You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree that Liverpool are currently one of the top sides in Europe, if not the entire world. In case anyone has been in a coma for the past 18 months, the team from Merseyside have had quite the ride. In just 12 months they lifted the Champions League for the sixth time, the Super Cup, the World Club Championship, and the long overdue Premier League trophy. It truly has been a remarkable period for the club since Jürgen Klopp took charge back in 2015.
With such great success since Klopp replaced Brendan Rogers, it is hard to remember a period where things weren’t going so well. However, roll back the clocks to just over a decade ago, and storm clouds were gathering over Anfield.
The initial success the club had achieved under Rafa Benítez had dried up, with his side not really kicking on following the 2005 Champions League and 2006 FA Cup successes. Another Champions League final in 2007 was reached, but they disappointed on the night, losing to an AC Milan side who were arguably weaker than they were only two years previously. Then there was the surprising title bid in the 2008/09 season which saw Benítez’s side finish in second, just behind Manchester United. Suddenly anticipation and expectations of the side were once again raised, with the hope that they’d finally kick on and secure the first league title since 1990.
There were a number of key out-goings prior to the beginning of the 2009/10 campaign. Both right-back Álvaro Arbeloa and fan favourite Xabi Alonso left for Spain, with both players going on to have successful stints at Real Madrid. Another departure was the long serving defender Sami Hyppia, who after more than ten years of service decided it was time for a new challenge in Germany. While the Finn was no longer a guaranteed starter that he had been for many years, the emotional response in his final game illustrated his status at the club, and how his commanding presence in the heart of defence would be sorely missed.
While having these key players leave in the same year was always likely to be a potential issue, had their replacements been up to the task, the effect of their departures would have been minimised. Unfortunately, the club got most of their transfers quite badly wrong that summer.
Alonso’s replacement in midfield was Alberto Aquilani. The Italian was on a hiding to nothing from day one; he was injured when he signed, struggled with a succession of issues and niggles throughout his time at the club, so unsurprisingly the fans never warmed to him like they did Alonso. Glenn Johnson came in at right-back, and while not necessarily an upgrade on Arbeloa, he certainly was a more than capable replacement. Sotirios Kyrgiakos was brought in to replace Hyppia. The Greek defender had a strong first campaign, but never kicked on beyond that, and left the club only two years later after his arrival.
The 2009/10 campaign did not go as hoped. Results were poor on the pitch, with losses to Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa at home, as well as defeats away to a number of poorer sides such as Portsmouth, Sunderland, Fulham and Wigan. In 12 games against the other top sides, Liverpool lost seven and only won three. They finished the season in seventh, behind Aston Villa, and only one place against local rivals Everton. Considering they only lost two games and finished second just a year previously, it certainly felt like a backwards step.
Progress in the Europa League was encouraging, as they were only beaten by the eventual winner Atlético Madrid in the semi-finals. However, this run only happened due to them finishing third in a Champions League group containing Fiorentina, Lyon and the Hungarian side Debrecen.
Results on the pitch were poor, and relations behind the scenes between Benitez and the club’s American owners had been disintegrating all season. Not long after the 2009/10 campaign had concluded, Liverpool and Benetiz parted ways. While his relationship with both the players and the fans had been gradually declining, he was still held in the highest regard for what he helped the club achieve, especially that dramatic night in Istanbul. So whoever was replacing him had a hell of a lot to live up to.
At this point, Roy Hodgson had had a 35-year managerial career, taking charge of a wide range of clubs such as Malmö, Udinese, Inter Milan and Blackburn, as well stints with international sides like Switzerland, UAE and Finland. When he took over at Fulham, the West-London side were struggling, only two points above the relegation zone. By the end of his three years at Craven Cottage, Hodgson had not only steered them to a comfortable 12th place finish, but had led them on an extraordinary run in the Europa League, defeating Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV, before eventually succumbing to Atlético in the final. His stock in the English game had never been higher.
