LFC look to Hodgson, not Cole

Liverpool-based scribe Jamie Bowman takes the temperature in a great city at a crossroads...

Esteemed music journalist Paul Du Noyer once described Liverpool as “a drunken sailor of a town”, an apt phrase for a city which lurches between sentimentality, self-defence and rose-tinted optimism.

Case in point has been the reaction from Liverpool FC fans to the triple shot in the arm of Roy Hodgson’s appointment, Joe Cole’s arrival and Gerrard and Torres’s commitment to the club.

Suddenly the Reds’ support are toasting each other’s health, slapping each other on the back and loudly proclaiming that Roy and Joe are their best mates, when just weeks ago, the club seemed a tinderbox ready to blow up.

So should Liverpool fans be as optimistic as they are sounding? Was ex-defender Phil Thompson right when he called the signing of Joe Cole the “dawning of a new era”?

What this news has undoubtedly done is bring some much needed good vibes to Anfield. But is Joe Cole the answer to Anfield’s ailments? After the initial outbursts of joy some have questioned the credentials of a player who though universally liked has a lot to prove at the top level.

It's two years since Cole showed his best form and a four-year contract on a basic £90,000 a week rather devalues talk of a deft "free" transfer.

Cole is one of the true enigmas of English football – the kind we seem to specialise in (see also Tony Currie, Rodney Marsh, Matt Le Tissier). Despite leaving Chelsea as a firm fans' favourite and laden with medals it’s impossible to escape the feeling that Cole’s career has failed to live up to his undoubted skill.

Despite being one of only a handful of English players to have appeared in three World Cups, Cole has only completed a full game 11 times in his 56 caps. A succession of managers including Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancellotti, Sven-Göran Eriksson and now Fabio Capello have never entirely trusted his talent – over a third of his Chelsea appearances were as substitute. Sir Alex Ferguson, a long-time admirer of Cole during his early career, never even put in a bid this time around.

"'Ang on geezah, oi carn't do it orl meself"

Mourinho’s treatment of Cole is perhaps the most revealing as it is the Special One who is frequently blamed for stifling Cole’s sprit. What irked Jose so much was Cole’s frequent habit of giving the ball away. “I think he has two faces – one beautiful and one I don’t like. He must keep one and change the other one”, stated Mourinho and throughout his time as Chelsea manager he criticised Cole’s habit of losing possession with a trick or flick in a manner unlike say that of a Xavi or a Sneijder.

Then there are the injuries. Despite his many claims to the contrary, Cole has never been the player he was since a cruciate ligament injury in January 2009 left him on the sidelines for nine months. The turn of pace that left so many full backs twisting and turning seems to have gone, as has Cole’s bravery when riding a tackle.

Joe Cole’s purchase was lauded as a great capture for Liverpool and an impressive statement of intent by Roy Hodgson but it seems clear that getting the best out “the Cockney Pele” is going to be a severe test of the manager’s skills.

Which brings us to Hodgson himself. Speak to Reds fans and they’ll say Hodgson is “a safe pair of hands”, a “class act” and a “nice guy”. But is this enough to be in a role that requires at the very least a regaining of the Champions League place that has repaid Liverpool so handsomely these past five years?

Liverpool will be Hodgson’s 17th position as manager. Neither a bright young thing like Mourinho nor quite an old sage like Fergie or Sir Bobby Robson, it’s hard not to see Hodgson as anything but a journeyman. In a 35-year career Hodgson has never won a major trophy and has been sacked by Bristol City, Blackburn, Inter Milan, the United Arab Emirates and Udinese.

Six years ago, Liverpool were able to snap up one of the hottest managers around in Rafa Benitez, but after last season’s turmoil they’ve been left having to make a snap judgement on this year’s LMA Manager of the Year – a position previously held by such luminaries as Joe Kinnear, Frank Clarke and Danny Wilson. Could Hodgson be simply this year’s McClaren or Allardyce?

The answer, luckily for Reds fans, is almost certainly no and it’s at this point that Liverpool and its fans need a more sober sense of reality. The priority for many this season will simply be the removal of the owners. Any success on the pitch will be a big bonus and safe, steady Roy could be just the answer.

Many are now realising that Liverpool is not the club it was when it could snare one of the hottest names in European management in Benitez. No big name (excluding the ever-available Eriksson) would have touched Liverpool and so Anfield has Hodgson.

Hodgson is not a miracle worker but what he brings is steady and sometimes startling improvement. Average teams become contenders – witness Fulham, Switzerland and Halmstad, the Swedish team he turned from no-hopers to champions.

Simplicity, solidity and dressing room spirit seem to be his ace cards and Hodgson will undoubtedly win over a dressing room confused by Benitez’s negativity and worn down by his obtuseness. Players like and respect Hodgson and as a tracksuit manager he will have his finger on the pulse of the player’s moods far more than Rafa.

"Good Lord, what have I been bequeathed?"

Already in pre season, last year’s underachievers like Ngog and Aquilani look to have improved and Hodgson could well repeat his well worn trick of turning flops into heroes. Witness the rejuvenation of Duff, Murphy and Zamora at Craven Cottage.

To compare Liverpool to Hodgson’s previous club appears at first to be ludicrous. Fulham are a small, family outfit and their recent modest success is simply a bonus. Liverpool on the other hand is still the most successful side in English club football with a worldwide fan base and a recent pedigree of European success.

Their fans crave and expect trophies, coupled with attractive football – Hodgson has no real experience of producing both but with a change of expectations in and around the club there’s more than a chance Liverpool can improve on last year’s display and challenge for a Champions League place.

In some quarters Hodgson will be expected to do more than simply ‘steady the ship’ but this is unfair. The squad and the circumstances are simply not conducive to an assault on the title.

Reds fans may be relishing the chance to watch Joe Cole but it's more likely Hodgson who can provide the redemption. 

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