game for them.

“If they want that for three years, they’ve virtually got to kiss (their career) goodbye. If you spend three years on your backside, not kicking a ball apart from the odd reserve game, you’ll find you’re not going to be a player at all.”

Liverpool Has A New Poblem As Highly-Paid Players Will Not Leave

A fresh problem is threatening to hit Liverpool as several out-of-favour players are refusing to walk away from highly paid contracts.

Manager Roy Hodgson and director of football strategy Damien Comolli want to reshape the club's 25-man Premier League squad but are being held up because certain players will not go unless their Anfield salaries are matched elsewhere.

Hodgson will not name the players he wants to leave, saying only that he hoped out-of-favour players put ambition before money. Now this situation has come to light, it could explain Hodgson's bizarre comments about Joe Cole last week.

Hodgson said: "It's the usual question - money versus playing. How much does playing mean to you and how much does money mean to you?

"Some players not in the team will find other clubs want them, but the same sum of money [in wages] is not there. So the player has to ask if they are so uninterested in playing, will they sit for three years despite the fact that the club has made it perfectly clear they don't want them and there's no game for them.

"If they want that for three years, they've virtually got to kiss [their career] goodbye. If you spend three years on your backside, not kicking a ball apart from the odd reserve game, you'll find you're not going to be a player at all."

Hodgson appears to be coping well with the pressure he has been under since virtually day one, saying that even long-serving Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been under pressure in recent times.

"If there is speculation about me, I'm in good company," he said. "It's easier to name the people who aren't in that position than those who are.

"I remember going to Arsenal with Fulham a couple of years ago and after we held them 0-0 the booing [from Arsenal fans] towards their team was quite incredible.

"Arsene was visibly upset and saddened by that reaction, and at that time people were suggesting he'd had a good run and it was time to bring in the man with the magic wand.

"That's what we have to live with, we have to live with the situation. People are quite happy to see changes on a very regular basis, and a fan will have no qualms about seeing three managers a year at his club, waiting for a man with a magic wand that can turn all of the ills that everyone has seen into something different.

"Those of us who work in the game and have been working in the game a long time know that magic wands don't exist. You work with the set of players you find at your club and before you can really say this is a team I put together, this is a club I have fashioned, you're going to need quite a long time before that day will come around.

"In the meantime, results give you that time or they might not and you might be in and out before you've had a chance to do that."

West Ham Plan Surprise £5m Bid For Liverpool Flop Joe Cole

West Ham are ready to make a hopeful offer to re-sign former Upton Park favourite Joe Cole as Liverpool consider selling the England international after a very indifferent start to his Anfield career. Avram Grant hopes to bring 29 year old attacking midfielder back to the club he started his career with as they look to beat the drop after a horrid season thus far.

Joe Cole arrived with a fanfare when he joined on a free after running out his contract at Stamford Bridge but the former Chelsea man got off to a poor start when he was given his first red card of his career on the opening day of the season.

Cole has started just seven Premier League games this season and some sources believe the club is willing to accept offers for his services and West Ham are believed to be ready to offer £5m for a player who cost Liverpool nothing but is on a bumper wage packet that the club would happily have taken off the balance sheet.

Whilst a move to West Ham may be seen as a big step down for a player who just last season won the Premier League title the romantic notion of a return to the club he clearly has a great affinity for may be enough of a pull to see Joe Cole consider a move back to east London.

West Ham co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan have made attempts to bring other high profile signings to the club, such as Thierry Henry and David Beckham, and whilst those moves seem like pipe dreams a move for Cole may well have some chance of success.

Liverpool Looking At Olympique De Marseille Boss Didier Deschamps As Replacement For Roy Hodgson

The Reds switched managers after parting ways with Rafael Benitez last summer but the Merseysiders began the campaign in ignominious fashion, plunging into the relegation zone at one point, and endured something of a stop-start season up to now.

New England Sports Ventures - the owners of Liverpool - will reportedly allow Hodgson to remain in charge until the end of the season, when they would start searching for a new boss.

Now the News of the World claims that Deschamps is the top candidate to take the reins from the Anfield boss.

The Marseille manager is believed to have been previously interviewed as a replacement for Benitez, but was cast aside as Hodgson was favoured due to his prior experience in managing a Premier League club.

Spirit of Shankly Continue To Fight For Liverpool FC Fans

The war which prompted its formation may have been won but Spirit of Shankly continues to fight the good fight for Liverpool supporters.

That was underlined on Christmas Eve when the supporters’ union urged the club to ask Blackpool to bring forward the time of the scheduled noon pitch inspection for yesterday’s doomed clash at Bloomfield Road.

Thankfully, the message seems to have come through with the 10am peek under the covers confirming the inevitable and saving fans a wasted journey and unnecessary expense.

Anyone who thought SOS would drift into obscurity after October’s momentous High Court verdict ended the reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett was mistaken.

