Friday, January 07, 2011

Sacking Roy Hodgson Is Not Enough For Liverpool's Spanish Stars

Liverpool's new owners have been warned that even the sacking of Roy Hodgson might not be enough to stave off an exodus of their key players, including Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina. Although the manager's departure appears inevitable, and the two Spanish players would not leave during the winter transfer window, frustration at the club's inertia means they will go in the summer if they are not convinced by the new manager and handed reassurances of major investment.

The choice currently before Liverpool's owners, John W Henry and Tom Werner, is a huge one which will bring with it significant consequences. For some senior players sacking Hodgson is a step in the right direction. But while Hodgson continuing at the club would guarantee summer departures, his exit does not necessarily mean that Liverpool will be able to keep hold of their most important assets. With Liverpool immersed in a sale process last summer moves were blocked for Steven Gerrard, Torres and Reina; this year, it will be harder to prevent their departure. Liverpool quoted prices so prohibitive as to be a "not for sale" sign. At the same time reassurances were made regarding ambitions. Hopes had been pinned on new ownership and massive investment. As yet only half of that proposition has come to pass.

The arrival of a recognized, high-achieving coach will be vital if they are not to push for a transfer. Didier Deschamps, who was interviewed for the job last summer and remains a favoured candidate, appeared to rule himself out yesterday. The Marseille coach said: "When I talk about being the coach of Marseille in the new stadium, I mean it. It is an idea that pleases me. Now, 2014 is a very long way away in my profession. But I have said people should understand I am not a tramp. I proved it last year. I could have left."

Key Anfield squad members have been dismayed by the lack of activity from the new owners since they took over in mid‑October.

The lack of activity in this transfer window only increases that impression, with the club currently considering an offer for the Tottenham defender Vedran Corluka. Players feel that promises have been broken before and will not endure another season of underachievement and uncertainty.

Possible destinations are already being studied in case they should be required, but no decisions have been taken. Those clubs that tabled bids for Gerrard, Torres, Reina and Dirk Kuyt last summer are not necessarily expected to return 12 months on. The players are not expected to consider a move to Manchester United.

Following Liverpool's 3-1 defeat against Blackburn Hodgson refused to discuss a possible sacking, saying: "I am not prepared to talk about my future. At this moment I am depressed enough with the performance and the result. I am not here to talk about that. I have no comments to make and I don't intend to answer any questions on the subject." The club's director of communications then brought the press conference to a close and there was no indication from the owners today that they intend to change manager before Sunday's FA Cup third-round tie at Manchester United.

But Hodgson's days at Anfield are numbered. Fans have railed against him – he was met with graffiti at the club's training ground yesterday – and pressure builds to replace him. Progress is stalled by the absence of a chief executive at Anfield and the fact that the New England Sports Ventures group that owns the club continues to be based in the United States.

There has also been little opportunity over the Christmas period properly to discuss the club's next move. Kenny Dalglish, who currently occupies an ambassadorial role, made it clear that he wanted the manager's job in the summer before the former regime employed Hodgson – and he is still keen to take charge. There is, however, a reluctance to make a definitive decision at this stage, which only increases the uncertainty. With the situation being monitored closely by key players, it is a decision that must be made carefully.

Henry Silence Only Adds To Hodgson's Agony And State Of Crisis At Anfield

The graffiti scrawled on a Melwood wall yesterday stated "Hodgson Out" but the Liverpool manager was in at an early hour and still at his desk late into the afternoon, even though it was a designated day off for most of the players whose capitulation at Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday night left his job in such jeopardy.

Those who work closely with Hodgson say he is bearing this nightmare experience with equanimity, wise as he is to the brutal environment football can provide, yet the silence from Boston yesterday was deafening. The smartest football proprietors publicly support their managers even while preparing to sack them but this seems to be a lesson John W Henry has yet to learn. He is creating a news vacuum that is making Hodgson's position desperate.

The rumour mill was in overdrive when he emerged to place a bin bag of items in his car. After much deliberation within the club about the merits of protecting him, it seems Hodgson will appear publicly today to discuss Sunday's FA Cup tie with Manchester United.

Though Kevin Keegan, John Barnes and Steve McManaman all came out in favour of Hodgson being given more time, the manager is not delivering what he claimed privately that he could in the summer. Liverpool's non-executive chairman at that time, Martin Broughton, declared back in July that Hodgson's "extremely thoughtful, prepared, thorough" interview for the job included a commitment to focus "on how we could get more from existing players", which had been most impressive. "It was not [about] how much money he could have."

