Hodgson's England - What Can Be Learnt From His Time at Liverpool?

Roy Hodgson's success in the English game - if you can call it that as he is yet to win an English trophy in 40 years of management, meaning he has a worse record than almost any previous English manager - have all come at clubs where expectations were negligible.

It was during the home defeat to bottom-of-the-league Wolves in late-December 2010 that the sarcastic 'Hodgson for England' chants really began to ring around Anfield. The defeat was just one low-point among many during Roy Hodgson's short, ill-fated reign as Liverpool manager - when he was finally sacked in January 2011 his legacy was to leave Liverpool hovering above the relegation zone with their worst start to a season since 1953-1954, when they were relegated. Few observers at Anfield during the Wolves game could have predicted that less than 18 months later Hodgson actually would be on the cusp of taking charge of the national team.

Hodgson's success in the English game - if you can call it that as he is yet to win an English trophy in 40 years of management, meaning he has a worse record than almost any previous English manager - have all come at clubs where expectations were negligible. Fulham were almost on their knees when he was surprisingly appointed in December 2007, seemingly dead certs to be relegated. Hodgson revived them, saved them from the drop and the following year took them to the final of the much-maligned Europa League (where they eventually lost to Atletico Madrid). Hodgson has performed a similar ship-steadying feat at West Bromwich Albion (albeit minus the eye-catching cup run).

But it is his time at Liverpool that is perhaps most instructive of the type of manager England fans can expect - Liverpool are, after all, one of the few clubs where the expectation is, rightly or wrongly, equal to that of the national team - arguably more so. So what can his time at Liverpool tell us about what Hodgson's England will look like?

Tactically, Hodgson has barely wavered from the tried and tested, rigid 4-4-2 that was a staple of the British game during the 1970s and 1980s. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of players were used to the 4-2-3-1 system deployed by Hodgson's predecessor, Rafa Benitez, Hodgson persisted with 4-4-2 at Liverpool. Indeed, early on in his reign, Hodgson was asked about this issue by a British journalist (recounted on his Twitter page here). His response was instructive: "However you describe them", Hodgson apparently remarked, "a lot of tactics are the same". But as most football fans know, a lot of tactics are generally not the same, and the problem with a rigid 4-4-2 is that it is very easy to get outnumbered and outfought in midfield. Indeed, this is precisely what happened to Hodgson's Liverpool time and again - and was also a key issue in England's humiliation at the hands of Germany during the last World Cup).

In terms of a style of football, Hodgson likes his defenders to play long from the back - a hallmark of his time at Anfield were the long balls played by Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel into the channels for Fernando Torres to chase. Indeed, Hodgson alienated many of Liverpool's more cultured defenders through his insistence that the first priority should be the long ball. Glen Johnson, one of the most attacking full-backs in the country, made it clear he was unhappy with Hodgson's 'boring' style of play, while Daniel Agger complained that he was "a footballer who keeps the ball on the floor. I'm here to play, not to unload."

Hodgson won't, of course, be signing players for England, but his purchases for Liverpool are indicative of the kind of players he might try to utilise for the national team - players he thinks he can trust. Hodgson's transfer budget was far more meagre compared to that which Dalglish has enjoyed, but where he was given money to spend he largely spent it on players with whom he had previously worked, or those who he regarded as being able to fit into his blueprint for the future. So in came 30-year-old journeyman Christian Poulsen for £4.5million, a player who was often the subject of ridicule at Juventus but with whom Hodgson had known from his time in Denmark. To solve Liverpool's problem left-back position, Hodgson opted for 29-year-old Paul Konchesky, for whom Hodgson gave his former club Fulham £4million plus two promising academy players. Both signings were almost immediately shipped out by Kenny Dalglish, Konchesky to Championship sides Nottingham Forest and then Leicester, Poulsen to French side Évian.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of Hodgson's time at Liverpool was a fatal inability to grasp the heightened expectations that were now resting upon his shoulders. He was unable - or unwilling - to recognise that the job of managing Liverpool is fundamentally different from that of managing the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland or Fulham. Following an uninspiring draw at home to Sunderland, for example, Hodgson quipped that it was a 'very commendable' result and that "we deserved our point". After an embarrassing defeat against local rivals Everton, Hodgson suggested that what many saw as a dire performance was in fact "as good as we have played all season". Hodgson described a last-minute victory against Bolton at Anfield as a "famous victory". Comments such as these may be acceptable in Sweden, Finland or even at the Hawthornes. But to the Anfield faithful, they were patronising in the extreme.

If Hodgson is to be a success with England, it is the weight of expectation that he will, belatedly, have to come to terms with. If his time at Liverpool is anything to go by, England fans had better expect a bumpy ride.


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