Despite this success, his appointment was initially received fairly poorly by the Liverpool fans, as they believed Hodgson to be a very underwhelming choice. Despite a long and varied CV, he had never taken charge of side with Liverpool’s reputation or history, other than his stint at Inter, which was over 10 years prior. However, with that with the situation at boardroom level being more toxic than ever, and with funds severely limited, there was a hope that the man from Croydon could make the best of a bad situation. The fans understood it was going to be a long road to get back to being routinely one of the best teams in the country, so some sectors of supporters were more than willing to give him the benefit of doubt.
Initial signs from the dressing room seemed to be positive The players gave him their backing, with captain Steven Gerrard declaring the appointment was ‘worth the wait’, while Jamie Carragher commented that Hodgson coming in ‘had given us all a lift.’ Looking back, you imagine that players were trying to generate a positive message to show their support for the new boss. That, or these words were said through gritted teeth
That summer saw the sale of another key midfielder to a Spanish giant; Javier Mascherano had finally had enough of his time on Merseyside and departed for Barcelona. In an interview in 2017, the Argentine talked about how his mind was made up when Benitez, the man who had brought him to the club, had also departed. ‘When he left, I believed that it would not be the same and I needed to take a step forward.’
It was a big blow to lose such an important part of the team, and even more difficult to replace him. With a lack of money available for transfers, Hodgson was never going to be able to make any marquee signings. However, the players that Hodgson did bring in to help bolster the squad were felt to be incredibly uninspiring. transfer periods in Liverpool’s history. Bought that summer for a combined £25 million were Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen, Milan Jovanović, Brad Jones, Danny Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey and Raul Meireles and Joe Cole (with Jovanović and Cole both arriving for free). It certainly reeked of quantity, not quality.
While some did better than others (Meireles won the PFA fan’s player of the year after his first season) it is generally accepted to be one of the worst summer business the club has ever been through. Poulsen, Jovanović, Konchesky, Wilson and Cole made less than 65 appearances between them, with only Brad Jones still being at the club five years later. Every few years Liverpool FC publishes a list of 100 Players Who Shook The Kop. Unsurprisingly, none of these players have ever been close to featuring.
Following a simple enough victory in a two-legged in a Europa League qualifier against the Macedonian side FK Rabotnichk, the Premier League campaign began at home to Arsenal. While on paper a 1-1 draw against a potential title contender isn’t seen as a total disaster, Cole managed to get himself sent off on his home debut before half time. Big things were expected from Cole, who had performed for years at a top level for West Ham and Chelsea. But in many ways, his Liverpool career never recovered after this game, as he made only a minimal impact before being sent out on loan to Lille.
The following game was away to Manchester City, which brought about the first league defeat for Hodgson. They lost 3-0, with two former Liverpool targets, Gareth Barry and Carlos Tevez, getting the goals. A 1-0 win against West Bromwich Albion, the side who the English manager would go on to take charge of, was the only win in the league for almost two months.
The ‘highlights’ of the next few weeks were drab draws against Birmingham City and Sunderland. There were also three defeats, with each one having their own implications. If you gave Liverpool fans the option of two teams who they’d like to beat more than any other side, 99% of them would say Manchester United and Everton. So to lose 3-2 to United (A Berbatov hat-trick, including an astounding overhead kick saw off two goals from Steven Gerrard) and then a 2-0 defeat to their neighbours across Stanley Park would have been especially galling.
The most troubling of the defeats, however, was to newly promoted Blackpool. Prior to the game, Hodgson responded to his critics by describing himself as ‘one of the most respected coaches in Europe‘ and said it was ‘insulting’ to suggest he could not handle Liverpool’s big-name players.’ These words came back to bite him, as future reds signing Charlie Adam helped the Seasiders to a famous 2-1 victory at Anfield, which back then resembled anything but a fortress.
Having been title challengers less than 18 months before, Liverpool were firmly in the bottom three. Hodgson’s quotes after the Blackpool defeat summed up how badly things were going for his side at the time. ‘There are 31 games left, but when you are in the relegation zone you are in a relegation battle.’ He would go on to say that it was the players’ performances, not the results, that were the most worrying, but for a Liverpool manager to openly admit they were in a relegation battle was unheard of, and deemed unacceptable by the fans. A vote of confidence came down from high above, but the supporters were clamouring for a change, with former player and manager Kenny Dalglish the popular choice to replace the man from south London. At the time he was involved with the club’s youth setup, and had helped to appoint Hodgson following Benetiz’s departure.
