A Year on the Liverpool Offside: Roy Hodgson's January

hodgson ferguson embrace

Two weeks. Two weeks until the return fixtures begin. Two weeks until people start making resolutions they won't keep. Two weeks left in 2011. And so the time has come to look back on the last calendar year for Liverpool. A year for Kenny Dalglish, returned to lead his club after a lengthy time away. A first full year for John Henry and new owners Fenway Sports Group to convince an at times skeptical fanbase that they aren't the same as the last owners. An at times tumultuous and uncertain year for last January's player signings, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. A year that has seen the club move forward at pace, new owners and investment and management and a largely overhauled playing staff speaking to a newfound commitment to success, even if in the moment it always seems easier to spot the ways in which some particular decision or action instead represents a step backwards.

Which, of course, is at the root of the desire to look back, the urge to revisit old stories, stepping away from those individual good and bad moments in the present and attempting to take in the big picture. That and that over a busy holiday season, both on the pitch and off, looking back at months past represents something of a bit of free content that doesn't involve spending more time than is entirely sensible putting together charts, graphs, and substandard groin dong jokes.

Before this year is entirely over, then, we head back to when it had only just begun, with support for then-manager Roy Hodgson at an all time low after he ended 2010 heaping blame for his failures on the fans, leading FSG to take the unprecedented step of releasing a damning statement that in reality said nothing particularly surprising but did at least make it clear that as soon as they found a suitable replacement Hodgson would be gone.

Against that backdrop, the Liverpool Offside—and all the rest of the Liverpool-following world—tried to clear the cobwebs out as January kicked off with a series of rumours that, with all of Fenway Sports Group's potential managerial candidates tied up with the tricky business of managing their current clubs in the midst of the European football season, whether it was their preferred choice or not it appeared increasingly likely that Kenny Dalglish would be appointed any day now. He was, it seemed, the only viable option. He was a legend. He was the one the fans wanted. Only any day now didn't seem to come all that quickly, or at least not quickly enough for supporters who had spent the holidays burning through what little patience they had left for Roy Hodgson. And so Liverpool carried on under their lame-duck manager, beating Bolton on a last second Joe Cole goal before meekly losing to Blackburn in their first two games of the new year.

And so it began to seem as though for all of FSG's talk about wanting to replace Hodgson with the right candidate, with the owners hesitant to call on Dalglish and unable to settle on a permanent replacement mid-season, the soul-crushing reality seemed certain to be five more months of Roy Hodgson. None of which added up to a happy new year:

[FSG's press release] implied that Hodgson’s tenure would soon be over, but immediately took pains to point out that it might not be over until the end of the season. It mentioned that FSG was actively looking for a long term managerial solution, but it had always been assumed that Hodgson was a short-term hire in the best of circumstances. They sought to acknowledge that Hodgson had crossed a line when he went from blaming players and former mangers to attempting to deflect any blame from himself onto the Anfield faithful, but such distancing is hardly a surprise after your club’s manager has sent the supporters to join the b-team under the bus—it’s just damage control, and an absolute minimum of damage control at that.

Everything they said was significant only in that it seemed highly unusual for an ownership group to semi-officially seek to confirm such assumed truths publicly. So while in the end their leak may have said a lot of things, none of those things fundamentally altered the landscape. A cynic might even suggest that it was nothing but a bald faced attempt to buy time—perhaps for themselves, but perhaps too for Roy Hodgson.

The future, though, wouldn't turn out to be quite so bleak, and after a journey to meet with John Henry off the coast of 19th century West Africa, the long-awaited news finally arrived: Roy Hodgson was out, and Kenny Dalglish was in. And even if the story of Liverpool's greatest ever player, a club legend for his actions on the pitch and off, didn't start off quite how everyone might have hoped, at least there was hope.

In a way for Liverpool's fans, the new year arrived late. But on January the eighth, after it had begun to seem as though it never would, it finally did arrive.

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