Shortly after Steven Gerrard had first met with Roy Hodgson and finally committed his future to Liverpool, he relaxed and revealed that he was looking forward to going back to training with an actual smile on his face. When this was put to his new manager, Hodgson quipped back that it wouldn't take him long to wipe that off. Having worked on Gerrard, he was now going to work him. It was a subtle reminder that, in this Liverpool, everyone was going to have to adapt to the demanding new regime regardless of ego. In providing it, Hodgson also began to live up to his ideal of a manager: that of the benevolent dictator.
The manner in which Hodgson persuaded both Fernando Torres and Gerrard that the club was still worth playing for has earned him the nickname 'Midas of Liverpool'. As crucial as that was in keeping a sense of momentum and hope as much their actual abilities, another potential piece of Hodgson alchemy could be just as important.
Liverpool, after all, have had both Torres and Gerrard for the past three seasons. What they haven't had in that time are any trophies or the back-up squad to properly complement their two stars. The latter – taking into account the manner and money with which it was gathered – was by far the most common complaint against Rafa Benitez. Worse, although the Spaniard obviously had many qualities as a manager, coaxing improved performances from individuals clearly wasn't one of them. Except maybe with defenders as Jamie Carragher has testified, Benitez just wasn't that kind of coach.
Hodgson, as his career has repeatedly hammered home, emphatically is. His style is essentially management in its purest form, taking the resources available to him and attempting to maximise their effect by improving them individually or collectively. Under him – if past evidence from his career is anything to go by – players most Liverpool supporters would catapult out of the club could be converted to cult heroes.
When Hodgson first arrived at Anfield, there was some arrogant dismay among a certain element of the support that he wasn't big enough. Or, worse, wasn't Liverpool enough. Leaving aside the astounding ignorance and delusion – on every level – of those opinions, Hodgson's style arguably harks back to Liverpool's true glory days more than that of anyone else they could have brought in.
Throughout the '70s and '80s, very few Liverpool players were actually genuine world-class talents. Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Kevin Keegan yes. Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson to a lesser extent. Only Dalglish though, in replacing Keegan, was signed anywhere near his prime and on anyway big money. The rest all came in on a pittance and were put through their paces until they were ready to actually enhance the club. Rather than signing stars, Liverpool made promising young players into very, very good ones to the point the team as a whole was undeniably world-class. It was the philosophy that underpinned four European Cups between 1977 and 1984.
And it's the philosophy that has also underpinned Hodgson's career. As the panel below illustrates, he has affected an immediate improvement at almost every team he's managed. That's all been through classic coaching, steady progress rather than high-priced statements. Most importantly, and what should soothe the worries of many Liverpool supporters, he has taken a few of those sides and players to unprecedented levels.
With Switzerland between 1992 and 1995, he made players like Marc Hottiger into world-beaters. They reached third in the Fifa rankings and an international tournament for the first time in 28 years by qualifying from a World Cup group containing Italy, Portugal and Scotland. Most recently, of course, there was Fulham's unexpected sequence of survival, surge up the league and Europa League run in two and a half years as well as the enhancements or revivals wrought in the careers of Danny Murphy, Damien Duff, John Pantsil, Stephen Kelly, Aaron Hughes, Dickson Etuhu and – most of all – Bobby Zamora. Not one of them has failed to mention Hodgson when answering any questions on their transformed form.
Corresponding to that core of players, Liverpool supporters should have genuine optimism for upswings from the re-signed Fabio Aurelio, Maxi Rodriguez, Ryan Babel, Lucas Leiva and David N'Gog. We're not saying that they can win what those of three decades ago managed. But, if Hodgson can even bring a few of them on even slightly, the cumulative result could transform the side's fortunes. As a shorthand example, take N'Gog's goal against Arsenal. The young French striker has actually scored more goals for Liverpool than he's been given credit for but many of them were tap-ins, three-yard headers or scrambled efforts. Very rarely has he been seen finishing so confidently and so convincingly as last Sunday. Zamora mark two?
Unlike with his effect on players, there is no such anecdote that neatly encapsulates how Hodgson does what he does. Instead, it's all down to humble endeavour. Hodgson supervises all coaching himself and demands players practise his team drills until nothing is left to chance. The only thing revolutionary about his approach is that it involves so much repetition. Any boredom, however, is quickly dispelled by results and Hodgson's personality.
"He's a joy to work with," Fulham's Murphy has said in the past.
"He treats people with respect and maturity and, while they sound like obvious things for a manager, they're not. He works really hard on the training pitch with his other staff, to make sure the team plays the way he wants. We know our jobs, there's no question marks. He is a manager who organises his team well. He gets the lads playing, in terms of their commitment, hunger and work ethic."
In short, very few players would fail to flourish in his set-up.
Of his own approach, Hodgson has insisted "I don't believe a personality can turn a bad team into a good one by saying a few words.
"I keep hearing about man-management, as if all your problems can be solved by putting your arm around a player one day and kicking him up the backside the next. It's not like that. Managers don't have a magic wand. It's a question of work and repetition. You can only build a strong relationship with players on the training pitch. You can tell who's bursting a gut for the club."
In truth though, if a player hasn't wanted to after working for Hodgson then it's unlikely he's ever going to. All of that should put a different sheen on the Liverpool squad behind Torres and Gerrard. Other than N'Gog scoring with assurance, we could well see Babel bringing back the exhilarating form that got the club to sign him or Lucas lording it over opposition midfields. Okay, steady steps. That may well be overstating it and it's highly unlikely to bring the club back to the heights of the '70s and '80s. But it may well be a start. And it may well keep Gerrard smiling more regularly after matches even if he isn't at training.