Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Analogies Anonymous

Comedic writing is one of the hardest things to do, especially when it’s intelligent to boot. As laugh-out-loud the Carry On movies or Norman Wisdom were, I’ve always preferred the reserved titter of The Office and Peep Show.

That’s probably why I appreciated Rory Smith’s piece on the Telegraph website so much. Smith is one of my favourite Liverpool writers (though I have little choice given my employment history), but this surpassed even the highest expectation. It was succinct and splendidly satirical in equal measure.

So I’m going to write my own analogy regarding the managerial position at Liverpool Football Club. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

I was never good at satirical pieces in university; Swift’s Tale of the Tub bordered on the subliminal to the ridiculous, so I offer my apologies in advance if it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of Swift - or Smith, for that matter.

Roy Hodgson’s appointment as Liverpool manager has been an unadulterated catastrophe, and relegation is a definite possibility if he remains at Anfield for the remainder of the season.

When Rafael Benitez mutually consented to be sacked, foolish supporters had lofty ambitions. Some well-established names like Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink were mentioned, and then mixed with European upstarts such as Didier Deschamps, Unai Emery and Laurent Blanc.

But for any of those to take the job would have been like, like, Napoleon Bonaparte leading the Montenegrin army, or something like that.

The ship was sinking, the empire was crumbling. The famous/fabled (delete as appropriate) ‘Liverpool Way’ was tarnished forever as the Holy Trinity once proudly spoken of by Shankly was desecrated.

When a ship is crumbling and an empire sinking, you need a steady pair of hands. Don’t uproot the foundations; don’t, er, play basketball with the anchor.

At least, that’s what we were told in the press conference unveiling Roy Hodgson as our new manager. He was Christian and Kenny’s choice – or not - after an interview process as stringent as wartime conscription.

Are you English and agreeable with the press’ major players? Off you go, Manuel and Didier.

Can you remain silent against the regime and not alert fans to tight financial restraints placed upon you? Check.

Can you not then lament those financial restraints to the press, even though we’re only giving you half the money acquired from the sale of a world-class defensive midfielder? Good man.

Can you promise to give the elder statesmen of the football club, hereby known as the dressing room so desperately lost last season, the arm around the shoulder and new contract they rightfully deserve? Welcome to the job, Mr. Hodgson.

Despite this, Liverpool fans reserved judgement.

At least, it was murmured, the man was a gentleman. At least, it was said, he had over 30 years experience and would understand the traditions of this football club. At least, it was exclaimed, he could organise the side and rediscover the dressing room.

But it’s turned out wrong; wrong like a…like, erm…like a manager desperately out of his depth in a job far too big for him.

His signings are either extremely poor or extremely poorly utilised. In fairness, like Benitez, Hodgson suffered from nonexistent financial backing – he couldn’t even spend the entirety of Mascherano’s transfer fee.

But £5million and two youth team players for Paul Konchesky is dreadful, while an accumulative £5million for Christian Poulsen is just despicable.

The fact the pair replaced Emiliano Insua and Alberto Aquilani, who were both sent out on loan, does not help to temper the anger of the Kop. The fact Daniel Agger might as well be with them, given the treatment he’s received from Hodgson, intensifies that anger even further.

Raul Meireles should be an excellent acquisition. He can glide into space through the middle, he can pick out a pass with unerring vision, and he has a tremendous long-range shot in his arsenal.

He has spent the majority of his Liverpool career on the right of midfield, a position he’s never played before.

And, although it’s clear it’s not his signing, Hodgson’s instance to play Joe Cole – first, behind the hole, and now to play him at all – is baffling, especially given how after 30 minutes, he resorts to standing on the left-wing, hands on hips, out of breath, trying to backheel a thread through a needle that isn’t even there.

To claim Hodgson’s tactics are pre-historic raises philosophical questions over the enormity and concept of ‘history’.

Gone is the look of fear from teams such as Sunderland as they’re pressurised on the ball – they can now stroll into Liverpool’s final third with a bank of six lined up opposing them, like static pawns on a chessboard, awaiting their next move.

Gone is the confidence and dominance of Pepe Reina, who know must deal with Jamie Carragher stepping on his toes as Liverpool retreat further back, content to concede possession and territory, regardless of opponent or venue.

Gone is the sight of Glen Johnson, Dirk Kuyt, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres linking up in the final third with quick, incisive, high-tempo passing and movement. Johnson does not cross the halfway line anymore, while Dirk stands on that same line looking lost. Steven Gerrard is now back in his best position, apparently, despite what the Sky pre-match graphics say and Fernando Torres is a substandard Bobby Zamora.

But most worrying of all for Liverpool supporters is that this is not going to change, and it’s not going to change because he doesn’t realise he is at Liverpool Football Club.

Hodgson delighted in telling the press these methods won him the league at Malmo, Halmstads and Copenhagen; how his methods won games at the Swiss national side and Neuchatel Xamax.

He is not a young manager who will learn. He is a manager who has learnt, and this is the product of it. He will not adapt, he will not experiment, despite the fact a defeat to Blackburn would result in its worst league start ever.

This is it for Liverpool Football Club under his reign.

Even more galling than his performances on the pitch are his embarrassments off it.

Northampton were formidable opponents, and he fondly recalled a famous night in Trabzonspor just eighteen months after the football club had beaten Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate.

The most abject derby display in living memory was described as the second-best performance of the season. Dominance, according to him, consists of Steven Gerrard clipping balls into Tim Howard’s arms as Everton looked increasingly likely to score a third.

He didn’t seem much of a gentleman when he mocked Danish and Norwegian journalists, saying he’d never wish to work there again; nor does he seem a gentleman when he constantly snipes at reporters who treat him infinitely better than his predecessor.

He doesn’t appear to have used his 30 years in football when he condemned those protesting for the removal of Tom Hicks and George Gillett; he didn’t seem understand that special affinity Liverpool supporters have with their football club.

With Torres arguing with Carragher on Sunday on the Goodison pitch, and Daniel Agger – our best defender victim of consistent unprofessional sniping by the manager - leading a queue of players desperately unhappy at the football club, it appears that the lost dressing room is still somewhere down the back of the sofa.

He was given the Liverpool job under certain circumstances, but those circumstances have changed.

With the takeover of NESV and the removal of Tom Hicks and George Gillett on Friday, the Goodison derby on Sunday should have been time for renewed optimism and a positive look into the future.

It wasn’t, and it proved we can not go forward if remnants of the past remain.

For the sake of the football club and for the sake of the supporters, Roy Hodgson has to leave Liverpool Football Club with whatever semblance of dignity and reputation his has left; if he doesn’t, he could take them down with him.

See? I told you I wasn’t very good at satire. It appears I'm as equally inept with analogies and metaphors as well. I suppose I’m Carry On Knockers to Rory’s Office; I guess I’m just Roy Hodgson to his Rafael Benitez.

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