How Roy Hodgson's Liverpool will be different from Rafa's.
This piece is on a topic that at first glance may seem unimportant. That was my first instinct too. But then I thought about it, and realized that even though we have just begun with Roy Hodgson, the signs of things to come can be seen.
Yesterday night’s game between Liverpool and FK Rabotnicki in the Europa League qualifier 2nd leg was the first time I saw the Reds in action this season. It was the first time, I saw Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool in action. After 5 years and hundreds of games of Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool later, I had been accustomed to see a certain pattern whenever Liverpool played.
When Rafa Benitez was removed, I was disappointed. I really loved the man, especially how he stood up to the owners. Onto matters on the pitch, he was a typical new generation continental manager. Rafa Benitez believed more in strategies and preparations over the flair and spontaneity of the players. His belief in caution before any experimenting was religious. He was good at what he thought, and there is no way his controversial press conferences makes him a bad manager. He is one of the best managers in the world, 7th place finish or not.
So when Roy Hodgson was appointed the new manager, ahead of fancier names like Kenny Dalglsih, Manuel Pellegrini and Frank Riijkard, I did not really know what to expect. I was still unhappy over the removal of Benitez and the madness of the hierarchy in club affairs, and wasn’t entirely convinced that Roy was the man. But as every Liverpool fan in the land, it was our duty to back the manager. He deserved that. And hence, that is what we all did.
I was waiting all along to see how different everything will be from now on. I started warming up to Roy Hodgson in the first couple of weeks of pre-season. His interviews and press conferences were typically blunt. Rafa had a template ready to certain questions. Roy said it like he saw it. He was honest enough about the uncertainty regarding the futures of Gerrard and Torres. He even went on to accept a Ronaldo-esque bid would probably mean Torres leaving.
And then to the first game I saw. Trust me; the changes were small but unbelievably prominent.
Dani Pacheco had just come back a days earlier from his exploits for Spain’s U-19 team. He is an 19 year old rookie. Joe Cole had played for half a game in the last many months. There was no way Rafa, the perfectionist that he was, would make them play 90 minutes. Roy had no hesitation in doing so. Martin Kelly, in his 2nd start teamed up with Dani Pachecho on the left. Two rookies, allowed to express themselves. In the previous regime, a senior- pro would be there to help the junior out. Little changes like I said.
In the previous regime, the first movement on the bench would always take place around the 65th minute. The first substitution always took place a few minutes after that. Irrespective of how the game was poised. (Apart from a few cases, most famous of which was Didi Hamann coming on as the half time sub at Istanbul). Yesterday, Roy made his 2nd change, before 65.
Rafa Benitez was someone who was never satisfied. He wanted more. Gerrard used to say in interviews that a pat on the back meant so much because it was so rare. I had gotten used to that line of thought. And then after yesterday’s game when Liverpool could have scored over 10 goals, when Roy was asked whether he was happy with the performance, here was his reply.
“It’s enough. One more (goal) than the opposition is always enough. I am perfectly satisfied”.
There are the changes. No two managers are similar, but from what I see, these two in question are opposite poles. Roy is typically English. Direct. It is still early days but I believe this trend will continue. Maybe that is what Liverpool needed. A low profile, wheeler-dealer type of a manager, but strong enough to make his own mark on the team.
We will see a lot more youngsters thrust into the action. We will see spontaneous decision making. We will have a lot more blunt interviews.
Liverpool are going through a transition. The new manager is very different from the previous one. How I wish I’d be able to say that for the owners as well.