A year ago today, Liverpool made the decision to relieve Roy Hodgson of his managerial duties, with Kenny Dalglish taking over as caretaker, before being given the job permanently. I believed then, and still believe, that the decision was premature, and Hodgson should have been given the time and money to try and turn Liverpool’s fortunes around.
So, one year on, what has changed?
Off the pitch a lot has changed. Kenny Dalglish is Liverpool’s greatest player, was a very successful manager and is a true icon for Liverpool. Everyone was happy to see him back, even those like myself, who questioned whether or not this was an appointment based more on sentiment than sense. His appointment, coupled with the relatively stable handling of the club by FSG, has helped unify a club that was so fractured a little over a year ago. But it is on the pitch where it really matters, and I’m not convinced that Liverpool are really much better than they were a year ago.
This time last year, Liverpool were twelfth in the league on 25 points. Now, Liverpool currently are in sixth on 34 points. At this point last season, Liverpool were 19 points behind the leaders, this season they are 14 behind. While it is undeniable performances on the pitch have improved (when Suarez plays anyway), results haven’t necessarily followed suit, and, considering the investment that has been made in the team, I don’t think 9 points is as big an improvement as would’ve been expected.
However, under Roy Hodgson, Liverpool had picked up more points at home (20) at this stage last season, than Liverpool have under Kenny Dalglish (18) at the same stage this season. Liverpool also had scored more home goals at this stage last season (17) than they have managed this season (14). At this stage last season, Liverpool had scored 24 goals. Currently, Liverpool have scored 24 goals, which is concerning as £103m has been spent on attacking players.
Under Dalglish, Liverpool have spent an estimated £118m on seven players. The figures can’t be confirmed until club accounts for Hodgson’s time in charge are made public (which will be in April/May), but it is believed he spent about £22m in transfer fees, which compared to Dalglish’s fees isn’t that much.
It’s unfair to compare the signings of the two managers as they made their signings in different circumstances. Dalglish got to shop in the boutiques; Hodgson had to shop in the thrift stores. Dalglish had time available to pick and choose his targets, with the exception of Andy Carroll, but Hodgson only got money to spend with days to go in the transfer window and had to buy whoever was available to fill the holes in his squad without having the luxury to pick the right target.
Hodgson’s signings were much maligned, but despite a few failures and despite what many would say, statistics show they mostly did a good solid job for the team in a difficult, transitional time. Raul Meireles was a big success, and his flair and creativity is badly missed by the current Liverpool team. Joe Cole (who it still isn’t known whether it was Hodgson, Rafa Benitez or Christian Purslow who actually signed him) joins the likes of Harry Kewell and Fernando Morientes on the long list of players that should’ve been a perfect fit for Liverpool but ultimately fell well short.
Kenny Dalglish’s transfers have similarly hit and miss. For his successes in the transfer market (Suarez, Adam and Enrique), there have been some high-priced transfers that so far, haven’t worked. Liverpool pursued a policy of buying British players in the summer, a policy I argued at the time was flawed, rather than buying the best players available, and it has yet to bear fruit. Stewart Downing, and Jordan Henderson were brought in, at a considerable cost, but neither has done much to justify their fees. Downing was brought in provide Carroll with the kind of crosses he thrives on, but has yet to make a single assist, Henderson has improved since being moved into a more central role, but still is a peripheral figure in matches more often than not. Andy Carroll’s signing is still as mystery, and not just because of the exorbitant fee paid for him. The way Liverpool play is totally unsuited to the way Carroll plays and vice-versa.
With big-money signings there are both bigger rewards and bigger consequences for failure. Whereas Hodgson’s signings were not exactly universal successes, they were brought in at a relatively low cost, so Liverpool could get rid of them at a loss without it being too painful financially. Dalglish’s transfer failures will come at a huge cost for Liverpool. If they were to cut their losses on both Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, they would lose a lot of money. The fees both players came for were so high, there was never really any hope of selling either for a profit no matter how they performed, so Liverpool had to hope both would be successful so they can get their money’s worth, which hasn’t happened so far.
There is a marked difference between how Dalglish and Hodgson come across in pre and post-match interviews. What’s weird is that both managers are trying to do the same thing, deflect blame and negativity, publicly at least, away from their players in a bid to boost confidence, but both have very different approaches to doing so. Hodgson used to talk performances up to a ridiculous degree on a regular basis, often coming across as foolishly optimistic, but at least he answered the question put to him more often than not. Dalglish can be very terse and evasive with the press, especially when the pressure is on, which has won him few friends in the media, and has led to a stream of negative press about certain players.
Liverpool are capable of playing the good, passing football that all fans want to see. However, when Suarez is absent and Andy Carroll is left up front on his own, as in the recent game against Manchester City, Liverpool revert to playing the same lazy long balls and dull, uncreative, uninspiring football that characterised Hodgson’s time in charge of Liverpool, which has not helped Carroll or the team in general one bit.
FSG have stated that they want Liverpool playing Champions League football next season, which at the start of the season looked to be the minimum objective. However, Liverpool are in real danger of falling short of that goal due to inconsistency. At present, Liverpool pick up 1.7 points per game, meaning they’re on pace to finish with 64 points. Only twice in the past ten years has that been sufficient for a top-4 finish. It will be interesting to see whether or not FSG will provide money on the same scale they did in 2011 to try and push Liverpool further up the table.
There have been many improvements since Kenny Dalglish took charge of Liverpool. However, in league results and points gained, which are ultimately the most important factors for any club, the improvements made have not been to the extent that the fans and owners will have hoped and expected. Liverpool still drop points to teams they should be beating in the same stupid ways they did a year ago, still don’t have a balanced squad with genuine depth and still don’t look in a position to challenge the best teams in the league any time soon.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.