Friday, 29 October 2010

Has the penny finally dropped for Roy Hodgson?

They say that a week is a long time in football and that has certainly held true at Liverpool FC in 2010.

Although the fans who were so keen to help Hodgson clear his office last week will rightly point out that victory over Blackburn is merely a delayed return to Liverpool’s expected standard, there are signs that Hodgson has learned some important lessons during the last ten days.

Let’s be fair-minded about this; it’s very easy to crucify a manager for the early failings of his tenure but perhaps it takes a shrewder type of fan to acknowledge where improvements are being made.

The victory over Blackburn Rovers may have saved Hodgson’s job and adjustments to his attitude may yet afford him greater leniency from the Anfield faithful. Both on and off the field, there are small hints that Hodgson might be willing to adjust his style to suit the role that he now fills so tentatively.

Hodgson has adapted his tactics to suit Liverpool’s players & fan base

Following an opening to the season that was characterised by uncertainty, negativity and lethargy, the performance against Blackburn provided encouragement that Hodgson is beginning to understand what is needed for this group of players and a club of Liverpool’s stature.

At Fulham, a deep-lying defence and counter-attacking style was highly effective and brought Hodgson’s side rewards, both domestically and in Europe. Without wanting to disrespect Fulham in any way, this style is not directly transferrable to sides with ambitions to threaten at the top of the league.

The challenges posed by the opposition, particularly at home, are different to those experienced by Hodgson previously and it was clear to all that reliance upon the Fulham style was not going to reap rewards at Liverpool. The defensive style is not one that matches Hodgson’s squad or the mentality of the club at which he is now in charge.

The contrast between the performances against Everton and Blackburn is extreme (with the same starting XI, remember). Against Blackburn, Liverpool played as if the chains had been released and Hodgson’s team were suddenly able to produce high-intensity football based primarily upon pressurising the ball. When accompanied by width and numerous bodies filling the box at every opportunity, it is fair to say that a one goal margin of victory fails to paint an accurate picture of the match.

Admittedly, this was only one match against limited opposition but if Hodgson’s resurgence is to gain further momentum, he must forget his go-to style of old and be brave enough to embrace the change in approach which better suits his new environment.

Hodgson has changed his approach to dealing with the media

If the defeat to Everton was not painful enough in itself, Hodgson’s post-match comments were simply galling. In trying to draw positives from a match in which his side had failed to provide any sense of encouragement, Hodgson alienated himself from many of the fans who had continued to support him.

Liverpool fans aren’t stupid. Whatever Hodgson’s motives were, his comments acted only to exacerbate the negative feeling that accompanied his miserable league record. Hodgson made a major error of judgement in his attempt to hoodwink the fans. Whether he realised his mistake alone or with the help of those who know the club, Hodgson’s comments after the Blackburn victory will have gone some way to instilling more faith in his regime.

It’s a harsh fact of modern football, but Hodgson’s improved performance in front of the media may be just as important as his team’s performance on the pitch.

Examples of Hodgson’s change in tone

By breaking down Hodgson’s comments, we can see a significant change from the erratic manager seen thus far.

“There were elements today which were visible in the matches we’ve lost or drawn. I don’t want to suggest everything’s suddenly hunky dory.”

Just as one defeat doesn’t result in the season being a failure, one victory doesn’t make it a success. The acceptance of flaws within victory is far more dignified and creditable than the desperate search for positives within a miserable failure. This was not a perfect Liverpool performance but it was a beginning. By acknowledging this, Hodgson has kept feet well and truly planted on the floor whilst reassuring many that he can understands the challenge that faces him.

“We made it clear to everyone: this is our game, we’re going to take it to you. We’re going to make certain we put you under pressure, we’re going to be quick to pressurise when we lose the ball.”

These words must be music to the ears of Liverpool fans worldwide. The explicit declaration that this is how Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool are going to play leaves no room for compromise. If Hodgson keeps his word, he will have a better side for doing so.

“We need to show a bit of humility and accept that if we’re not the Liverpool Football Club of yore, we’ll work hard to try and become it.”

Of all the statements made during Hodgson’s tenure thus far, this is the one that should provide Liverpool fans with the most comfort. Whilst acknowledging the proud history of the club, Hodgson has made it clear that the resurgence of Liverpool Football Club will be based upon hard graft. If anybody needed reminding before the January transfer window, it is clear that this is the minimum expectation. Although falling short of declaring a siege mentality, the public declaration that Hodgson’s team will be seeking progress via hard work will strike a chord with some fans.

Speaking to the media is much easier following a victory and the comfort of three points would have offered Hodgson greater tolerance from the supporters. However, there are small signs that he is beginning to understand how to speak as the manager of Liverpool Football Club and importantly, in respect of the fans. Liverpool’s history is characterised by dignity, respect and endeavour. By aligning himself with that mantra, Hodgson will have taken the first steps to winning back some of the fans that he had lost.

A false dawn?

It is vital to stress that this was only one victory and only the first shoots of recovery. By adapting his style both on and off the field, Hodgson has revealed that he is not as stubborn as some thought, nor as naive. If Hodgson continues to adapt his style to appropriate himself with his role then he will earn greater plaudits from the people who matter. The progressive nature of Liverpool’s football has pleased many and this must continue. Furthermore, Hodgson must maintain his understanding of fan relations, even in defeat.

Liverpool supporters will not dislike Roy Hodgson for the sake of it. If Hodgson’s team can produce the goods then there will be no ill-feeling towards the manager. It is very early days in Hodgson’s ‘recovery’ and he still has a long way to go if he is to win over his critics. However, the suggestion that he will embrace development is encouraging. If Hodgson is to remain as Liverpool manager, this is the way to do it.

A return to his previous failings would render the Blackburn victory nothing more than a false dawn.

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