There are some extenuating circumstances – the injured Jamie Carragher would not have allowed a defensive display like Wednesday's – but the players Hodgson has inherited have become shadows of the individuals they once were.

Henry and the current Liverpool chairman Tom Werner would have appreciated Hodgson's interview pitch. Though discussions of their success at the Boston Red Sox have focused on the appointment of the relatively untried Theo Epstein as evidence of their love of young and highly intelligent managers, Epstein was their general manager – not their coach. The baseball man who turned the Red Sox around was Terry Francona, a seasoned baseball pro, who arrived in 2004, aged 45, with prior experience of handling the truculent pitcher Curt Schilling, whom the club had just signed from the Philadelphia Phillies and who was to prove critical to their first world series championship since 1918. He had also managed to get the best from Michael Jordan at the Birmingham Barons franchise. Now Henry wants someone able to work similar wonders on Fernando Torres.

But Francona was also amenable to the modern baseball ways that the Americans want now to adapt to football, having worked as a bench coach at the Oakland Athletics where general manager Billy Beane introduced the sabermetrics system. The problem for Henry, Werner and their Fenway Sports Group is not to find a modern young manager – there are plenty of those around – but one capable of beginning to lift players in the way that Francona did at Boston, where he remains manager to this day.

The connections that the Americans' new director of football strategy, Damien Comolli, has with continental football have elevated Marseilles' Didier Deschamps, the former Barcelona coach Frank Rikjaard, Porto's Andre Villas-Boas and, in what would be a particularly bold move, Ralph Rangnick, the 52-year-old who recently resigned from Hoffenheim, to the ranks of possible contenders. The latter two are immediately available and with doubts that Rikjaard might be the right candidate, rumour continues to surround Rangnick.

Known in Germany for the offensive 4-3-3 system that secured successive promotions for Hoffenheim from the third tier to the Bundesliga, "the Professor" Рas the technocrat Rangnick is known Рalso worked as an intern at Arsenal and Ars̬ne Wenger was a major influence. Liverpool's owners see Arsenal as a model club.

Yet the picture of Rangnick's suitability is clouded. He was bankrolled by a wealthy benefactor at Hoffenheim, whose €175m (£147.1m) investment over 10 years included a sizable outlay on players. Some of his scientific methods might appeal to the Liverpool owners and to Comolli, a big fan of German football: the players were encouraged to shoot against specific areas of a large electronic wall and there were elaborate devices to get players passing in triangles. But there are doubts that Rangnick's man-management skills match his ideas as a technocrat.

Rangnick, who never won a trophy in Germany, has distanced himself from comments attributed to him suggesting that he wanted the Liverpool job, heightening the sense among some German observers that he might be in contention, as the quotes served only to discredit him. But another consideration is whether the German would be willing to cede control to Comolli, having commanded such power at Hoffenheim. The same goes for Kenny Dalglish who, if he accepted a caretaker-manager's role, may not appreciate a new recruit calling the shots at a club where he is a legend.

Hodgson, by contrast, has fitted comfortably into his relationship with Comolli. They do not share views on all things – Comolli is far more absorbed by the science of metrics, for instance – but Hodgson's experience on the continent has enabled him to work with the Frenchman. Since Comolli has the Americans' ear, it is conceivable that their good relationship is helping preserve Hodgson's fragile tenure.

Another Anfield legend, Keegan, led demands for more time for Hodgson. "It's not easy but Liverpool has been in decline for a number of years and I think Roy Hodgson is just picking up the tab," he said. "Where are all these youngsters they signed? None of them have come through. I think there are a lot of questions that need to be asked way beyond Roy Hodgson." Hodgson's question is a simple one. Does he have a job, or doesn't he?

Kevin Keegan Defends Under-Fire Boss Roy Hodgson

Kevin Keegan has rushed to the defence of Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson, insisting that the club's fortunes were on a decline much before he was appointed as boss.

Hodgson was handed the reins after the exit of his predecessor Rafael Benitez, who parted ways with the club after an underwhelming season that saw the side fail to qualify for the Champions League.

The former Fulham gaffer began his reign in a morose manner as the Reds plunged into the relegation zone owing to poor form during the start of the season. But a small patch of positive form saw them make it to a mid-table position, before inconsistency played its part in putting the team only four points above the drop zone.

The recent defeat to Blackburn Rovers saw several calls for Hodgson's head, amid reports that the ex-Inter boss was on the brink of being shown the door. But Keegan believes that it would probably be unfair to give the gaffer the boot, as the club's problems precede his reign.

"The decline of the club is not down to Roy Hodgson," he said, according to The Mirror.

"It goes back way before he came.

