Roy Hodgson Vs Rafael Benitez

31/10/2010 § Leave a comment

I guess after 9 Premier League games, the solitary Carling Cup defeat and a few Europa league ones, we are now in a good position to evaluate the performance of our new coach,Roy Hodgson. While the evaluation in absolute terms paints a rather terrible picture of his performance, perhaps we can be a little more lenient and compare his work vis-à-vis our previous coach, Rafael Benitez.

How do you judge the performance of a coach? Is it all about results? Is it really about just getting 3 points at the end of the game? I don’t think so. If you ask me, there is more than that one parameter on which a coach needs to be judged. To be precise, if you were to ask me, I’d say there are four apart from everyone’s favourite – the results.


By gameplan, I am referring to the way a coach approaches the game. Now there are two basic types of coaches. Several coaches in the world have the luxury of sticking rigidly to their own strategy because they are sure in their mind that they have both the style and resources to extract the best result possible. And then there are others, coaches which are in charge of the so-called lesser clubs, who do NOT have the resources or the strategy which will enable them to play the game on their own terms. Instead, what they need to do is to understand the nature of their opponent and adapt their style accordingly with the hope of getting a result.

Of course at the start of his reign, Rafael Benitez was one of the latter. His success was largely dependent on his ability to change his gameplan each time and his players responded well to frequent changes in formation and playing strategy. But later a time came when he became one of the former, when he found himself in a position to impose his game on the opposition; where he could play on his own terms and the others would have to adapt if they had any chance of stopping Liverpool. The gameplan as we all know was based on a supremely strong central axis of Reina, Agger, Carragher, Alonso, Mascherano, Gerrard ad Torres.

But after Alonso left, Benitez’ wonderful gameplan was left clutching at straws. Unfortunately Rafael Benitez continued to assume that he was one of the coaches who was in a position to dictate the game, when clearly that wasn’t the case. He once again became one of the adapters but realized that too late. This of course was compounded by the lack of quality players coming into the squad andthe injuries to key players throughout the season also played its part in destroying the very core of Benitez’ gameplan. The lack of foresight of course, led to a clutch of poor results and the eventual poor position in the Premier League standings, led to the ouster of one of our very beloved coaches.

In the case of Roy Hodgson, the exact opposite is true. A successful adapter at Fulham, he probably came to Liverpool with the assumption that perhaps it is his chance to be the dictator. He saw a wealth of talent in Gerrard and Torres. He oversaw the purchases of Cole and Meireles and perhaps thought that he was, after a long time, in a position to play a game the way he wanted it to be played. Alas, the strategy he tabled was ridiculous – one which relied heavily on the ability of the midfield players despite the lack of talent therein to actually execute the gameplan.

So who really had the better gameplan then? I’d have to say that for 4 years, Rafael Benitez had a pretty good idea about how he wants the team to play. In the last year, his inability to comprehend the gravity of his weaknesses hastened his downfall. Roy Hodgson, I’d like to believe, has surely seen the error of his ways. Our team is strong enough to ensure dictatorship of the game, as we did against the Rovers, but then a good gameplan, which takes into account the talent pool in place at the club, is of utmost importance.

Utilization of Resources

Was this your biggest downfall Rafa? Was it your almost girlish forays into the transfer market and buying dresses and shoes that don’t fit or those which you will never ever wear the primary factor which led to your ouster? Or was it simply going into the market like a novice and being swindled – to use a very American word – into paying above board for players you don’t really need? The fans of Rafagenerally focus excruciatingly on the apparently low net spend when compared to that of other Premier League clubs. But how many players did he really need then?And did he use them to their full potential? And when the pockets are tight, one cannot spend 17 million on a right back – who although is England’s number one – cannot defend. Nor can you spend 20 million on a midfielder – who although stylish and Italian – simply could not stand on two feet for over a month. Nor sir, can we sell players who perform favourably for the club like Bellamy and Crouch. Nor can we buy what was touted to the best thing from Holland and make him sit and cry on the bench alone. And we can certainly not buy an expensive, well experienced player and give him about 4 months to perform and then sell him off at about 60% of the purchase price deeming him a flop.

