Six seasons ago a young Spanish man walked through the doors at Anfield and seemed to instantly endear himself to the Liverpool faithful. The Gerard Houllier era had turned sour the season before and there were few on the Kop who disagreed with the decision of the Liverpool board to call time and bring in Rafael Benitez, fresh off the back of lifting the UEFA Cup, and almost 12 months after his Valencia side had ripped the Reds apart in a pre-season friendly.
Whilst his early league results did not set the world alight, the fans saw something in him that they liked and were prepared to stand by him. He famously joined a bunch of reds supporters for a drink in Leverkusen which was unheard of in the modern game and his run to the Carling Cup final and the fairytale that was Istanbul meant his star rose to practically untouchable heights.
Roy Hodgson has been in the Liverpool hot seat for little over three months and already the vultures are circling. Whilst there is no real danger that he will be sacked before the season is out, his tenure will not last much longer than that if he is unable to win over The Kop. It was The Kop after all that bought Rafa time when the Americans looked certain to give him the axe three seasons ago.
Hodgson’s start could hardly have been tougher. If the fixture schedule had threatened to disrupt his honeymoon period, Joe Cole’s opening day sending off and subsequent suspension, Reina’s last minute error against Arsenal and Mascherano’s unforgivable and ultimately disruptive antics on the day of the away trip to City all but cancelled it. Whilst the Europa League has provided Roy with five wins out of five, few have been there to bare witness.
The closeness of the scoreline in the loss to United on the back of a bore draw at Birmingham did nothing to quell the growing murmurs of unrest and the humiliating loss to Northampton only fuelled the frustration further. Few disagreed with the decision to take the opportunity to give the fringe players a chance and blood some youngsters in the game, we, like Roy, just expected better from them.
A spirited Sunderland team proved to be a match for the ‘A Team’, and so came to an end a relative disaster of a week. The murmurs have swollen and one could be forgiven for thinking that Hodgson is all of a sudden fighting for his job.
His real problem appears to be that he is not Rafa. There was and still is a large section of the Liverpool following who want Rafa to still be at the helm. For those people, Hodgson’s teething problems have only heightened their loyalty to ‘El Gaffer’.
But. . .
These same people need to realise that Rafa will not be coming back and that things at Anfield have changed. Hodgson will be given time, of that there is surely no doubt, but he also needs to be given the same backing the fans afforded his predecessor; the same fans who need to remember that, in the beginning, for every Juventus there was a Southampton, for every Olympiakos a Crystal Palace, and of course, for Northampton, read Burnley.
Hodgson is Hodgson just as Rafa was Rafa. Hodgson has spoken well in interviews and is eager to champion the Liverpool way in the same fashion that Benitez did. He deserves the chance to do so.
Benitez was given time, and losses, as he tried to rebuild the uninspiring and much maligned squad that he had inherited. Hodgson needs the same. Whilst the spine of the current crop is up there with the rest of the league, the fringes are not, and the squad as a whole does not compare favourably with five of the six teams that finished above it last season. The same five teams have been allowed to strengthen in the mean time whilst Liverpool have sold as many players as they have brought in. With Roy’s supposed minimum requirement is to break back into the top four, the facts do not add up.
Hodgson has been given the task of steering the club through the most turbulent period in its history, a mountainous task that all of a red disposition hope does not prove insurmountable. The only factor that can be controlled is the support the team and the manager receive as they try to steer the club to more calm, more successful waters. The fans must shoulder their responsibilities and get behind the team and its leader, for that is the Liverpool way and it must walk on.
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