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In the Firing Line

It might as well be the 17th Century. A crowd is gathering in the village centre. In the middle, a wooden stage with four men, smartly dressed, trying to get a peek through the window in the shop to see the latest offerings on sale. But they know their time is up, one more  bad performance, and they are out, down, hanged for all to see.

Roy Hodgson, Avram Grant, Gerard Houiller and Carlo Ancelotti. Step forward, your times are nearly up.

It is fair to say that for Roy Hodgson, his dream finish to his career, his one last chance at a big job, has gone horribly wrong. As ever with Liverpool, expectations are high, for the players they have, too high. A once great team over two seasons have fallen greatly. The two Champions League final appearances, they weren’t decades ago, they happened four and six years ago. But ultimately the last trophy was the FA Cup in 2006 (one of the best of all time, drawing 3-3 with West Ham and winning on penalties), which is at least better than Arsenal.

But, despite the lack of silverware at Arsenal, they are consistently putting in top four finishes. Liverpool last season were a disappointing seventh, this year they are twelfth, four points off a relegation place.

There is some blame to be had at Hodgson. No doubt about it, some of his signings have been questionable, his reluctance to change tactics during the game has also notably been the downfall of the man. But is he a bad manager? No, of course not. He got an average Fulham team to the Europa League final, thrashing Juventus along the way. He’s also managed to manage Inter Milan, and wasn’t too shabby there.

Hodgson could barely spend this summer, the ever popular duo of Hicks and Gillett didn’t give him the money. What use is it improving on the squad when you don’t get the cash to do it in the first place? Sure Konchesky, Poulson, Jovanivic and the like have been unimpressive, and the duo of Steven Gerrard and Jose Reina keeping Liverpool in a slightly more respectable position.

And, thanks to those brilliant Liverpool fans, the thought that the most wanted man back at Liverpool is Rafa Benitez is brilliant. Now, I’m not quite sure if they saw the dire, unimpressive performances last season under his control. Or, the lack of him doing anything as impressive since the Champions League win in 2005. His signings have been brilliant compared to Roy Hodgson’s haven’t they. The farce surrounding Alberto Aquilani only goes to prove the point.

Earlier today, Lawrie Sanchez said on 5Live that Liverpool were not a big club anymore. He is right. A big club plays in the Champions League, competes for titles. That isn’t Liverpool anymore, they are just a big name. A name the fans around the world will have heard of, will appreciate their history, but when they can only attract Milan Jovanivic, Paul Konchesky, you aren’t a big club anymore. They don’t go together.

It is in unfortunate for Hodgson, nothing has gone for him. The fans have found the first scapegoat after Hicks and Gillett left, sadly for Hodgson, it happened to be him. Blame the players not performing, blame the previous regime. But Hodgson does not deserve to be sacked.

For Avram Grant though, it is totally his fault. He can’t blame anyone else. Even working under the gobby idiots Gold and Sullivan (and Brady to a certain extent), he can have no excuses to the season West Ham are currently having. Last nights performance against Newcastle United, a team who have been known to struggle against the teams lower down in the league, was nothing short than abysmal. The defence was missing, the attack was absent, the midfield, Scott Parker aside, lacked any commitment.

And none of this is helped by their manager, a man continually looking lost for the whole ninety minutes. He doesn’t inspire any of his players and it shows, the football is lacklustre, they are deserved relegation candidates. And as correctly suggested by the Newcastle fans at the time, “You’re getting sacked in the morning”, has simply got to happen.

Gerard Houllier is a tougher case to decipher. He came into a mess, Martin O’Neill left the club unexpectedly a week before the season started. Houllier was made to wait by his previous employers until Aston Villa could come up with a sensible package. The team had a poor set of results, most notably losing 6-0 to newly promoted Newcastle United. And have seen most of their best players leave, to Manchester City…

In fairness to Houllier and Aston Villa, I like what they are trying to do. Bring in young English players and focus everything around that. There are some good players in the making, Marc Albrighton making the biggest impact of the season, and then others like Fabian Delph and Nathan Delfouneso.

But are they good enough right now? Houllier saw he had a young squad, brought in Robert Pires who is past his best, but could give useful help to the young players experience and the like. The experiment is so far failing, sure it is a long term plan, but should any plan contain the thought of getting relegated to the Championship.

From one damning report (unknown on validity), it seems Houllier has been given a team not prepared to care what he says, or work under him in any form. If you have that after just a few months in charge, you are going to struggle to even improve. It is an unfortunate situation for the former Liverpool manager, but one I can’t see him improving.

And then there is Carlo Ancelotti. In a more competitive league, Chelsea see themselves within a tight top five (though soon enough Manchester United will break free soon enough), but find themselves in fifth. How times change. Remember when Chelsea were scoring for fun, beating West Brom and Wigan 6-0, Blackpool 4-0, top of the league, the pundits were saying Chelsea were going to run away with it. Carlo Ancelotti was even awarded Manager of the Month in September. The smart people though, said wait and see, and look who turned out to be right.

For the defending champions, fifth isn’t the best place to be in after twenty one games, but the way the Premier League is working this season, it is not the end of the world. One point off Spurs in fourth, it has been worse.

Well, not since Roman Abramovich has been in charge. Form wise, Ancelotti looks in trouble, ten points from a possible thirty-three. That includes defeats against a struggling Liverpool, a humiliating 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland and other losses against Birmingham, Arsenal and Wolves.

What has gone wrong? The change of fortunes has been dramatic, and often blamed upon the sacking of Ray Wilkins, which is of course total rubbish. There are numerous problems which were not sorted out. The lack of replacements in the transfer window, the players they currently have are out of form and they lack any depth in any positions.

Now, by fantastic chance it happens to be January, and transfer window month. These issues can be fixed in there, buying new players, players to fill the position. Sacking Ancelotti before February would be insane, but hey, I imagine that is what Abramovich is.

With the rate managers are going at this moment in time, eight managers have lost their job since the 29th December in the Football League. That is a rate of just under one a day. It isn’t winter anymore, it’s sacking season, and the chairmen are hungry.

Four managers in the Premier League are under threat. Roy Hodgson is sadly, almost certainly going to be out of a job after the FA Cup game against Manchester United. Who to replace him, Kenny Dalglish? Really? He hasn’t managed since 2000, times are different now. He won titles, yes, but returns have rarely failed to work. Kevin Keegan didn’t do well in his second stint at Newcastle United (Mike Ashley aside of course), that’s just one example. Hodgson should not go, but ultimately, the fans, the board, will no doubt not die until he is out of the Liverpool job.

Same with Ancelotti, sure he’s the least likely to get the sack, but he has got to be careful. There are others who would love his job.

As for Avram Grant and Gerard Houllier, I’d be surprised if both of them are in charge by February.