"All you can blame Hodgson for is the 20-odd games he’s been in charge. He’s picked those teams. The problem Liverpool have got is that they are trying to live with history. We all over-achieved for that club. There’s no divine right to win the league, no divine right to win it year after year.

"But the standards have been set and these players have not been able to live up them. They’ve not won the league for 20 years and it’s getting longer every minute.

"Hodgson has been in charge for about 20 games. If they thought he was right in June, what are they going to do to back him?

"The attention over the last two or three years has been away from the manager and on the owners. The fans are looking at a lot of things and the players have to look at themselves as well.

"You can’t blame Roy for the lack of talent coming through, for the fact they’re playing in a stadium I played in and that has hardly changed since before I arrived 40 years ago. It’s too simple just to say: 'Hodgson has got to go.'"

Keegan added: "The new owners have got some big decisions to make.

"Fans don’t have unrealistic expectations but they want to go on a Saturday and see their team play.

"Those Liverpool fans are used to seeing opponents turning up at Anfield worrying about what was coming, fearing conceding an early goal, not wanting to kick towards the Kop if they won the toss. But you can’t say that any more.

"Teams have gone to Anfield for the last few years and had a go because they think: ‘Liverpool haven’t got six or seven good players any more - they’ve got two. If you can stop [Steven] Gerrard and keep [Fernando] Torres quiet, what else have they got?' The answer is not very much and the players have had plenty of opportunities to prove otherwise."

The Reds have an FA Cup clash with heated rivals Manchester United on Sunday at Old Trafford, and the former Newcastle United boss believes that it represents the club's last chance to win some silverware this term.

"Manchester United away is the hardest game you could have, but in some ways it’s the best game they could have. If they were going to Derby or Nottingham Forest and got beat, that would be pretty lethal," Keegan said.

"The FA Cup is their last chance this season. They can’t win anything else. They’re still in Europe, but there will be some big teams in the last eight of the Europa League, they’re not going to get in the Champions League again and they’re falling behind the top four all the time."

Owen Coyle Tops Liverpool's List

Bolton boss Owen Coyle last night emerged as the man Liverpool want to lead the club out of their nightmare.

With Roy Hodgson likely to be out of a job within days, the Scot has emerged as the front-runner to succeed him.

He shot to the top of the short-list after Marseille boss Didier Deschamps and former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard ruled themselves out.

Former manager Kenny Dalglish – an ambassador at the club – is the fans’ choice and Liverpool’s American owners are looking for a quick replacement. He is likely to be turfed out after Sunday’s FA Cup clash at Manchester United.

The troubled Liverpool boss saw the words “Hodgson Out” daubed on the walls of the training ground yesterday.

The club’s bosses were ready to kick Hodgson into touch, but have decided to hang fire after Deschamps and Rijkaard ruled themselves out.

Deschamps led Marseille to their first French title in 18 years last year and also won the League Cup.

But last night he said: “When I talk about being the coach of Marseille in the new stadium, I mean it.

“It is an idea that pleases me. Now, 2014 is a very long way away in my profession.

“But I have said people should understand I am not a tramp. I proved it last year. I could have left.”

Rijkaard is unwilling to be parachuted into the job halfway through a season which is already going nowhere.

Now it is the name of the highly-regarded Coyle, whose team did so well despite losing at Anfield on Saturday, which is echoing in the Anfield corridors of powers.

Hodgson’s fate was sealed with Wednesday’s 3-1 loss at Blackburn – Liverpool’s ninth Premier League defeat of the season.

Hodgson is a ‘dead man walking’ and only an unlikely draw or victory at Old Trafford will earn him a stay of execution.

Roy Hodgson Leads The Sack Race

Didier Deschamps has ruled himself out of the running to succeed Roy Hodgson as the under-fire Liverpool manager clings on to his job by his fingernails.

Hodgson spent four hours at the training ground yesterday in the wake of a damaging 3-1 defeat by Blackburn as the owners, the Fenway Sports Group, deliberated over his position ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup tie at Manchester United. Hodgson is set to host his weekly press conference as normal today after Deschamps distanced himself from replacing him.

The West Ham board are on the brink of pulling the plug on Avram Grant’s reign, but Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has given his backing to Gerard Houllier and Carlo Ancelotti has received support from the Chelsea hierarchy.

The writing was on the wall for Roy Hodgson, spelt out in large white letters as he was driven into Liverpool’s training ground the morning after another ghastly night before.

Graffiti daubed outside Melwood screamed “Hodgson out”, though for four hours he locked himself away in his office, beginning preparations for Sunday’s visit to Manchester United before eventually heading home.

