Mersey misery

Peter Fraser looks at the points of debate and attempts to locate the cause of the despair at Liverpool

Last Updated: 11/10/10 8:25pm

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Anfield: Where is the solution to ongoing problems?

Anfield: Where is the solution to ongoing problems?

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When Roy Hodgson was officially appointed as Liverpool manager in July he told an engaging story about how he once visited the club's Melwood training ground in the early 1990s.

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For then Malmo boss Hodgson, it was a trip taken from Sweden with a team of his assistant coaches in order to learn about the methods of one of Europe's regal and most famous clubs.

Graeme Souness was in charge at Anfield at the time, however, the legendary Bob Paisley was still a presence at the club and could regularly be found making appearances in the corridors of Melwood.

Hodgson therefore had the chance to share a cup of tea with Paisley, a man who guided Liverpool to six first division titles, three European Cups, one Uefa Cup and three League Cups among several other pieces of silverware.

It was an unforgettable experience for Hodgson and provided a gateway into methods, philosophy and expectations, while installing the now 63-year-old with a determination to mirror that image when following in Paisley's footsteps two decades later.

But nothing is assured. Hodgson has endured a horrific start to his Liverpool career and only now will he have a full understanding of the pressures, with reports suggesting that he is facing the sack.

The club is shrouded in misery both on and off the field, and boardroom chaos has been providing the soundtrack to dire footballing performances. Sunday's defeat to Blackpool has left the club drowning in the Premier League relegation zone and usurped September's Carling Cup nightmare against League Two Northampton as a low point. Where did it all go wrong?

Hodgson - Still the right man?

It was generally assumed that Hodgson was never viewed as a long-term appointment, but that he was the right man at the right time.

The former Fulham boss was only handed a three-year contract and it is reported that get-out clauses were installed to cater for any possible change of ownership at Liverpool.

The weight of scepticism is now mounting on Hodgson and it does not make pleasant viewing to see an honest, polite and intelligent man striking such an increasingly stark image of loneliness on the touchline.

Unfortunately for Hodgson, he was placed at the helm of a rudderless ship. He cannot possibly have known the full extent of the club's problems or he would surely never have left Craven Cottage.

Hodgson was acknowledged as the perfect person for the job in the summer and was offered the clichéd honeymoon period. But the shock to Northampton increased murmurs of an unhappy marriage and the defeat to Blackpool has snowballed talk of divorce papers.

Hodgson cannot be blamed for the overall mess at the club. But he has not stopped the rot and some of his tactics have raised eyebrows. Liverpool were crying out for a change of on-field style after Rafa Benitez, but Hodgson has essentially replicated his predecessor in tactics, while juggling players, positions and formations with less success.

The signings of Paul Konchesky, £2.5million goalkeeper Brad Jones and the horribly one-paced Christian Poulsen also look like mistakes.

But it should be remembered that it is only October. Hodgson needs to be offered until at least Christmas to really make his mark. There needs to be a sense of reality and perspective.

League titles are no longer the immediate aim. It needs to be highlighted that a lack of money and UEFA Champions League football limited the search for a successor to Benitez. Hodgson needs time and a quick-fire sacking of a manager is not the Liverpool way, but a victory over Everton in the Merseyside derby after the international break is now vital.

The owners - 'Built by Shanks, broke by Yanks?

Club co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have been public enemy No.1 almost since the day the Texas-based businessmen moseyed into Anfield early in 2007. The Kop and the influential Spirit of Shankly supporters' union led fresh chants and protests on Sunday amid vehement accusations of lies and ulterior motives against the Americans.

Gillett and Hicks need to shoulder a vast quantity of the blame. The impact of a global recession cannot be underestimated, but a promised and essential new stadium has failed to materialise and Liverpool have been burdened with an estimated £237million debt.

Royal Bank of Scotland is owed the majority of that fee and is close to calling in the monies as fears of administration rumble around the red half of Merseyside. Hicks, though, is understood to be continuing attempts to refinance in order to maintain his control, which would confirm many fans' worst fear.

The club has been horribly mismanaged off the field. In the eyes of Liverpool followers, Gillett and Hicks only have thoughts for their own wallets and have drastically misunderstood the ethos of the club. Former chairman David Moores has rightfully also come under some criticism for selling to owners who have since appeared to have little interest in the club's well-being and future.

