Usually I am critical of players speaking out against their managers. In general, it isn’t in keeping with what is commonly known as ‘The Liverpool Way’ nor is it professional, sensible or in most circumstances (Riera for example), particularly clever. But the supposed ‘rant’ attributed to Daniel Agger following the dismantling at the hands of Manchester United was hardly the verbal attack that it was presented as in some media outlets. The actual interview (which was given in Danish, so might be susceptible to being mis-translated) was posted earlier on this site, shows a rather retrospect Agger giving a pretty considered opinion on his position in the team with only a slight undercurrent of frustration.
This all stems from being dropped for the Birmingham match and only coming on to play at left-back. Basically he says the usual stuff about not wanting to play at left-back simply because he is a mobile and left-footed defender, and that he is annoyed about having to choose between that and the bench. When it does get rather interesting is when he starts to make comparisons between the player he is, and the player Roy Hodgson wants him to be. According to Daniel, Roy wants the defenders to get rid of the ball quickly and with minimal fuss, and let the attacking players play the football.
This is curious because for most of Rafa’s tenure, we were thought to be a ‘long-ball team’ with little or no imagination, and Roy Hodgson’s Fulham (post surviving the relegation dog-fight) were a dynamic attacking unit which was pleasing on the eye. Yet so far under Hodgson, Liverpool have shown a startling lack of flair and creativity up-front. This is perhaps highlighted by Fernando Torres’ ineffectiveness which perhaps more than a lack of fitness, has stemmed from a lack of chances carved out by the players around him. Usually he has had to attempt to control passes coming from over 30 yards or so through the air, delivered by the Lucas, Poulsen and the the defenders who presumably, like Agger eludes to, have tried to get rid of the ball. He doesn’t actually mention that the defenders have been instructed to kick it long, but he does say that “we play football in attack, but not at the back” and “That’s not my style”.
Do does our Danish centre-back have a point? Certainly in my opinion he is wasted at left-back. He is our only ball-playing centre-back and every team needs a solid defender at the back who can distribute the ball. United have it with Rio Ferdinand, Arsenal with Vermaelen, Chelsea had it with Carvalho but now have Alex, and even at Fulham Roy had Brede Hangeland who combines an uncompromising physique with a surprising level of elegance and technique. Liverpool only have Agger who can do that job. So should Roy change his philosophy to suit the needs of one player? Of course not, and I am more than prepared to give him time to implement his way of thinking on the players and see what comes of it, but I hope Roy does appreciate that we need a player like Agger who would no doubt have his pick of reputable clubs if he were to issue a ‘come and get me’ plea. I also hope that he won’t be as stubborn as Rafa was when it came to changing things when they did not appear to be working. The result against Northampton was our most galling result this season and probably (I hope) will be the darkest hour of this season for us. I didn’t see the match so I will not comment on the performances on certain individual players but the failure to break down supposedly ‘weaker’ teams brings back memories of some of the stale, lackluster performances that we sometimes had to endure under Benitez.
Certainly it is far too early to jump to conclusions regarding Roy Hodgson. When he was announced as the new manager, I didn’t necessarily agree with the appointment, but I thought that he would bring a breath of fresh air to the club and whereas he would have to deal with all the chaos behind the scenes, he would get the players playing with a smile on their face and let them express themselves. That hasn’t really happened but it isn’t to say that the players aren’t happy, nor is it to say that it will never happen. Our start to the season in terms of results hasn’t been the crisis that it might be perceived as. As well as a game against Arsenal, we have gotten trips to Eastlands, Old Trafford and St Andrews out of the way which can only be a good thing for the rest of the season. What has been more worrying is that out of our first 5 matches, we have barely player 90 minutes of decent football (and a large part of that came from the second-half of the Arsenal match). That for me is the major worry, and one I can only put down to the same thing Daniel Agger was getting at – that the team are struggling to come to terms with Roy’s style of play. But suggestions (almost all from Liverpool fans at this stage than from the media) that Roy should get the sack are way out of line and far too knee-jerk to be taken seriously. Which is why Hodgson will be given plenty of time to bring about change.