He left clutching a briefcase and a holdall, but the manner of the insipid 3-1 defeat by Blackburn, a ninth league reverse in a wretched campaign, means the call to clear the rest of his desk could still come at any point.

Just when and, more importantly, to whom Liverpool turn in arguably the lowest point of their recent history remains a delicate issue being debated in a series of transatlantic emails and telephone calls with John W Henry, principal owner of the Fenway Sports Group.

Kenny Dalglish remains the fans’ choice to step into an interim role – chants of “Dalglish, Dalglish” emanating at Ewood Park as soon as Benjani deepened Liverpool’s embarrassment with Rovers’ third goal on Wednesday – but a temporary return to the dugout for him brings with it potential problems.

If Dalglish, who is currently on holiday, was to enjoy any success in the job then the crescendo for him to be given the post permanently in the summer would be deafening and raises the prospect of him becoming a “ghost on the wall”, as he has been for Hodgson, if he is again overlooked.

Phil Thompson, who stepped up from assistant to fill in for Gerard Houllier when he underwent life-saving heart surgery in 2001, could be an alternative. Thompson, another club legend who lifted the European Cup in Paris in 1981, would be easier to move on at the end of a caretaker stint than Dalglish and would win the support of the fans in the knowledge he is Liverpool through and through.

Whether Dalglish, who was brought back 18 months ago in the role of club ambassador, felt he could stay on at the club in that event is doubtful and represents a PR nightmare the American owners will be anxious to avoid. The dilemma facing FSG is an unenviable one, not least because a potential full-time target, Didier Deschamps, said he would not be quitting Marseille. Deschamps was interviewed by Liverpool last summer but overlooked in favour of Hodgson, and he said: “When I talk about being the coach of Marseille in the new stadium, I mean it. It is an idea that pleases me.”

Just three months into FSG’s reign, they are consumed by crisis with the public silence over Hodgson adding to the uncertainty. If they sit on their hands, do nothing and persist with Hodgson by sending him into battle against Sir Alex Ferguson, they risk looking weak in the eyes of supporters who are voting with their feet and staying away from matches.

A ‘Dear John’ letter to Henry posted on the Red and White Kop internet forum claimed Hodgson’s position was “no longer tenable” following the Blackburn reverse that left Liverpool just five points off the foot of the table. Melwood had a ghostly feel to it yesterday with the players given the day off, barring Jamie Carragher and Raul Meireles who received treatment for injuries, while Ryan Babel was also spotted at the complex.

The glare of an unforgiving spotlight has been trained on Hodgson, but the writing should also be on the wall for many of the underachieving squad he largely inherited.

Already On Red Alert

David Fairclough believes Liverpool is already in a fight for their Premier League survival.

Wednesday night's 3-1 defeat at Blackburn has left them just four points above the drop zone and has led to increasing speculation that Roy Hodgson may lose his job.

The club have refused to make any official comment on his future but Fairclough, 'Super Sub' in the club's glory days of the '70's and '80's, says the club is in real trouble already.

"It (relegation) has to be in our minds," he told Sky Sports News HD.

"No Liverpool fan will believe that will happen, but there is a real fear that we have fallen into that cluster of sides who are all haunted by relegation.

"At this time of the year we expected Liverpool to be further up the table in a position to challenge, but it hasn't happened and now they are probably one of eight or nine sides who will consider they are in a relegation battle. Liverpool can't be ruled out of that group."

Former Reds skipper and Sky Sports pundit Phil Thompson believes the problems at Anfield are 'deep-rooted'.

And while all eyes are on Hodgson and the club's new owner, John W Henry, Fairclough agrees that the issues may well go beyond who is or isn't in charge.

But he agreed a change in mood at least, is needed - and fast.

"It certainly is deep-rooted," he said. "The atmosphere has to change; the players now have to find a feel-good factor, find a real spirit.

"At the moment there are signals that one minute it's up, the next minute it's down. We saw that when they beat Bolton but couldn't follow it up, we said it earlier in the season when we beat Chelsea and a few days later went to Wigan and threw in a lacklustre performance.

"Clearly there's something in the dressing room, something in the training ground environment that needs addressing. It is worrying.

"We've had a few moments this season when we thought it couldn't get any worse and then there were a couple of bright signals, but now we're falling and falling, I'm afraid.

"I thought the Wolves situation was as low as we could get last week, but last night was so poor. I am sure all Liverpool fans are very depressed."

Huth Yet To Hear From Liverpool

Stoke defender Robert Huth insists he has not received any contact from Liverpool regarding a possible move to Anfield in the transfer window. reported earlier on Thursday that the misfiring Reds have made a 'firm enquiry' about the German centre-back.