This is a far from appealing package for any potential new owner. Barclays Capital was hired in April to help with a sale, new chairman Martin Broughton, whose Chelsea loyalty is not a strong selling point, and managing director Christian Purslow have failed to find fresh investment and must also be held accountable.

As a result, Liverpool have been crippled in the transfer market and the wave of discontent has moved in tremors throughout the core to lead to uncertainty, pessimism and a lack of confidence.

The players - Time to take the blame?

Boardroom issues will be influencing performances, however, it seems that in some cases it has become a shield for players to hide behind in order to deflect from their own half-hearted efforts. Fans are becoming restless.

In comparison with having personal lives splashed across the front and back pages of Sunday tabloids, it is difficult to see how players' confidence and psychological wellbeing can be affected by the fact that the club's books are in a mess.

For the likes of Liverpool diehards Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, it is easy to understand that they are suffering with the state of their beloved club. The same can also be said of adopted Scousers such as Jose Reina and Dirk Kuyt.

However, for others there is no escape. Fernando Torres needs to up his game when he finally overcomes his ongoing injury problems, Glen Johnson is still to justify his expensive 2009 price-tag, while the likes of Konchesky and Poulsen must quickly get to grips with life at Liverpool. Fans would also prefer to see youngster Jay Spearing's energy used in midfield over Lucas Leiva.

It cannot be forgotten that the fixture-list served up Arsenal at home and trips to Manchester United, Manchester City and Birmingham, who at the time were unbeaten at home in almost one year, in the first five league matches of the season. But that is no excuse for the display against Blackpool, a scrappy win over West Brom and a disappointing Anfield draw with terrible travellers Sunderland. The league table does not lie.

Benitez - 'Rafa's cracking up?'

Former manager Benitez has become a scapegoat for some of Liverpool's problems and it is correct that the now Inter Milan boss has left Hodgson with riddles to solve.

The Spaniard was criticised throughout his six years in England for his signings and rightly so in some cases (Fernando Morientes, Josemi and Jermaine Pennant).

He especially lost the plot as he approached the end of his tenure as he brought in misfits (Robbie Keane, Andrea Dossena and Alberto Aquilani) and his stubborn attitude forced out excellent players (Xabi Alonso and Peter Crouch).

But it must also be remembered that Torres and Reina are at Anfield thanks to Benitez and it is now clear that the former Valencia boss was significantly overachieving when he guided Liverpool to second position in the 2008/09 Premier League. That must not be forgotten.

There is, though, another angle which has added to the frosty tension at Liverpool. Benitez's relationship with the media and, more importantly, his club's board and his players became untenable at the end of last season.

His interviews became slightly embarrassing due to his clear distractions and refusal to answer questions with anything other than a party line. He brought unnecessary attention on the club which only helped the doom-mongers to twist the knife.

Rival fans used to chant, 'Rafa's cracking up'. They did not seem to be wrong and Benitez left Hodgson with unnecessary problems to fix and relationships to appease.

Kenny Dalglish - Save our souls?

On Sunday chants of 'Dalglish' rolled off The Kop like waves on The River Mersey as Liverpool fans demonstrated who they want as the club's manager.

Dalglish is the undisputed icon of Anfield. He epitomises the attitude and charisma after hugely-successful periods as a player and manager, with the latter emotionally coming to an end in 1991.

But is his presence now an unsettling factor upon Hodgson and players?

Dalglish, currently in a directorial role in the youth set-up, wanted the manager's job in the summer in an attempt to answer an SOS call from his favourite club. He applied for the position, but was told he was not a candidate by Broughton and Purslow.

Hodgson will know this and he will be aware that he would badly lose in a fans' popularity contest with Dalglish. It therefore seems almost inevitable that the Scot would step into the breach once more, if only on a temporary basis, if there is a change in management.

There is no doubt that Dalglish's appointment would bring a huge boost in morale, atmosphere and intensity among players and supporters alike, while also slightly easing the pressure on the board. However, at present he is providing another talking point.

It also needs to be remembered that the Premier League is now a totally different breed since the 59-year-old last managed in England's top flight with Newcastle in 1998. He is not certain of success.

Who is to blame for Liverpool's problems? Have your say.

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