The battle for the top four will be defined by three managers on Sunday, each with Anfield connections and very different experiences at Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp, Brendan Rodgers and Roy Hodgson provoke a wide range of reactions on Merseyside but their present teams have been brought together by fate and the fixture computer to create a compelling story on the last day of top-flight action.
Klopp’s Liverpool and Rodgers’ Leicester City are contesting the final Champions League slot. Hodgson’s Crystal Palace go to Merseyside with the chance to ruin Liverpool’s season. The 73-year-old is making what may be his final appearance as a manager at the stadium of his least favourite former club. The 10,000 supporters who will be inside Anfield would like Hodgson’s sendoff to be as miserable as possible. The Kop still winces at the memory of his seven months in charge that ended a decade ago.
Liverpool should be a career defining job. It is for Klopp. The 53-year-old broke the three-decade title hoodoo and made the team champions of Europe for the sixth time. Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the owners, made the right decision when they replaced Rodgers with the German six years ago. Klopp has been a perfect fit for the club. He is charismatic, passionate and energetic. He is a football fanatic in a sense the supporters understand. No matter what he does after he leaves – which he plans to do in three years’ time – he will always be associated with Anfield.
Rodgers could have had his career wrecked by his Merseyside experience. The Northern Irishman, whose Leicester side face Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday needing to better Liverpool’s result to snatch fourth place in the table, had a rollercoaster three years while employed by FSG. He had the 2013-14 title race in his own hands with three games to go but oversaw a ludicrous, almost comic collapse that illustrated his hubris and surrendered the Premier League to Manchester City.
Steven Gerrard’s slip in the 2-0 defeat by Chelsea has gone down in football folklore but Rodgers’ team took a gung-ho approach in that match when a draw would have left them in pole position. The subsequent meltdown against Palace from three goals up with 11 minutes to go to a 3-3 draw was equally farcical. Everything good, bad and erratic about Rodgers’ management was condensed into that one game at Selhurst Park.
The 48-year-old did not understand the line between conceit and confidence during his time at Anfield. He enraged FSG with his behaviour, provoking angry internal emails that talked of “tearing him a new asshole.” His subsequent career has been a masterpiece of rebuilding and Leicester’s FA Cup win last week was just reward for a manager who has developed a much greater self-awareness as he has matured. His success at Celtic gave him the platform to return to the Premier League but along the way he has toned down the side of his personality that alienated players and owners. Putting silverware in the King Power Stadium’s trophy room will blunt the disappointment if Leicester miss out on the top four and there is a real sense that Rodgers is a manager on an upward trajectory, even if he is relying on Hodgson to do him a favour on Sunday.
The Palace manager has been in charge of 20 teams in his long career but his tenure at Liverpool was the most dispiriting. Hodgson was fresh from taking Fulham to the final of the Europa League 11 years ago but he arrived at an Anfield that was as dysfunctional as at any time in the club’s history. The job was the ultimate poisoned chalice.
Things were bad but somehow he made them worse. The players lost belief quickly and results were awful. The Kop sang “Hodgson for England.” It was not a compliment. The crowd could deal with poor performances and results but not a Liverpool manager with a slavish devotion to Sir Alex Ferguson. There was general rejoicing when he was sacked.
For Liverpool fans Hodgson is the anti-Klopp. He exuded a weary, seen-it-all cynicism and defensiveness that irritated most at Anfield. Rodgers’ enthusiasm won and kept him many friends even when things were going wrong – despite the suspicion that he was playing to the crowd – but Hodgson became increasingly isolated.
He went on to manage England, fulfilling the Kop’s prediction. Taking charge of the national side was the high spot on his long list of jobs. Liverpool did not define his career but the manner of his failure at the biggest club on his CV casts a long shadow over his life in football.
On Sunday, Hodgson has the chance for payback in what is probably his last opportunity. No one, not even Rodgers, will be more desperate to land a blow on Liverpool. Klopp has two of his predecessors snapping at his heels. The German needs to kill this tale of three managers and make it all about himself.