Under-pressure Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson and director of football strategy Damien Comolli have repeatedly been linked with a move for Huth in a bid to strengthen their defence.

With Jamie Carragher still injured, the weaknesses in the club's back four were horribly exposed in Wednesday night's defeat at Blackburn, which may have increased the determination to make a January signing.

But Huth, who has two-and-a-half years left on his contract after being brought back to the Premier League from Middlesbrough in 2009, told The Sentinel: "I've heard nothing from Liverpool.

"I have a contract with Stoke. I am sure they are happy with what I am doing, and I am also happy.

"Being relegated is never nice, so it is great Stoke gave me the chance to come back. I am happy that, apart from suspension, I have played in every game."

Huth cost Stoke a then club-record £6million when he arrived 16 months ago and chairman Peter Coates is not planning to sell the 26-year-old.

He said: "We know nothing about it and, besides, he is very much a player we want to keep. We don't have to sell."

Liverpool Instructed To Step Up Chase For Adebayor

Liverpool has been told they must pay Emmanuel Adebayor's weekly wages in full if they hope to sign him on loan this month.

The Togolese has fallen down the pecking order at Manchester City and looks increasingly likely to leave Eastlands as Liverpool wait in the wings alongside Tottenham and La Liga side Malaga.

According to The Sun, City are prepared to accept half of the £25 million they paid to sign the 26-year-old from Arsenal, but Liverpool are only thought to be eyeing a temporary deal for his services.

However, should Liverpool land the striker during the transfer window, they will reportedly have to pay 100 per cent of his wages - which stand at a whopping £160,000 per-week.

But Liverpool owners New England Sports Ventures are thought to be reluctant to splash out so excessively so are reported to be pursuing a number of more financially viable subjects.

Liverpool director of football strategy Damien Comolli is believed to have identified a number of potential acquisitions to the board after discussions with Roy Hodgson but any moves will be depend on the future of the Reds boss at Anfield.

Hodgson has stated in the past his desire to bring West Ham striker Carlton Cole to Liverpool but, with his rumours suggesting the 63-year-old will imminently be sacked, it is unlikely a move for Cole will come to fruition.

Should the Liverpool manager leave this month, a more likely transfer target for the Anfield club will be FC Utrecht hotshot Ricky van Wolfswinkel who is understood to be on the radar of Comolli.

Don Hutchison Blasts 'Average' Fernando Torres

Former Liverpool midfielder Don Hutchison has blasted the club's star striker Fernando Torres and urged under-pressure manager Roy Hodgson to sign a top-class centre-forward.

Torres has been way below his high standards this season and his form is one of the reason's Liverpool are languishing in the bottom half of the table in what has been a disastrous season so far.

He has scored just six Premier League goals in 18 appearances, and Hutchison cites Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's handling of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov as an example Hodgson must follow.

Hutchison said in an interview with talkSPORT: “Fernando Torres - his performance levels and his work-rate this season have been so, so bad.

“If I was in Roy’s shoes I would go out in the January transfer window and try and buy a top-class centre-forward or someone that can start every single Saturday.

“At the minute if Sir Alex Ferguson was managing Torres he would not be in the side.

"He’s done it with Berbatov and he’s done it with Rooney.

"Unfortunately for Roy he has to play him because he’s a world-class player but his performances have been very, very average.

"Liverpool need competition in them places where Roy could then maybe say to Fernando 'you're not doing it, my job's on the line here, I'm going to have to sign strikers that are going to score me goals'."

Torres had another poor showing in the 3-1 defeat against Blackburn on Wednesday night, which has led to Hodgson coming under further pressure from the club's new owners.

Hodgson - Agger's Staying Put

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is confident Daniel Agger will be going nowhere during the winter transfer window.

Denmark coach Morten Olsen has been reported as advising Agger to consider leaving the club as a turbulent season continues at Anfield.

But Hodgson has rubbished the reports, saying the 26-year-old centre-back has no reason to leave now he is back in the starting line-up after regaining full fitness.

"His future has never been in doubt," said the Reds' boss.

"I am a close friend of Morten Olsen and I don't believe for one minute he would involve himself in the business of Liverpool Football Club.

"That story you can dismiss. If he said he would like to see Daniel playing regularly that is another matter.

"Now he is fit, perhaps he will be playing regularly, so the question does not come up."

Agger has made just four league starts this season and appeared as a substitute in Wednesday's 3-1 defeat at Blackburn.

The Danish defender has spent three months out injured this season and is contracted to Liverpool until the summer of 2014.