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Neil Humphreys
Friday, Oct 17, 2014

Sports

Football: Clash of coaches

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Friday, Oct 17, 2014

Roy Hodgson (left) and Brendan Rodgers (right).

THE CASE FOR HODGSON

1 Sterling being "tired"

Hodgson's frustration is understandable. His brightest player happens to be one of his youngest. When players are called up for international duty and confirm their fitness, they are expected to play unless an injury proves otherwise. Whatever Sterling's intentions, his admission of exhaustion was unprecedented.

The Liverpool winger left his coach in a difficult position. If Hodgson acquiesced, as he did, he could be accused of bowing to the whims of a temperamental teenager (which he was). If he rejected Sterling's request and the 19-year-old broke down against Estonia, Hodgson would've faced the wrath of not only Rodgers, but also Liverpool supporters and purists angry at a young talent being pummelled into submission.

2 Rodgers doesn't pick the England side

Delusions of grandeur appear to have struck the Liverpool dugout. Club-versus-country tussles go back decades, but they are usually fought between battle-hardened warriors such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. The average club manager's ego and selfishness know no bounds, but experienced coaches at least had earned the stripes, the gravitas even, to throw their weight around.

That didn't necessarily make them right, but it earned them a right of reply. To some, Rodgers has an inflated opinion of his own importance in attempting to pick Hodgson's squad for him.

After Daniel Sturridge picked up an injury with England, the Reds boss criticised the England set-up. With neither a bulging trophy cabinet nor Hodgson's respected resume to back him up, Rodgers' criticisms seem hollow.

3 No rest for the weary

Rodgers' "two-day recovery" system is a luxury that the England manager will never be able to afford. A simple time-and-motion analysis would support Hodgson here. If he granted two days' rest during a three or four-day camp with the players, he'd spend most of his time in an England tracksuit staring at an empty pitch.

Besides, England's fitness team are hardly comprised of amateurs. Sessions either side of the San Marino and Estonia games constituted of little more than light running and some set-piece play. Sterling might have experienced more strenuous workouts at Liverpool's Melwood training ground.

And Liverpool's early performances have hardly been a ringing endorsement for Rodgers' radical two-day rest approach. If anything, the Darwinist brutality of the Premier League has so far demonstrated that Liverpool are surviving, but they are by no means the fittest.

THE CASE FOR RODGERS

1 Reds learn lessons of a dark past

Liverpool's Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler never quite lived up to their youthful promise. Burnout blighted their careers. Owen, in particular, paid too heavy a price for being pressured by Liverpool and England to deliver without suitable rest. His brittle body succumbed in the end.

Fowler, too, never quite fulfilled the potential of his teenage talent. Rodgers is right to learn lessons from history in a bid to avoid repeating it. After Sturridge's injury, he's already once bitten, twice shy. Premier League managers are understandably selfish - it's an essential prerequisite of the job, but Rodgers can hardly be castigated for nurturing a nascent star blessed with the potential to outshine all his peers.

2 Hodgson had to keep quiet

The England manager obviously has a difference of opinion with Rodgers when it comes to training methodology. But only one of them went public this week. The dressing room sanctuary is no longer sacred. Stories leak on a daily basis. But they seldom come from the manager's mouth.

In recent days, Hodgson erred on the side of calamity by calling Sterling "tired" and hanging him out to dry. Social media savaged the teenager. And then yesterday, Hodgson challenged Liverpool's training policy, which is really not his place to question.

Throughout, Rodgers has kept his own counsel - and his dignity. He's seen his fragile player publicly condemned and his in-house coaching strategy dissected, thanks to the damning words of one man who really should know better.

3 Don't make it personal

Hodgson has gone to considerable lengths to suggest it's nothing personal between him and Liverpool Football Club. But he can't seem to stop talking about Liverpool Football Club.

The England manager's long career hasn't been tainted by bitterness. He's dignified to a fault.

But Liverpool aren't the first club to put their interests ahead of a national team's wishes and they won't be the last. Injuries have long been conjured at the last moment only to miraculously disappear in time for a vital domestic clash at the weekend.

But Hodgson has primarily focused on Liverpool in a public spat that is most unbecoming of an ordinarily mild-mannered individual. He says he intends to speak to Rodgers about their respective training schedules and, hopefully, that should end the matter.

In the last week or so, Rodgers has won the PR war without saying a word.

VERDICT: Rodgers wins on points, Hodgson left with his foot in his mouth. Am I the only one with that responsibility? Or does it have to be shared between club and country? I think it does.

 


This article was first published on Oct 15, 2014.
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