The Big Interview - Phil Thompson on Hodgson and Liverpool
Published: 14 Jul 2010 - 09:13:55
In the first of a new weekly feature, Football.co.uk's Joe Strange talks to Liverpool legend Phil Thompson to find out what he really thinks about Rafa Benitez's departure, Liverpool's hopes for the new season and the appointment of Roy Hodgson at Anfield.
What do you think went wrong for Liverpool last season?
I think a huge reason for Liverpool's failures was the loss of Xabi Alonso. When you see how well he played for Spain during the World Cup it's obvious that the team missed his ability in the middle of midfield. The club got very good money for him from Real Madrid but they didn't replace him and that changed the way the whole side played.
Another problem was that the more average players who had massively overachieved when the club finished second in the league the season before, just didn't play to the same level.
How did you feel about how last season went for the club?
It was an extremely frustrating season for myself and all the fans. The season before we finished second on 86 points, which would have normally been enough to win the league. Maybe the average players that did so well then thought the next season would be easy and that's why we didn't have a good season. To challenge the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal for the Premier League title you need to be consistent week-in-week-out and last season the team fell well short of that.
Was getting rid of Rafa Benitez the right thing to do? Should he have gone earlier than he did?
I don't think he should have gone earlier but getting rid of him this summer was the right thing to do. Rafa did a very good job at Liverpool but I think he had taken the club as far as he could with the current crop of players. That doesn't make him a bad manager, it was just the right timing to freshen things up.
Do you think Roy Hodgson is the right man for the job?
Absolutely. The club changed under Rafa, it became more Spanish. The backroom staff were Spanish and the academy began to focus on nurturing Spanish youngsters and foreign talent. Similarly, when I was Gerard Houllier's assistant the club was accused of becoming French. I think it's now time to return to a more English way of doing things and Roy is the perfect man for that job.
What does Hodgson need to do to get Liverpool back on track?
I think he needs to find the right blend between British and foreign players first of all. If you look at clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea then they both have an English core with experienced foreigners mixed in. That will be Roy's first challenge, but in Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher he has a great base to build his team around.
One thing that Roy must avoid is in-fighting and disagreements being broadcast in the media. That was a major problem for Rafa as there were always players coming out and criticising him and his methods publicly. If there are any disagreements or discussions then they need to be kept private.
Where does he need to strengthen the squad?
In terms of next season, the best thing that he could do is to hold onto Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano. All managers need to keep their best players and those three are arguably Liverpool's three most talented. They were all key to the great season of a couple of years ago and they'll be vital if the club are to get back where they belong next season.
With regards to new signings, I think he should be focusing his attentions on both flanks. A new left-back is an absolute must, while some natural wide midfield players would help take the creative pressure off of Torres and Gerrard.
What can Liverpool realistically hope to achieve next season?
I think there's a temptation to get carried away when a new manager comes in. We can't set our sights too high after what happened last season, we need to be realistic. We need to be back playing in the Champions League, two season without it would be unthinkable. I think the fans would be happy with a fourth place finish next year.
If Gerrard, Torres and Mascherano all stay at the club then they will probably sit down with Roy and agree that they'll all be off next summer if the club don't finish at least fourth. And that's fair enough to be honest, they are the calibre of players that need to be playing in Europe's top competition.
Where do you stand on Tom Hicks and George Gillett's ownership of the club? What sort of owner would you like to see buy the club?
Whoever comes in needs to have mega-bucks to be honest. You're probably looking at close to a billion pounds to buy the club, build the new stadium and give the manager some money to spend. I just want somebody who cares about the wellbeing of the football club. There needs to be no more in-fighting like there has been between the American owners. They clearly don't get on or agree on a lot of things and that's a terrible state of affairs when you're trying to run a business together. I just hope a deal for someone to buy a club happens sooner rather than later.
Are there any teams or individual players you think will stand out next season?
Manchester City will be a big threat this season. Some City fans thought they would challenge for top-spot last season, but I always thought it would be at least another year before they could make a real title bid. The players they've bought over the last few weeks are really talented, the likes of Yaya Toure and David Silva in particular. They've got a lot of strength-in-depth and look like they're going to continue spending. I genuinely think they could win the league this year, which is a frightening prospect given where they were a few years ago.The likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool will have a huge battle on to grab fourth place.
Who do you think will win the league?
At this moment in time I'd go for Chelsea. Their squad is getting a bit older but they still have a very good core and I'm sure Ancelotti will spend some money to improve it this summer.
Phil Thompson is an ambassador for The Standard Chartered Great City Race 2010 which is taking place on Thursday 15th July - www.cityrace.co.uk
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- Football.co.uk speaks to the biggest names in the game. Exclusive interviews with the personalities who define football, from big-name players past and present, to managers, club chairmen, famous fans and beyond.
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