Glen Johnson: ‘Liverpool players were too good for Hodgson’s tactics’
Glen Johnson played under four managers at Liverpool, but there can be little doubt that Roy Hodgson endured the most disastrous spell at Anfield.
Having led Fulham to the Europa League final in 2010, Hodgson was appointed to replace Rafa Benitez in a decision that raised eyebrows on Merseyside.
A string of disastrous signings followed – Joe Cole, Milan Jovanovic and Paul Konchesky to name but three – and Liverpool found themselves plunged into an unexpected relegation battle.
Hodgson was eventually relieved of his duties in January 2011, and Johnson believes the players possessed too much quality to thrive under Hodgson’s prosaic tactics.
“I think it’s a bit tough to adapt,” the former England defender said in an extensive chat with AceOdds.com when asked what went wrong for Hodgson at Anfield.
“When Roy come to Liverpool, we had a lot of top, top players and I think Roy’s philosophy was what worked with him, with no disrespect to Fulham and Palace, you’re working with different style of players and players with different talent.
“So I think you try to use the same way of getting those guys to improve with all of a sudden some of the best players in the world and it just doesn’t work.
“And not just that, it’s also the club were in a difficult situation with ownership and we sold arguably two of our best players [Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres] and never replaced them.
“Or replaced them with players that weren’t good enough. So all of a sudden, the team and the club quickly declined.
“And that’s what happens if top teams sell their best players and don’t replace them. You’re up against it. And then, like I say, I think the way Roy wanted us to play, the players were too good to do that and the players found it hard to adapt.”
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Johnson had moved to Liverpool the previous summer, with Benitez spending £18million to lure the right-back from Portsmouth.
Both Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard had a reputation for ruthlessly testing new signings in their initial training sessions, but Johnson believed his pre-existing relationship with the Liverpool legends spared him the worst of the treatment.
“To be fair, they was brilliant with me,” he said. “I had a bit of a relationship with him, obviously, before I signed with the England days and obviously playing against them for years and things like that, so I kind of knew them.
“So although I was new when I signed, I kind of didn’t feel that new because, like I say, I had a bit of a relationship.
“There’s certainly been a few times when players sign and have got a good reputation and they will certainly test them.
“Whether it’s firing in some horrible passes to see how they deal with it, giving them balls in positions when they probably don’t want it and just testing them mentally and physically.
“Not in a bad way. They wouldn’t do it, not in a way to sort of bully people or anything like that. It would just be to sort of see if they’re good enough for that level.
“And most of the time the lads would survive the sort of test and then you all suddenly know you’ve signed a proper player, but there’d be some that fail the initial test, but then come good shortly after so it’s just the way they are.
“They want to make sure that they got all the best players around them and that’s the way they sort of bedded people in.”
The full-back would make 200 appearances for the Reds between 2009 and 2015, and was part of the squad that so nearly won the title under Brendan Rodgers in 2014.
“As you can imagine, it’s week in, week out we was like blowing teams away,” Johnson said when asked about the atmosphere inside the dressing room during that heady season.
“So the emotional side of it was great. Everyone was in a good mood, all the staff was in a good mood. The training was great because everyone wants to be there.
“It came easy. If you’re winning, the whole thing’s easy, because, like I said, everyone’s happier, everyone wants to be there, everyone wants to work harder and everyone ultimately wants to be successful together.
“So, yeah, when you’re in that sort of running and you’re trying to sort of ignore that you’re top of the league and that you’re winning every week, but of course you pay attention because you can’t not, everyone rams it down your throat.
“So, yeah, you enjoyed a ride. It’s a shame we didn’t get that final hurdle, but we certainly enjoyed the last six months of the season. And like I say, it’s a shame, but it is what it is.
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Liverpool’s title charge was led by Luis Suarez. Having failed to leave the club in the summer of 2013 after submitting a transfer request, Suarez buckled down to score 31 goals and provide 12 assists in one of the greatest individual Premier League seasons of them all.
“I don’t think anything changed,” Johnson observed. “I think Luis worked his socks off and what you saw on the pitch is how he trained. He was a winner, he wanted to win.
“Players have chats with clubs that people don’t hear about when they want to leave, and they might hear that Barcelona are interested and of course, that’s going to prick people’s ears up when you hear those sort of names. So people have those chats.
“I think it’s to his credit that, yes, he wanted to leave, but he didn’t sulk and throw the toys out of the pram or anything like that. As you say, he bounced back and it was like one of the best seasonal performances that we’ve ever seen.
“So I think that’s credit to him and his personality. That right, he didn’t get his own way. He didn’t get what he wanted. But he’s still going to be a pro and do what the club team needed him to do.
“And he did that and some so I think it’s credit to him. And I wouldn’t have thought for a second that he would have done anything different, to be honest. Like I say, he just loves scoring goals, loves working hard and loves winning games.”
By Michael Lee