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So Roy Hodgson did a wonderful job, Fernando Torres is still a hero and I don’t think anybody can deny that Paul Konchesky was the signing of the season. Or was it Christian Poulsen? Or Joe Cole? Now before you all boycott anything further that I write, or bombard TheMakéléléRole with angry, belligerent e-mails, I am, quite obviously, joking.
In truth, despite a 6th place finish and no European qualification for 2011/12, the end of the season was bathed in an optimistic glow for Liverpool fans. Hicks and Gillett gone, a seemingly trustworthy board in their place and King Kenny back at the helm of the ship he had longed to sail ever since he had left in February 1991.
Back in October, however, such an outcome had looked anything but possible. A 2-1 defeat to Blackpool had sent the club crashing into the bottom three and with the deadline for the repayment of the loan to RBS and Wachovia looming, the prospect of administration was becoming very real indeed.
With matters off the field feeling like they were stripping the club from our hands, we could hardly take solace in what was happening onthe field either. Not only had results been terrible but the football had been dreadful to watch.
It may seem slightly pretentious, but football clubs have philosophies, and Liverpool’s was built on the pass and move era of Shankly and Paisley. That style is the first thing looked for in a Liverpool manager, and to see Hodgson impose what were effectively ‘kick and rush’ tactics, sending long balls into the channels for Fernando Torres and David N’Gog to chase, was truly galling.
Even more so when we constantly had to listen to his stubborn insistence that his 36 years of management experience had served him well and he wasn’t going to change for anyone. I’m not suggesting that the Liverpool squad he had at his disposal was capable of playing like Barcelona, but Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Maxi Rodríguez, Fernando Torres, they were far more capable than the rigid 4-4-2 into which they were forced.
In the end, Hodgson paid the price for his stubborn refusal to change to his surroundings. The ownership issue had long been sorted – Fenway Sports Group (then New England Sports Ventures) defeating Hicks and Gillett’s attempts to block the sale – by the time Hodgson was told his services were no longer required. A crowd of just 35,400 turned up for the New Year’s Day win over Bolton; the final straw a 3-1 embarrassment at Ewood Park. Just a few days later Hodgson left Melwood for the final time.
There was only ever going to be one man to replace him. The Kop had begun chanting Kenny Dalglish’s name only a few games into the season – leading perhaps to Hodgson’s biggest misjudgement, when he criticised the fans for the lack of the “famous Anfield support” – and only the King would do to rescue the club from its predicament.
Dalglish arrived too late to have an impact on the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United – and with the defeat to Ryan Giggs’ second minute penalty went another chance for our first trophy since 2006 – but it wasn’t long before the galvanising effect began. A defeat against Blackpool was followed up by a draw against Everton, but the first win came over Wolves and three more quickly followed.
All of a sudden Liverpool were playing the way that Liverpool were supposed to, and in the final weeks of the season some of the performances were a true joy to behold. The force of Dalglish’s personality and the willingness of the board to act quickly had even seen the club come out of the sale of Fernando Torres – unthinkable to most fans – smelling of roses and with a precociously talented Uruguayan ready to fill the hole in their hearts that the Spaniard had vacated.
That the Reds went into the final day of the season with even the barest sniff of European qualification was, quite frankly, an incredible achievement. They had shown top four form since Dalglish had taken over, with largely the same squad as Hodgson had guided to a stunning low of 19th place after the Merseyside derby defeat to Everton.
Of course, the expectation for the 2011/12 season, with the ink still wet on Dalglish’s new three year contract, will be sky high. Liverpool fans have a tendency to swing between feast and famine from week to week – some might characterise them as bipolar – but the optimism of a return to challenging for Champions League qualification is not misplaced.
With a good summer behind them, with the right signings brought in, Liverpool could once again be a force to be reckoned with rather than ridiculed.