The collective desire to get rid of the wretched American double act may have been the catalyst for the union’s formation when 350 fans packed into The Sandon in Anfield in January 2008, but there was always a lot more to their work than simply protesting for regime change.

SOS are about supporters standing together to ensure their voice is heard as opposed to being abused or ignored as they were under Hicks and Gillett.

It’s about holding those in charge to account for their actions and trying to improve the experience of following their beloved Reds. The battle to do that goes on.

“For those supporters who campaigned long and hard to get rid of Hicks and Gillett to finally see that come to fruition this year was special,” said SOS spokesman Jay McKenna.

“With them gone we were finally able to move on and start talking about football again. To be able to put all that behind us was a massive step for Liverpool supporters and for Liverpool Football Club itself.

“A lot of why we were formed was down to Hicks and Gillett. We began looking at the ownership of the club but then saw a lot more issues.

“We represent fans on issues of ticketing and travel – running coaches to improve the standard and value for supporters.

“We also campaign to ensure the Anfield community is involved. You have to look after the local area but Anfield as an area has been left to fall into neglect and we want to address that.”

Initial discussions with new principal owner John W Henry and Fenway Sports Group have been positive.

The Boston Red Sox chief and Reds Chairman Tom Werner vowed to listen to fans and so far have been true to their word.

Henry even paid tribute to the role the union played in forcing out Hicks and Gillett with their protests and marches ensuring the pressure on them never dwindled.

“If it wasn’t for yourselves and supporters doing what you have, we wouldn’t be here now,” Henry said.

SOS hope this is the start of a new era of co-operation between owners and supporters.

“When you are paying vast sums of money to follow your team everywhere then you deserve to have your voice heard,” McKenna said. “Under Hicks and Gillett we were paying for them to have the club and supporters’ cash was being used to pay the interest on the debt but we didn’t have a say. As a result supporters stood up and fought back.

“SOS doesn’t want a fractious relationship with the club – we just want to work together with everyone pulling in the same direction for the benefit of the football club.

“The new owners have done well so far and it was positive that they met with us. They have certainly learned from the mistakes made by Hicks and Gillett.

“They haven’t burdened the club with debt. They have listened and taken every opportunity to engage with supporters. There have been no false promises.”

Since October, SOS’s membership has swelled to 10,000 and new branches have recently opened up in New York and Finland.

One of the major issues heading into 2011 surrounds the stadium. Should the Reds redevelop Anfield or resurrect plans to build a new ground in Stanley Park?

SOS has an open mind but insist sharing with Everton is a non-starter.

“People are joining the union all the time and it’s growing because fans realize now we have a genuine voice within the club and our views are heard – that’s something you can’t put a price on,” McKenna added.

“It’s not just a Liverpool thing. We’ve got members all over the world who realize this is a way to be heard.

“Going forward the stadium is a big deal and supporters certainly deserve to have a say on what happens. After all it’s us who will be filling it.

“When we’ve taken a vote at meetings in the past it’s been overwhelmingly against a ground share and it was pleasing to hear the owners recently say ‘if the fans don’t want it that’s fine’.

“In terms of staying at Anfield or moving to a new ground, we just want to see a plan and be presented with exactly what the options are. Then we’ll be able to make a properly informed decision.”

In the longer term the ultimate goal remains supporter ownership of the club.

Last summer SOS formed a partnership with fellow fans group Share Liverpool to work together to pursue that ambitious goal.

A realistic starting point would be convincing Henry to sell a small stake to supporters in return for fan representation at boardroom level.

“The utopia is for supporters to own their club,” McKenna said. “We know it’s unrealistic to think that overnight you could buy 100% but fans would like a stake and a fan on the board.

“SOS and Share Liverpool are doing a lot of work on supporter ownership. We want to push forward plans for that in the next five to 10 years. In the meantime we’re here to deal with supporter issues.

“The new owners know our ideas and what we want. At the moment they are still in a settling in period and most thoughts are rightly focused on the football side of things.

“But we hope to speak to them in more detail over the coming months. If a stake was up for grabs people would be queuing around the block to own part of the club they love so dearly.”

Liverpool FC Signs Deal With Video Search Firm For Game Highlights Editing Package

Video search and navigation company Edit.TV has signed a deal with Liverpool FC to offer fans personalised match highlights.

Liverpool-based Edit.TV says LFC is the first major sports club to sign up to its YourSportTV application.

The service – backed by 17 patents – means fans can search and tag video of a match to create their own highlights package.

A free trial of the service is now available to subscribers on the club’s website

The deal with LFC has been warmly welcomed by both Old Hall Street-based Edit.TV and Press Association Sport, which has come on board as the “official data partner” of Edit.TV and will sell YourSportTV to holders of global TV rights for sports events.

