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How English Football Is A Contradiction

Football can be a form of torture, seemingly designed to twist your blood into knots, defying any logic and contradicting even the wisest pundits and fans.

If Roy Hodgson had just lost to Manchester United and Blackpool there would be a full-throated cry from most Liverpool fans to get him out and bring in King Kenny. Towards the end of his tenure, there were those who wanted the team to lose in order to hasten his exit.

Sadly, for those people, its Kenny who has been in charge for these two results. They have played better but they’ve still lost and are not yet any better off for the change. It’s early and maybe they will get better results but maybe they would have under Hodgson. We will never know now.

But after such a change, those who wanted change have to discount these two losses as part of the old regime’s legacy. Those who pushed hard for a change have to get their explanations in quickly and make their excuses. They have to otherwise it looks like the club made a change for no reason or have made the wrong choice.

Every manager needs time to assert his influence but how much time is never clear. Hodgson didn’t get much. How much will Dalglish get? Who knows, but those who thought his obvious affinity for the club might be enough to turn things around quickly must be a bit dismayed this morning. Their defending was at times atrocious. Perhaps this was Hodgson’s fault or perhaps the players are just not that good or both or neither. Upon such debates is the culture of football based.

Interestingly, a change of manager usually brings a temporary improvement in form – as Ipswich proved last night – but in a university statistical study, it was discovered that on average by the 12th game, the improvement has lapsed and the form has not actually improved. There are exceptions to this though and Liverpool fans will be hoping they are one of the exceptions.

But this is football all over. Every time you think you’ve made the right decision, something happens to contradict you. Those who think Avram Grant is a dead weight around West Ham’s neck and want rid of him must, somewhere inside, have been a bit dismayed to see them win their League Cup game. Indeed every time he seems to be on the verge of the sack, he gets a decent result. Yet the Hammers are bottom of the league so he must be rubbish, right? But they’re one game away from Wembley in the League Cup so he can’t be that bad , can he? Err…..bloody hell, who knows? After all, someone has to be bottom of the league. Does it always mean you’re a terrible manager? Maybe 20th is West Ham’s rightful position.

As fans and as writers we always want things to be obvious and easy but in football this is so rarely the case. Just when you think you’ve got a settled view on someone, something happens to contradict it. Arsenal fans must feel this acutely. Watch them one week and they look like world beaters and all set for a push for the title. Other weeks they look lightweight, just as they did against Ipswich. It’s like watching two different teams at times. You can’t say they’re a great side but then sometimes, they are. This flip-flopping gives veracity to all extremes of opinion and to all shades in-between.

And that’s why football is so popular. It allows for almost every view to be held simultaneously with some degree of justification and for us all to fight our corner with conviction. The only hard fact we can agree on is that the ball is round……………..or is it spherical….or….is that the same thing?

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  1. Yespage

    January 17, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Sack the manager! It worked so well when they sacked Rafa, so if they sack Kenny, they’ll get better. I hate quick sackings. Seems to give the wrong impression that the coach has such an indomitable control of the team.

    This team came very close to winning a Title in 08-09 (just two seasons ago). Since Alonso and Benayoun left, Liverpool has not recovered, though one could look at forwards as well. They only have a single striker in Torres. Stoke City have more fire power up front with Jones and a dive happy Fuller! I never get excited when Babel or Ngog gets the ball. And Gerrard just doesn’t have anywhere near presence he’s had in the past, despite a few short flurries of brilliance this year. Michael Etherington has a very strong presence in Stoke games. He gets the ball and makes things start to happen. Sometimes I can’t even tell if Gerrard has the ball. I’m also waiting for players like Lucas to go away. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an announcer say, “What a wonderful effort by Lucas”.

    Liverpool has Kuyt and Reina. Those are the only two players you can absolutely count on… though Kyrgiakos is rather dependable. You never know when Glen Johnson is going to make a great effort at the net or completely goof on defense. This team has talent, but they don’t seem to play with heart.

    • nathan

      January 17, 2011 at 11:20 am

      Kyrgiakos dependable?? Are we watching the same matches??

  2. mintox

    January 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Hodgsons style simply didn’t suit the club for where it is right now (or maybe ever). It’s not to say he’s a bad manager, far from it, I still believe that Hodgson is a good manager but his style is suited to certain clubs and types of players.

    It’s been oft quoted that Hodgson played negative football which is a simplistic view of fans who simply don’t understand what he’s trying to do. He prefers low pressure defence, and numbers around the box to stifle the opposition as opposed to the high pressure defence promoted by teams such as Arsenal, Barcelona or even Liverpool under Benitez.

    It’s not negative it’s just a different style of defending but obviously by sitting so deep, it requires the strikers/forwards to hold up the ball and tall strong defenders. We failed to do this all season and thus our inability to keep posession results in us sitting deep in defence all game.