You’d be hard pressed to find a lower point of Hodgon’s reign than those three defeats in the league, but he managed to surpass them all with a defeat on penalties in the League Cup to League Two side Northampton Town. While the side put out didn’t feature any of Gerrard, Torres, Carragher, Reina or Kuyt, to lose to a team who themselves were only 17th in the fourth division was an utter embarrassment. It is still one of the biggest giant killings in the competition.
There was a brief upturn in form in the league, which saw three consecutive wins in the league, most notably a 2-0 victory at home to Chelsea, with Fernando Torres scoring both goals. His lack of fitness and form was really hampered Liverpool and Hodgson, as he only showed brief glimpses of his former self during the first part of this season. It soon wouldn’t be long before he would be making the trip down to London to join the Blues, as he had become fully disillusioned with life up in Merseyside, deciding he was unlikely to win any major trophies while he stayed.
The run up to the new year saw seven more league games, with Liverpool only winning two, and losing to Stoke, Tottenham, Newcastle and Wolves. 2011 started with a win, with Joe Cole finally getting on the score sheet after five months. The ground was barely full to celebrate a win that put them back into the top half of the table. It would be the last time that Hodgson would work under the ‘This Is Anfield’ sign as the home manager.
The final game of his short-lived spell in charge was an away defeat to Blackburn. The home side stormed into a 3-0 lead, with Gerrard pulling one back. Liverpool were then awarded a penalty, but the captain, usually so reliable from 12 yards, blasted it over. The most telling aspect was that Gerrard could barely disguise how little he seemed to care about missing. This was Mr Liverpool, who would do everything to drag his team over the line. So the fact that he barely reacted was a sign to many that it was done deliberately, to help Hodgson on his way out the door.
The unrest and uncertainty at boardroom level had been rumbling on in the background for months, so it was a relief all round when George Gillet and Tom Hicks were finally voted out of the club, with Fenway Sports Group agreeing to buy Liverpool. When a new regime takes charge, it is not unusual for a change in manager to follow soon after. Even if results had been going in his favour, it is unlikely the former Fulham manager would’ve kept hold of his job for long. But as the team was suffering, it came as no surprise that on the 8th of January 2011, Roy Hodgson left Liverpool by mutual consent.
Despite a wave of optimism and an initial upturn in results, Liverpool did not instantly return to dominance. With Dalglish they won the 2012 League Cup, and made it to the FA Cup final in the same season, but with only an 8th place finish the former striker was replaced with Brendan Rodgers. Under the Northern Irishman they finished 7th in his first campaign, then were within touching distance of the title in the 2013/14 season.
Despite another near miss, Rodgers failed to kick on. His lowest point came against Real Madrid in the Champions League, where key players were rested and the team was set up incredibly defensively, to try and keep the score as low as possible. Like Hodgson, Rodgers was mocked for this defeatist attitude, which was not in keeping with the Liverpool way. They finished 6th that season, with Gerrard departing after scoring the one during a 6-1 hammering away at Stoke on the final day. Rodgers made it to the October of the 2015/16 season before being kindly shuffled out of the door.
Whenever Roy Hodgson and Liverpool are said in the same sentence, it is frequently followed by ridicule. But while it would have been a disappointment and a knock to his confidence at the time, it didn’t spell the end of his managerial career. Far from it. Within a month he was back to work in the Premier League, taking over struggling West Brom to steer them clear of relegation. He stayed in the West Midlands for a little over a year, during which time he beat Liverpool twice, once at the Hawthorns and once at Anfield, the first time the side from the midlands had won there since 1967. It’s safe to say he probably savoured those victories for a while.
From there he had mixed success while in charge of England, with the defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 being another career low. However, since then, he has returned to his roots, and successfully overseen Crystal Palace to three relatively stable seasons. At 71, he is the oldest manager to ever win a game in the Premier League, and is due to stay with his local side until the end of the newly started season. So it is safe to say that his short, difficult time in charge of one of England’s most successful clubs wasn’t the nail in the coffin that some predicted.