Roy on the other hand has been used to living frugally and counting his change every night before sleeping. But really, has he too used his resources well? A fit Agger on the bench is an unimaginable thought. But apart from that I cannot really fault Roy for using his resources even a tad bit luxuriously. The problem is, as I have mentioned before, the incorrect use of manpower rather than one of sourcing unnecessary levels of manpower altogether

Pulling Power

Another very important parameter on which I’d like to judge the performance of both these coaches in the pulling power they had. Rafael Benitez as we all know had a superb pull in the transfer market. Benitez was a talented man when it came to leveraging the brand of Liverpool Football Club to land the players he wished for. He perhaps too often paid an atrocious price for a lot of the players, but when it came to presenting to a prospective player the opportunity of playing for the Reds, there is no doubt that he could really do a good job of it. The successful signings of Torres, Mascherano and Reina represent some of the very good player purchases of his era. I’d also like to include Morientes, Babel and Robbie Keane in this list, despite their failure to deliver the goods, because they were definitely individuals who had a great demand in the transfer market, but chose to give in to Rafael Benitez’ superior vision.

Roy Hodgson that way has been pretty meek. Apart from Joe Cole, he hasn’t really been able to attract the attention and willingness of players to join the club. So many players had been on the radar – I’d like to mention Rafael Van Der Vaart very prominently here -but somehow, Roy Hodgson’s innocence and unwillingness to dirty his hands in the mucky world of transfer politics has been a great disadvantage for the club and for him personally. Of course, one could heap the blame on the owners for the instability, just like those buggers heap the debt, but Benitez lived through it successfully and still managed to arm-twist the players into the club somehow. So on the parameter of successfully leveraging brand Liverpool, Roy Hodgson loses out because, quite simply, he’s too nice a guy in the man-eat-man world of transfer politics.

Dressing Room

The mark of a good coach is the amount of respect he commands in the dressing room – just ask Sir Alex Ferguson. If a coach does not have the players on board with him, he stands in a position of great disadvantage because there is a chance that his players might refuse to execute his plans – just ask any Real Madrid coach. Rafael Benitez that way was a pretty charming sort of man who in my honest opinion never lost the dressing room entirely. Sure there were a couple of fallouts with Babel and Riera’s very famous premonition about ships sinking. Sure there were rows with Pennant and Bellamy but then which coach has really been able to tame these two personalities in entirety? The fact remains that Rafa ensured that the crux of his team remained happy. Gerrard remained as loyal to his home club as ever while Benitez was at the helm and even a seductive and gesticulating Chelsea could not lure him away. Ditto with Fernando Torres. Torres’ loyalty did not falter when Benitez was at the club, which kind of drives home the point that with one thing or the other, Rafael Benitez commanded a good bit of respect in the dressing room.

Can we really say the same thing about Roy Hodgson? I don’t think so. The body language of the players doesn’t seem to suggest so. Somehow the way that the players have played this season seems to suggest that they don’t really trust the way Roy Hodgson is steering the ship. They seem to be pretty dejected with the going-ons at the club and simply enter the pitch like they are paid workers who don’t really enjoy their jobs but need to do it to feed their families. Even after the game, the dejection displayed on their faces seems more directed towards their exasperation with the coach than with themselves. Something not unlike the industrialists in the pre-liberalization era, where their productivity and best efforts were hampered by the more controlling Indian government. And if the exasperation translates into disappointment and disillusionment, we might just witness the mass exodus people in English tabloid newspapers keep honking about.

So is Roy Hodgson really doing a better job as the coach of Liverpool Football Club? I’m not totally convinced of this fact. As much as I disliked Benitez for his dogmatic, inflexible and often inexplicable ways, Roy Hodgson is more or less replicating the same instability, but with more flexibility and less dogmatism. I guess he needs time to sort out the troubles in the team, but the way I see it he better do it soon before the players start looking eagerly for the January transfer window for their way out.


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