Managerial mysteries

Liverpool under Roy Hodgson has too often looked a wretchedly demoralised team, losing spinelessly to the modest likes of Wolves and Blackburn. How much of that could be blamed on Roy? Over to Brian Glanville.

William Goldman, one of the most successful screen writers of his time, once opined of Hollywood, “No one knows anything.” You may say just the same about football: and most certainly about football managers.

This premiership season, at least four of them have had their vicissitudes and of these, at least three have had distinguished records in the recent past. When things go wrong, as they have in all these cases, how is it explained? Who is to blame? The manager himself? His club and the way it is run? The players in his team? And if, in the final analysis, the manager, once the team he has picked and presumably briefed takes the field, how much power has he to affect what happens to him?

The case of Roy Hodgson, resigned alas, seems a particularly relevant and even poignant one. Let me here declare an interest. Roy is a long time friend whom I have long admired. Way back in 1994 when he had so unexpectedly and impressively taken an unfancied Switzerland team all the way to the World Cup finals in America, I had hoped that Roy might become the new manager of England. Yet all too recently the chorus, “Hodgson for England!” has become a malicious jibe from the Liverpool supporters.

How, you might ask and wonder, could things go horribly wrong at Anfield when Roy, who came straight from a season of sparkling success at Fulham, when he got his team, from way back deep in the summer and an exhausting series of fixtures, all the way to the finals of the Europa Cup — where they were so unlucky to lose to Atletico Madrid — could his move to Liverpool turn out to be so disastrous?

His experience at both club and international level has been vast and so largely impressive. It especially displeases me to find a bunch of disenchanted Liverpool fans asserting that he'd never done much at any club, including Internazionale of Milan.

Well, years ago, I spent time on the Inter training ground with Roy where he galvanised a side which had been flagging, to the huge admiration of Giacinto Fachetti once its star attacking left back and by then a senior administrator, and Fachetti it was who had been so determined to bring Roy to Inter, after his Swedish, Malmo, team had twice played Inter almost to a standstill in the European Cup.

But Liverpool under Roy have too often looked a wretchedly demoralised team, losing spinelessly to the modest likes of Wolves, at home, and Blackburn. How much of that could be blamed on Roy? In truth, I think he was wrong ever to take the job, but he seemed unable to resist the lure of managing such a great and famous club. Albeit it was one which, under the by then mistaken management of Rafa Benitez, erring in both transfer and tactics, the team had fallen on hard times: with endless turbulence in the boardroom, where the two American owners were constantly at odds. But even Benitez, so surprisingly appointed, then recently sacked by Inter, could hardly be blamed for the injuries and the ineffectual form of Fernando Torres, who should have been the paramount player.

It certainly didn't help Roy that he lost the pivot of his midfield, the Argentine Javier Mascherano. And his purchase of left back Koncheski from his ex-club Fulham was something of a disaster exaggerated when his mother went on a television online programme to launch a volley of ripe language in defence of her son. On the credit side, the Brazilian midfielder, Lucas, at last ran into form, though the loss for many games of the team's salient hero Steven Gerrard was a blow indeed. Hodgson was criticised for not taking a harder line against Fabio Capello for breaking his promise to take Gerrard off, subject to an injury as he was, well before the end of an England game. Gerrard stayed on and was duly injured again.

Mistakes: Roy was oddly off message when, after a humiliating defeat by Everton in the local derby, he praised his team's performance. And he was dicing with death when he declared that the traditionally loyal Liverpool supporters were not getting behind the team though they arguably were not. You could hardly blame Roy, though he resented the daft flourishing in the stands of a banner pleading for Benitez to return. Overall the fans wanted their former hero as player then manager Kenny Dalglish to come back: and as stop-gap manager, at least you could see the point. So Roy goes and Kenny returns to no easy task. Gerard Houllier is another manager I've known for many years, once a teacher in Liverpool, later, of course, for six years successful manager till laid low by a heart attack. Never a player of any consequence Houllier himself was an obscure amateur. He flourished in France, eventually becoming manager of the French international team. But when Aston Villa this season brought him back to England, I had qualms. Could he ever be the same man he once was at Anfield? Sophisticated figure though he be, Houllier can have a short fuse and for one reason or another he managed to fall out with several of his players. Though one saw Villa pull off a remarkable somewhat chaotic draw at Chelsea, results overall has been poor and relegation not out of the question. The patient American owner, insist his job is safe, but whether at this stage of his long career he's the man to revive an ailing team seems somewhat uncertain. And whatever motivated him to sign up the 37-year-old ex-French international attacker, Robert Pires, certainly star with Arsenal years ago, who can logically say?

Last season Carlo Ancelotti won the league and cup double with Chelsea: this season things have fallen dramatically apart. Chelsea were almost unbelievably bad when one saw them lose 3-0 at home to Sunderland. And going down 1-0 at Wolves, a team struggling for survival, emphasised the surprisingly poor form of supposed stars such as midfielder Michael Essien and even the usually formidable striker, Didier Drogba. Hard, at times, to understand the tactics of Ancelotti, not least the great gap left where a right flanker should be. Owner billionaire Roman Abramovich is not the most patient of owners: Did he not so impetuously sack the “special one”, Mourinho, himself?

As for Avram Grant, who briefly succeeded Mourinho at Chelsea but never seemed to have the confidence of the players, you could hardly blame him for failing to save an already stricken Portsmouth from relegation but his appointment to run West Ham United made no obvious success, and Hammers made an abysmal start to the Premiership. The nadir coming with a shattering 5-0 thrashing at Newcastle United, were both leading strikers were absent. Grant dismissed it artily and unconvincingly; it was just “a bad day at the office.” It was a very bad, bleak day indeed, making you wonder more than ever why Grant was given the West Ham job at all. For, unlike Hodgson, Ancelotti and Houllier, there are no real stars on his escutcheon.