Roy Hodgson’s short-lived stint as Liverpool manager is not fondly remembered in the red half of Merseyside. But it was certainly memorable – from disastrous signings and dire football to selling a promising youngster to Fulham by mistake.
It’s difficult to believe that the world of multi-million-pound football transfers could resemble a scene out of Withnail & I, but that would be to underestimate how downright daft those making decisions at the top of the game can be.
This is the story of Alexander Kacaniklic, who says he was never supposed to be sent to Fulham in place of Paul Konchesky.
Rising through the ranks
Kacaniklic had caught the eye playing in the youth ranks of hometown club Helsingborgs. Liverpool’s scouts had noticed the young winger turning out for Sweden’s Under-16s and snapped him up in the summer of 2015.
He was 15 at the time, so any potential breakthrough would be a few years off, but he quickly began making waves as one to watch.
“Alex is a talented player and has already played at reserve team level,” Under-18s coach Hughie McAuley told the Liverpool Echo.
“He is a naturally gifted footballer who is very quick. He crosses really good balls and can also be effective on the right wing when he cuts inside and scores goals. I’m looking forward to seeing him make more progress.”
The teenager really began to make a name for himself during Liverpool’s run to the 2009 FA Youth Cup final. He scored a sweet volley in the first leg of the final, but Liverpool ultimately fell short against a supremely gifted Arsenal side that featured Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere and Luke Ayling.
Selling the wrong Alex
In the Spring of 2010, Kacaniklic had made it into Liverpool’s reserves, and reports in the media suggested he was making it to the fringes of Rafael Benitez’s first team. A place on Benitez’s bench in the Europa League had been touted and he was reportedly offered a new two-year deal to continue his progression at Melwood.
Then came Roy Hodgson and a summer of upheaval at Anfield. Out went Yossi Benayoun, Javier Mascherano and Albert Riera, and in came Milan Jovanovic, Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen, Raul Meireles and Paul Konchesky. To say Liverpool have had better transfer windows would be an understatement.
Liverpool also sent Kacaniklic and fellow youngster Lauri Dalla Vale to Craven Cottage in makeweights for the deal to reunite Konchesky with Hodgson.
However, it’s since been revealed that wasn’t the plan at all.
“It was a bit difficult for Liverpool to replace me, but when I was in Fulham and before I signed up, I had a conversation with Roy Hodgson on the phone, where we found out that he had chosen the wrong Alex,” Kacaniklic recalled in an interview with the fotbolskananelen podcast.
“In his head, he thought he had sold another Alex for Konchesky. But then it was too late. It’s a little fun!
“Then he just told me I was welcome back in Liverpool with open arms, but that I could do what I felt. By then I had already made my mind up and was very excited about coming to Fulham.”
Kacaniklic didn’t specify which player he was talking about, but given there were no other Alexes in the first team or reserves, we can hazard a guess – Scottish left-back Alex Cooper was part of the Under-18s back then and left for Ross County in 2011.
Life after Liverpool
Kacaniklic was still awaiting his senior debut when he departed Melwood for Fulham in the summer of 2010.
He continued his development in the youth ranks at Fulham, failing to make his breakthrough under Mark Hughes, before being sent out on loan to Watford to get first-team experience in the Championship. The youngster impressed at Vicarage Road to the extent he was recalled after just eight weeks and was given chance by Martin Jol in March 2012.
The winger swiftly made an impression. In what was only the second start for the club, he played a crucial role in Martin Skrtel’s own goal – which proved decisive in Fulham’s first-ever victory at Anfield, a slender 1-0 over Kenny Dalglish’s ailing side.
That summer he signed a new contract with his club and made his international debut for Sweden. He went on to make a hundred appearances for Fulham and represented his country 21 times.
A nomadic career has since seen Kacaniklic turn out in Denmark (FC Copenhagen), France (Nantes), Sweden (Hammarby), Croatia (Hajduk Split) and, currently, Cyprus (AEL Limassol).
He’s fashioned a perfectly respectable career out of the sport – but does he ever wonder what might have been if he stayed at Liverpool? How different might his life have turned out if Hodgson hadn’t mixed up his Alexes?
“I loved every minute of it. I had three great years, but the unfortunate thing is I never got to play at Anfield,” he told MyLondon back in 2013.
“I wouldn’t say I never made it, I chose to leave. Who knows what would have happened if I stayed?
“But I certainly don’t have any regrets.”