    Which brings me to the crux of the problem, you can’t fit square pegs in round holes. We’ve played Konchesky, Skrtel and Kyrgiakos together rather than our ball playing defenders. Torres and Ngog have struggled to hold the ball after being out muscled by defenders.

    We’ve become negative because we cannot execute Hodgsons plan. At the end of the day his plan suits a team with more workman like players ie Fulham.

    You could argue that the fans should have given him more of a go but the problem with Hodgson is that he was never perceived as one of us. From Shanks through to Evans, they were all considered our own, even Houllier was given time because he’d lived in Liverpool and understood the club. Benitez went out of his way to understand the fans and the culture at the club plus he looked to have restored some pride after winning the Champions League but Hodgson has done none of that. His press conferences are weak at best, he doesn’t stand up for his players in light of criticism by other managers to the fans he looks like a mercenary rather than a manager that has a real affinity to the club. And that was probably his biggest failing

  3. Gaz Hunt

    January 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Right on the mark, John.

    I wrote an article recently explaining that I think Hodgson is one reason but not the entire reason for Liverpool’s woes. Replacing one man doesn’t change the fact that poor play (especially defense) and players that aren’t up to par will get any manager similar results on the pitch (a 2-1 loss to Blackpool, apparently).

    However, King Kenny is the best man for the job and should stay on. He’s already shown some positive signs over Hodgson. With the fans fully behind him (they won’t ever turn on our famous number 7), he’ll have the time needed to have an impact at the club. Even better, maybe we can finally start holding the players accountable and not let them hide behind the managers tactics, man-management, etcetera.

    • JC

      January 13, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      Respectfully, I think you’ve set it up so he can’t fail (Gaz, not John). According to you, if Liverpool continues to play poorly under Kenny, it’s because of the players. If they play better, it’s because he’s the best man for the job. I understand why, he’s a Liverpool favorite and you love him. That’s cool and all, but it hardly makes for an accurate look at the situation. And even though I agree that clubs can play better and still lose, it also clearly illustrates that Hodgson wasn’t judged solely on performance.

      • Gaz Hunt

        January 14, 2011 at 10:48 am

        Read what I’ve written. I completely agree but still think that Kenny will be able to push us forward better due to taking the “blame the manager” excuse out of the equation (despite it being just or unjust).

  4. nathan

    January 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    While I think you have to give a manager time, I think that Roy cannot have been excused for some of his atrocious team selections. Playing 3 or 4 players out of position at times, not making changes when it wasn’t working, making changes too late, leaving in form players on the bench; it’s all been done and it’s no good. I think Dalglish made a mistake in choosing Jovanovic, but I understand that he was probably trying to fit the player back into the squad and get him a confidence boost. However, as bad as he was, I can excuse it as a failed experiment unless he tries to start him again in the next few matches.

    Additionally, the tactics that Roy was implementing were so dull. Boot the ball up to Torres, who either loses the header or wins it to no one, and then chase it. Possession and playing the ball out of the back would reduce the pressure on the defenders a bit. (As an aside, I’ve never missed Carragher in the side more than I do now…Carragher on one leg would be better than Kyriagkos).

    It should also be noted that Liverpool lost to ManU on only a disputable penalty, and played with 10 men for 2/3rds of the match. Beating them under those circumstances would have been a huge feat for any side. Hardly a sound beating. Also, the loss to Blackpool, while disappointing for sure, was lost on a favorable bounce for the first goal and a defensive blunder on the second goal. The Liverpool players switching off trying to recover after a set piece is more a referendum on the players than the manager.

    Time will tell as to whether or not Dalglish can have a positive impact on the club, but surely his track record warrants at least waiting a few more matches before jumping to conclusions, right?

    • Gaz Hunt

      January 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

      “The Liverpool players switching off trying to recover after a set piece is more a referendum on the players than the manager.”

      But see this is my and, though I don’t want to speak for him, I think the writer’s point.

      Players make blunders all the time. Roy had many goals scored against his side because of blunders – but fans and media put it all down to his poor player choice, man-management, or tactics. Our players have made some insanely silly mistakes this season and have gotten away with an easy ride due to the ease of placing it all on Hodgson. Now with King Kenny we’re finally ready to put some accountability on the players.

      King Kenny is a better manager for us but it’s still a double-standard.

      • nathan

        January 14, 2011 at 8:17 am

        The frequency of the blunders, though, is directly affected by the lack of confidence and spirit that the side has, and the lack of confidence and spirit I think came from players being in and out of the team, playing in the wrong position, or failing at executing the tactics that Roy was demanding. As manager, it is his job to understand what tactical approach best fits the players he has at the beginning, and if he wants to change it, he will have to do so gradually by finding those players that fit into his preferred approach. You can’t just say “Hey everyone, you’ve done a certain thing for the past 5 years, but we are going to do something completely different….starting now.” It has never worked in any sport. Add to that the fact that winning the long ball up the field is, or at least seems to be, a (relative) weakness for Torres, and you have a side that is constantly getting more and more frustrated because they can never sustain successful execution over an period of time during a match. Besides, whether the owners were aware of this or not, that style is distinctly not Liverpool anyway. I don’t know of too many top sides who’s tactics hinge on the long ball, and if Liverpool wants to be a top side, then tactically they need to play like one. Hodgson was taking them the opposite way.

