By Kevin Koczwara
To say that Liverpool had a disappointing season last year is an understatement. The team was horrible for most, if not all, of the Premier League season and the Champions League. The club finished in an unprecedented seventh place and did not make it out of group play in the Champions League.
What made the poor season worse for the club was it finished with a record high of 86 points the season before and finished second behind rivals Manchester United. There were high hopes for the club going into the 2009-10 campaign, but nothing went its way.
Manger Rafael Benitez was sacked after the club’s horrid display in the EPL and European competition. The players didn’t look comfortable, many, such as the team’s captain Steven Gerrard, looked confused and frustrated. At times it seemed as though the team lacked motivation.
After Benitez’ departure, it was clear that Roy Hodgson was the club’s owners and advising committee’s first choice, and they got their man. Despite cries from their fans calling for the hiring of legendary striker and manager Kenny Dalglish – who was in charge of finding a new manager and requested the position.
Hodgson was so highly sought after because of the miracle work he did with Fulham the last two years. He saved the club from relegation after being appointed on Dec. 28, 2007 and then proceeded to lead the club to its highest finish ever in the Premier League in the 2008-09 season, seventh. In the following year the club’s resources were tested as it advanced to the UEFA Cup final under Hodgson, but finished lower in the league table because it lacked the deptht to compete in two top competitions.
Those were great achievements at Fulham, a small club in England’s Premier League. Now Hodgson has the task of breaking a 21-year-old curse at one of the biggest clubs in the world and, arguably, England’s most successful club with limited resources.
Hodgson is being asked to bring home the Premier League trophy, something the club has never done, and end the 21-year title drought. Liverpool has a record 18 top-flight championships, but has won none since the inception of the Premier League and Hodgson will be asked to win it as soon as possible despite his scrambled squad and limited transfer budget.
Liverpool lost one of its best midfielders last summer when Benitiez sold Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, and his loss was evident in the squad. No one could replace the smooth-passing, tactically brilliant midfielder on the field, and now Hodgson’s job is to find a suitable replacement without losing any of his other key assets – which will be harder than anyone will think.
Winger Yossi Benayoun has already left Liverpool for a different color jersey, Chelsea Blue, and many fear that some of the Kop’s other favorites could follow.
Gerrard is rumored to be leaving Liverpool every year, but never goes anywhere. The scouser captain is a lifer at his boyhood club and the key piece to the club’s team puzzle. He is the cog that makes everything run at Liverpool, the heart, the soul and the daredevil on the pitch that every team needs. If he goes by way of Spain, most notably Real Madrid, then Hodgson will surely have the toughest task of his life next season.
Also rumored to be leaving is goal-scorer Fernando Torres. The Liverpool ace has been nothing but dazzling since joining from Atletico Madrid in 2008. Torres is wanted by every club in Europe, but only a few can pay the price that he is valued at. His tag is so high that club’s will be warded off and cautious of the financial repercussions of acquiring such a star and highly touted player.
Most certainly on his way out is Javier Mascherano. The Argeninta captian is looking for a move to Barcelona, and has been looking for a while. He is wanted by both the club’s president and manager and could see himself there soon after the World Cup. Mascherano is done with living in England despite being a fan favorite. His family has struggled with the transition and a move to Spain makes sense for the Argentine midfielder, even if his style of play will not be welcomed by many, if any, of the referees there.
Mascherano’s move will be devastating to Hodgson and the Liverpool midfield. Mascherano is a great, if not the best, tackling midfielder in the world. He stops opposition attacks and can fill in at almost any defensive position in a tight spot. Hodgson will be well advised to keep him on his books, even if he needs the transfer money to make a few moves of his own.
What Hodgson will also have to do is be patient with the fans and the media in Liverpool. He will be under a microscope next year, one at least 100 times more powerful than the one at Fulham. He will need to be aware of all the transfer rumors that will swirl around the club and disrupt the dressing room. He will have to be on his game to keep all of his star players happy and motivated, and he will have to do to it with debt riding high over his head and a small transfer budget at a huge club with enormous expectations.
If Hodgson does well by the club and makes it a more attractive at the end of or during the 2010-11 season he could see new owners in place as George Gillett and Tom Hicks are looking to sell the club that they have come close to ruining.
Hodgson’s managing career has spanned 35 years in which he has managed 15 clubs. He has outstanding credentials, but his time could be short lived as Liverpool look to reclaim its glory despite being tied down by a mountain of debt and the possibility of a mass exodus. Hodgson is a manager of action and has shown in the past that he can win trophies and work miracles. If he can do what he did with Fulham in 2007 at Anfield then he will be among the greats. If he can’t, then he will just be another great manager who couldn’t reach the pinnacle and will be forgotten as Liverpool sinks even further down the Premier League’s pecking order.
Kevin Koczwara is a contributing editor and writer for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org