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Jun 23, 2014

Hodgson still grates Liverpool fans

Roy Hodgson -- pictured here after signing Christian Poulsen -- suffered a disastrous spell in charge of Liverpool.

There is still a curious and often bitter relationship between Liverpool supporters and England manager Roy Hodgson. You would not think a measly six months in charge could create so much of a lasting funk but it does.

Some of it was tied into the worship of Rafael Benitez. If you were dismayed, nay outraged, by the decision to get rid of Rafa after one relatively poor season -- especially with everything he had had to contend with in the background -- then you weren't going to accept any successor with good grace.

Those who tired of Benitez's continuous wars with his bosses saw the germ of a decent idea in giving a fractious short-term job working in the shadow of a takeover war in the courts to an elder statesman the players might respect. That said, most wanted that choice to be Kenny Dalglish and so even their noses were put out of joint when Hodgson got the job.

Frankly, he was doomed from the off. A lot of supporters have rationalised that they "gave Roy a chance" but the reaction on the internet to his very first defeat -- a barely surprising 3-0 loss away to Manchester City -- was so outraged, so wounded that it made things very clear indeed; Hodgson would not be tolerated.

Every slip, every sentence, every bizarre choice was pounced upon with barely disguised relish, and there were plenty of them. Roy loved to talk but it simply lay out more traps than were necessary. A kind of travel sickness cost him dearly. Numerous away defeats made it impossible for the Reds to get even a toehold in an already fraught season and the one bullet in his gun -- stable stewardship during a fraught takeover battle -- vanished when the club's financial problems were solved incredibly quickly.

He became notorious for talking gibberish in defeat, downplaying expectations to a lower level even his few sympathisers were unprepared to accept. He referenced the idea of winning at Goodison Park as "Utopia", a ground where Liverpool habitually won even in their darkest days. Needless to say Liverpool lost and his new bosses from Boston were already singularly unimpressed. He was not going to survive.

The bitter irony for Hodgson was that Brendan Rodgers had exactly the same record in the first half of his first league season; 19 games and 25 points. The difference was that all managers desperately need someone in the hierarchy to stubbornly say "no, he's staying" in times of strife and Hodgson never had that once during his calamitous six months.

Hodgson's future with England has been the subject of much debate following England's dismal World Cup campaign.

His record for Fulham had been decent but was it enough for a promotion to Liverpool? His subsequent record for West Bromwich Albion was also respectable but was it enough for the England job? Many Liverpool supporters thought not and the image of a lucky "chancer" was born and continued to gnaw inside them. At least Swansea City's Rodgers had youth on his side.

To be fair, no manager ever turns down a golden opportunity like that. David Moyes spent over a decade being a medium-sized fish in a little pond and it was obvious madness to suddenly take on Manchester United but he was never going to refuse it.

His departure from Old Trafford caused few ripples of anxiety in the press. What has always exacerbated the Hodgson/Liverpool relationship is a variety of journalists who hammered home the spurious notion that the club had ill-treated Roy and painted far too flowery a picture of his abilities. This made even his few sympathisers at Anfield bristle and nearly everyone's been on the tip of their toes ever since.

Personally, I've never really seen the need to shout "See? See? See?" every time England, and thus Hodgson, failed other than in passing comment. The club made absolutely the right decision to sack him in January 2011. Dalglish winning one cup and reaching another final followed by an exciting title race with Rodgers would never have happened under Roy. Valediction has never been necessary and if journalists or England supporters want to keep believing in him that's their business.

- Rodgers: Hunger key to success

It doesn't help, of course, when the England manager has an effect on Liverpool players. It was a ridiculous decision to make a half-fit Daniel Sturridge play the full 90 minutes against Germany in November 2013, for no other reason than Hodgson wanted "proof" Sturridge really hungered for an English shirt. It inadvertently cost the Reds his services for six weeks in which Liverpool dropped 11 points, any three of which could have meant the title. A draw at Manchester City would have done it.

Insult was added when Hodgson remarked after the injury "Rather now than in May". It displayed a total selfishness and utter disregard for Liverpool and international managers can't afford to be so brazen or lacking in diplomacy. The England team, for better or worse, now relies heavily on Liverpool and he causes more problems for himself by an inability to keep his mouth shut -- and his pre-match assessment of Luis Suarez seemed merely to goad the Liverpool striker into action for Uruguay.

When the national journalists still stick up for him, despite an early exit from Brazil 2014, some Liverpool supporters take it personally. For decades England fans have suffered delusions of grandeur and only now is it time to be realistic when Hodgson is in charge, the king of the pragmatists.

In essence it only becomes a problem for Liverpool supporters if Hodgson treats players with apparent disregard for their long-term fitness, particularly in a season with Champions League football when the Reds will need all hands on deck. The rest should be history. He was given the Liverpool job at an absolutely terrible time, when no one could really have done it justice. The reputations of Benitez and Dalglish have in effect survived almost intact, and while it wasn't pleasant seeing the club in such dire straits it would be better for many fans' peace of mind if they just washed their hands of the whole business.

I suspect there will be more drama and apoplexy to come, though.

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