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David Hodgson exclusive: Dalglish genius, Souness was the best - but I was lost in Liverpool

David Hodgson spent his career searching for football. A quest that took him from the North East of England to the North West and then to Spain, Japan and France.

Hodgson speaks openly to about how, even when playing alongside some of the greatest players in history, football can be isolating and joyless. Hodgson came through the academy at Middlesbrough buoyed by the dreams of a career in professional career and went on to play over 100 games for the club.

He explains his love of simply playing football, saying: “It wasn't a job but a great enjoyment, I didn't have any pressure there. I just went out and played. That was the most peaceful time during my time as a football player."

However, the realities of playing football professionally in the late 1970s came crashing down on Hodgson and he had to leave the comfort of the North East for 'financial reasons.' Fortunately, he had the opportunity to join Liverpool.

“I went to the biggest club in England at the time in Liverpool. It was only there where I first realised that to play for Liverpool was a job. Of course, there were times of enjoyment but it had a different management style from what I got used to in Middlesbrough."

How did the clubs differ?

“At Middlesbrough, it felt like they were saying 'we need you'. At Liverpool, instead there was an attitude of deal on your own or you fail. There was no support package at the club. If you had that mindset and mental strength then you would stay at that club for many years but, when I dropped out of the team, I found out and understood that there wasn't anyone pushing me, demanding from me."

The year before Hodgson joined, the Reds had won their third European Cup and were First Division champions. What was it like joining a side at the top of the world?

“They had lots of great players and coaches and I was honoured to be part of that time and to play with those kinds of players. I think that Liverpool side would survive in modern football because their football philosophy is simple – if you have the ball the opposition can't score and if you don't have it get the ball back. Every long ball is a gamble, pass the ball quickly, with two touches on the ball."

Part of the success of modern-day sides and the great sides gone by is their ability to keep improving year on year. At Liverpool it was no different. Hodgson explains: “The team was very consistent and every year they bought different, great players. Only when I left Liverpool did I understand what they meant to me, what their training philosophy and playing philosophy meant to me. Liverpool was unique, I loved my time there and I had a great relationship with everyone at the club and I made some great friends there."

But who did Hodgson enjoy playing with the most?

“At Liverpool, I played with the likes of Ronnie Whelan, Ian Rush and Sammy Lee. I had the honour of playing with Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness who were, with Rush, some of the best players in the world.

“Dalglish was a genius, his football brain was 1 step or 2 steps ahead of the others. He was a striker who looked after himself. Meanwhile, Souness was a player who could look after himself but also the other players around him. Souness was a great leader on and off the pitch. For me, Souness was the greatest player I had the pleasure to play with, Dalglish was the most genius and Rush the greatest striker."

In his time at Liverpool, Hodgson was part of the sides that won the First Division in 1982-83 and 1983-84 as well as the European Cup in 1984. During that period, he played just under half-a-century of First Division games. How do those sides compare with Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool?

"At the beginning of the season, I thought City would win the league again. I think things changed when the news of Klopp leaving came out and so the team got a new energy and more desire to win the title in honour of their coach."

What has Klopp's impact been on Liverpool?

“When Klopp came to the club there was a culture shock for everyone. Everything changed with his arrival and it started a new era for the club. Klopp won everything with the club domestically and in Europe. His demands are so high in every minute of the season and this makes the players to be more aware and never stop a second.

“The recruitment made by the club has made has helped a lot – both signings and academy players. I thought last season they looked a little burned out and I was worried last summer, when they lost some key players, but the work of the coach and the new players also have put Liverpool back on the right track. I think they could win every competition they are in because they are playing fantastically well and also the new players that have come are performing extremely well and have bonded with the old players."

How important is Klopp's relationship with his players in cultivating that energetic, winning atmosphere?

“A positive thing is the fact that not only do the players who play from the first minute adore Klopp, but also those on the bench. Xabi Alonso was everyone's favourite to take over because he knows the club, the city and the fans and is showing his great qualities as a coach at Leverkusen. I would have said he would have been the most natural choice for the new coach of Liverpool."

To Hodgson's disappointment, Alonso has said he will be remaining at Leverkusen for at least another season. Yet, Hodgson believes Liverpool and the Premier League is attractive enough for any player or coach.

“The Premier League is the best in the world and most of the best players in the world would love to come here due to the strength of the league and the fact their wages are higher than in the other leagues. For so many years to come, the Premier League will be the benchmark for the players and coaches to look at themselves and say 'yes, I have had success because I played or coached in the Premier League.'"

After leaving the juggernaut Liverpool, Hodgson wanted to rediscover the joy for the game he felt at Middlesbrough. He searched for it at the club he supported as a boy, Sunderland, but to no avail. He says with hurt: “I didn't find that enjoyment. The mentality of the players was completely different from what I was used to at Liverpool – it was a real shock. Then a new manager [Lawrie McMenemy] was appointed and from day one he didn't want me. That one-year period for me, at Sunderland under that coach [McMenemy], was the worst time of my life inside and outside football."

Cast out from the Sunderland he once loved, Hodgson hopped from club to club. He describes his whirlwind career that went “from one place to the other. I was seeking an enjoyment that maybe wasn't there anymore. I went to Spain at Xerez and I liked the culture but I didn't get paid for 11 months. I got only the first month's wage. Not being paid was very testing for me because I came from a very professional environment in England."

When Hodgson seemed all out of luck, he would make a last-minute split decision that would change his life forever. “I decided that I wanted to return to the UK and I was going to sign for Cardiff. But, at the last minute, I signed for Sheffield Wednesday. Signing for Wednesday, was the best thing that could have happened for me because it was there that I met my wife."

After his return to England and meeting his wife, Hodgson decided to try new experiences in the twilight of his career. “I went to play in Japan [for Mazda (now known as Sanfrecce Hiroshima)] where I found a different culture from what I was used to in England.

“After, I went to play at Metz [in France] and it was a mixed period. I played some games but I had injuries that didn't let me perform as I wished. I understood that I was finished, my body had many injuries and I couldn't continue my career."

Hodgson finished his career having played for nine clubs across four different countries as well as making seven appearances for England's under-21 side. How does Hodgson see his country performing at this summer's European Championships?

“We have many good players that are good enough to win the Euros or the World Cup. However, bringing them all together is a completely different scenario. Our league is the best in the world but the problem is that our teams have lots of foreign players and I think we should give more chances to young, talented British players. With that in mind, I don't think we will win the tournament but I think we will get into the semi-finals of the competition. I hope I am wrong and we can win the tournament in the end."

- adapted by Jack McRae

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Xhulio Zeneli


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