It was nice to see how Roy Hodgson celebrated Liverpool’s goal against Arsenal on Sunday – the brilliance of the goal got him up on his feet in celebration, but then he promptly took his seat again looking like he’d just reminded himself the job wasn’t done yet.
He might have been quietly cautious on this occasion, especially considering his side was down to 10 men, but in every other sense, he has sure brought the feel-good factor back to Liverpool Football Club.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s all they need to get the club back on track.
It might be a bit of a stretch to draw that conclusion based on one goal celebration, but if you compared it to one of the “enduring” images of his predecessor Rafa Benitez – his arrogant crossing of hands and shrug of the shoulders after his side had scored against Blackburn – then you can appreciate how much the English Premier League is better off now with Hodgson in charge of one of its greatest clubs.
Of course, Benitez will keep arguing (in typically arrogant fashion) that his gesture was misinterpreted, but that’s not the point – it was a gesture that you wouldn’t imagine a discerning, gentlemanly manager like Hodgson to make, and especially not with an ugly smirk.
And while Benitez spent the better part of two seasons publicly trying to sell off one of his midfield generals, Xabi Alonso, who actually wanted to stay at the club, Hodgson actually seems to be succeeding in persuading another midfield lynchpin to stay when he actually wants to leave.
He’s handled Javier Mascherano’s request to leave the club magnificently. His public message on the issue was simple and brilliant, appealing to the player’s sense of reason and paying tribute to him at the same time.
“We made it clear to him that if the offer he wanted came along we probably would not stand in his way but that offer has not come along and he is working hard to play for Liverpool,” said Hodgson.
“He is a realistic player. He is playing for Liverpool and is not looking for a move to a Spanish second division team – there are very few clubs in the world that can even consider having Javier Mascherano on their books. If he wants to leave he will be expecting a club of a similar stature to Liverpool to come along and at the moment they haven’t so I’m presuming he is very happy to stay here.”
It was a situation that could’ve been a real sticky one for the manager, much like how Alonso’s eventual departure last season had an effect on the team both on and off the field. There is no way an important player like Alonso can leave under those circumstances and not have his teammates feel slightly disappointed at their manager.
It seems football management has changed that way. Just a few years ago, managers would show players the door at the slightest hint of discontent, often quoting the “no player is bigger than the club” line.
Now managers are having to soften their stance a little. Arsene Wenger has had to plead with Cesc Fabregas to stay; Carlo Ancelotti doesn’t mind keeping Ashley Cole; Roberto Mancini won’t sell Robinho; and even Alex Ferguson is sticking with the injured Anderson after an alleged training ground bust-up.
Footballers today need a sincere arm around the shoulder every once in a while, something Benitez seemed too egotistical to do.
Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Hodgson has done to steady the ship. This is a team that doesn’t need an alpha male manager to stamp his mark on.
Hodgson doesn’t need to sell a Robbie Keane just to stick it to the owners, or farm out an Albert Riera just to warn off other players from criticising his methods. He just needs to pull them together.
After all, the core of the team that forced Manchester United to fight all the way for their 2008/2009 title is still there, as long as Mascherano doesn’t leave.
And as terrible as last season was for them, Liverpool had the best defensive record outside of Chelsea and United, even though they were without key defenders Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel for considerable periods.
What is also good about Hodgson is that he hasn’t said a single thing about the owners not giving him any money for transfers.
He has only spent less than £10mil this summer on promising young defender Danny Wilson and Juventus midfielder Christian Poulsen, since Jonjo Shelvey was signed by Benitez and both Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic were free transfers.
Yet, Hodgson has remained positive and optimistic, choosing not to play the blame game and focusing instead on working with what he has, just like any good manager would.
So it seems there will be plenty of good times ahead for Liverpool this season. The title might still be a bridge too far at the moment, but at least they’ll enjoy the ride a bit more.