        And all that said, Dalglish may turn out to be no better than Roy. But I think that Roy HAD to go, and as soon as the owners reached that decision, it had to be done with enough time to still execute a strategy in the January window.

  5. Danielle Warren

    January 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Interesting piece, but I have to say that I really disagree with a lot of it. No matter how hastily you think Liverpool fans reacted to wanting Hodgson out, there is no way that anyone would be screaming for Kenny’s head after four days. That’s not to say I wasn’t disappointed with the two losses, as I’m sure any Liverpool fan was, and that there is definitely some work needed to be done. But the fact of the matter remains that there is just no way Hodgson would have ever turned it around, or at least it would have been highly unlikely.

    I say this not just because of his abysmal record with the club (20 played, won 7, lost 9), but his negative tactics and refusal to alter his methods. He had no plan B, and while he may be a good manager by being able to take mid-table teams to a secured position, he is not a great manager. Great managers have won trophies, adapted their methods over time, and get the best out of the players they have, whether or not they bought them. Hodgson refused to do any of this, and that’s why he is no longer the manager.

    I never thought that the second Dalglish was appointed we’d be world beaters again. The lack of confidence in the squad (instilled mostly by Hodgson) will take some time to get back. And while the defeats may be all that most pundits and rival fans remember, Liverpool fans will know that already so much has drastically changed for the better. The team is passing again, not just hoofing long balls and hoping something might happen. They are pressing higher up the pitch, and moving with purpose. The players looked lost under Hodgson and now have to get back to playing football.

    This may take some time, but that’s just fine. I think it’s too easy to compare the fact that if Hodgson had lost these games he’d be crucified. Difference is, the way the team played was overall so much more positive, and with that, eventually better results will come.

    • jeneria

      January 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm

      I’m a Liverpool supporter and I think the problem has nothing to do with managers. I think the problem lies in the players. Torres pouts, Gerrard growls, the rest run around like chickens with their heads cut off. They play like spazzes. I don’t know if it’s a lack of talent (although I do think this current team lacks depth overall and quality in the first team) or what the hell is going on, but I don’t think The Special One himself could turn this team around.

      • SoccerLimey

        January 14, 2011 at 1:08 am

        I agree with “jeneria”. I think we have fallen into the trap of believing that manager’s have a much greater influence on results than they actually do. In Liverpool’s case, nothing has changed. They are a mediocre team that can’t defend. Dalglish can provide nothing more than Hodgson without replacing players.

        This team passed under Hodgson, inaccurately but they passed. Long ball results from panic and desperation, which comes from losing. It’s a vicious spiral, and a new manager temporarily halts the tailspin. That’s the effect the club is looking for, especially in mid-season.

  6. Earl Reed

    January 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    People love trends and generalizations. Heck, a team down 3-0 can’t come back and win a best of 7 series (except when it happens, which is more often than you’d expect). That’s what’s making what Man United is doing a lesson in eventualities. Listen to the podcast, and you’ll hear Richard & the crew rarely say that United is the best team in the league. That’s because they haven’t played strong in a convincing fashion much. Few will be surprised if they fail to run the fixture list without a loss.

    In the same way, I don’t think Liverpool has played as poorly as their record indicates. So stats and trends go out the window. A missed header and a poor first touch, and Liverpool may have won the game yesterday. They weren’t outplayed that much.

    Liverpool definitely needs to get themselves on the right track. There have been brain farts, such as Meireles ill-advised back pass yesterday. But overall I do think it’s some bad luck, and teams have happened to make those mistakes count. Even with an inspirational figure like Dalglish, sometimes the bounces are going to go against you. Eventually that’s going to work itself out.

    • Joe

      January 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      I’d say you could go the complete opposite way with Manchester United and say, “look, they’re not even playing well and they haven’t lost. Imagine what’ll happen when they find their form!”

  7. sideways_steve

    January 13, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Good write up. I wondered if anyone else had noticed the double standard at Anfield. I am embarrassed at times to be a Liverpool supporter because other fans act so entitled. I had a hard time with the recent coaching change, not because I am a Roy fan but rather, I think coaching changes (in all of sport) are too hasty.

    As unpopular as this may be, I believe fans have too much power. Before you get upset with that statement, consider what percent of fans in all of sport are actually and relevantly knowledgeable about the entirety of running a franchise.

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