The two companies will work closely together to market the technology to rights holders including sports clubs and competition owners, online broadcasters and bookmakers.

Matt O’Connor, one of Edit.TV’s directors, said: “We are delighted to have signed a contract with Liverpool FC for the 2011/12 season following a successful trailing of our technology.

How Everton And Liverpool Battled Through Football’s Original Ice Age

If Blackpool’s ice-bound pitch or Goodison frozen pipes meant you were sat at home on Boxing Day, twiddling your thumbs and forced to watch West Ham win at Fulham, just take time out to think about what your dad or granddad went through. This winter has been the most challenging in modern memory.

But 48 years ago things were worse. Much, much worse.

Known as the Big Freeze, the winter of 1962/63 saw the country covered in snow on Boxing Day with no thaw in sight until March.

Between December 22nd 1962 and February 12th 1963 neither Everton nor Liverpool played a single league match – the only action of any kind played by either side being a couple of FA Cup ties.

And they were lucky.

While Liverpool won at Wrexham in round three and Everton overcame Barnsley, the third round of the competition actually took 66 days to complete and involved a total of two hundred and sixty-one postponements.

The FA Cup final between Manchester United and Leicester City was eventually played on the 25th of May, with the two-legged final of the League Cup between Birmingham City and Aston Villa being played either side of it.

The country was battered by blizzards, freezing fog and icy temperatures as low as -22C.

It was so cold that many lakes and rivers froze over. In January temperatures plunged so sharply that a one mile stretch of sea was covered in ice.

In February more snow came and winds reached Force Eight. A 36-hour blizzard caused heavy drifting snow in most parts of the country. Drifts reached 20 feet (6.1m).

Gale force winds howled with wind speeds reaching up to 81mph (130km/h). On the Isle of Man, wind speeds were recorded at 119mph (191km/h).

It wasn’t until the morning of March 6 1963 that Britain woke up to a frost free morning.

Goodison Park had become the first English ground to fit under-soil heating in 1958 (although Arsenal had experimented, unsuccessfully, with it beforehand), but the severity of the weather meant that even warm pipes couldn’t help.

It was the coldest winter in Britain since 1740.

Faced with the onerous job of having to keep their players fit with only occasional match practice clubs had to think laterally.

Many trained indoors, while Coventry City flew to Ireland (which had escaped the worst of the weather) for friendly matches at the behest of manager Jimmy Hill, including a match against Manchester United in Dublin that was played in front of a crowd of 20,000 and ended in a 2-2 draw. Several clubs managed to defrost their pitches only for them to freeze again straight away, leaving them in an even worse state than before.

Norwich City used military flame-throwers on the Carrow Road pitch and flooded it, while at Blackpool similar flooding led to then England internationals Jimmy Armfield and Tony Waiters being photographed ice skating on the pitch at Bloomfield Road.

Halifax Town saw this through to its natural conclusion, turning the pitch at The Shay into a public ice rink and charging to use it.

The football pools companies, horrified at the losses that they were running up with the mass cancellations, took action and the pools panel came into being. The first panel was made of of the extravagently-moustached Consiverative MP Gerald Nabarro, former players George Young, Ted Drake and Tommy Lawton and former referee Arthur Ellis, who would go on to find national fame on the television show "It’s A Knockout."

They first sat on the 26th of January 1963, giving their verdict on what they felt would happen in matches that had been called off, and they still sit today.

When things started to get back to normal, Everton were the team to react to all of the disruption and won the Football League championship by six points (under three points for a win, they would have won it by eleven points), with Tottenham Hotspur finishing in second place, Burnley finishing third and Leicester City in fourth place.

One club that didn’t react well to the distraction was Manchester United, who finished the season just three points and two places above the relegation positions. United did, however, finish the season on a high, beating Leicester City in the FA Cup final and their supporters may also have taken heart from the surprise relegation of local rivals Manchester City, who went down with Leyton Orient, who were playing their only season of top division football in their history.

They were replaced by Stoke City (who featured a by then 48-year old Stanley Matthews) and Chelsea.

Almost half a century on, lessons have been learnt from that particularly long and harsh winter as well as others that have followed it. Advances in technology and more sophisticated groundskeeping means that under-soil heating isn’t even always required to keep matches going in cold weather.

And frustrating though this weekend has been, forecasters insist that winters as severe as those in 1962/3 are becoming less frequent.

Speaking during last winter’s cold snap, Peter Stott, climate scientist at the Met Office, said: "Despite the cold winter this year, the trend to milder and wetter winters is expected to continue, with snow and frost becoming less of a feature in the future.

"The famously cold winter of 1962/63 is now expected to occur about once every 1,000 years or more, compared with approximately every 100 to 200 years before 1850."

But don’t worry, by 2962 football will be played in indoor stadium with central heating and sliding roofs.

Even at Blackpool!