Sunday, 16 January 2011

Why Hodgson can't afford to settle for second best

I think I have just witnessed footballing perfection.

For any football fan, watching Barcelona demolish Real Madrid was a pleasure. Throw in the look on Jose’s face and the realisation that Ronaldo isn’t as close to Messi as he would have you believe and it has been an enjoyable evening.

Although the natural reaction is to succumb to the forlorn resignation that Barcelona have mastered the game, it is important to remember that the rest of us continue to compete amongst ourselves for the title of ‘second best team in the world’.

Many Liverpool fans will remember the last time Real Madrid were humiliated in this fashion. It was March 2009. Anfield witnessed a red destruction so shocking that it reduced Iker Casillas to tears. When combined with the famous victory over Barcelona in the Nou Camp and an away victory in Milan, Liverpool were confirmed as a major force at the top table of European football.

As we head towards the end of 2010, it is clear that the club has moved backwards. This is something that needs to be understood, but not accepted as the standard.

This is a crucial point in the way that Liverpool Football Club move forwards.

Following defeat at Spurs, Paul Dalglish referred to ‘Liverpool standards’ and the refusal to accept second best. The performance at White Hart Lane wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t brilliant but most would accept that Hodgson’s team deserved something from the game. If individuals had fulfilled their duties – Maxi and Torres when through on goal and Konchesky when ball-watching in stoppage time – then Liverpool would not have left London empty handed.

However, not being ‘too bad’ is not the standard that Hodgson should accept. Having shown a willingness to be more adventurous away from home, even against a side as dangerous on the counter-attack as Spurs, there is the renewed hope that Hodgson might be adapting his style to suit Liverpool’s needs.

The improvement from the Stoke game was substantial but the progress must continue if Liverpool are to achieve their aims. Ultimately, the team left both games without a point. Improved failure is not a success but at the very least, at least it is a start.

As NESV are willing to give Hodgson time, the manager must repay the faith that is being shown in him. Like many, I will be making a final judgement on Hodgson’s suitability at the end of the January transfer window. The nature of the manager’s transfer targets (and his ability to attract them to a Europa League club) will tell us a lot about Hodgson’s plans for the future.

The fall of the previous regime has removed any excuses about the manner in which the football club is run. Roy Hodgson will be able to do the job as he wants to in January. Despite the club’s current position, the Liverpool name alone continues to carry significance across the world. Although the January market is often expensive and difficult to manoeuvre within, it could make or break Hodgson’s future.

Hodgson’s transfers thus far have gone two ways. In Raul Meireles, Liverpool have acquired a player that the fans have warmed to, recognising his ability on the ball and footballing brain. If the manager can bring in players of a similar calibre, few will complain.

However, in Poulsen and Konchesky, Hodgson very much appears to have settled for ‘second best’. Both are limited players who would do well at a mid-table club. Further signings like this will not see Liverpool return to where they need to be.

When Dalglish states that ‘great men’ worked to create a standard at Liverpool that is in danger of being lost, it is hard to disagree. Although football is a very different game to the one played in Liverpool’s greatest days, the traditions and values of the club must be embraced.

Although conversations are refreshingly being conducted behind closed doors, NESV do not appear to be a group that will stand for the lowering of standards. Working in tandem with Damien Comolli, there must be cautious optimism that Hodgson can identify the right players to enhance the playing squad.

Hodgson must not settle for second best. If he does, NESV may not be so accommodating.

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