It has not been an easy few months for Liverpool FC but with boss Roy Hodgson gearing up for a fresh assault on the UEFA Europa League another European adventure could lift spirits.
Article top media content
One of the key assets Liverpool FC acquired with Roy Hodgson, beyond talent and experience, is his contagious optimism and positivity. The Anfield faithful need it following Liverpool's failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, ongoing financial pressures and the loss of Javier Mascherano to FC Barcelona.
Hodgson prefers to focus on his blessings. The loyalty of a strong cadre of world-class players in Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard; UEFA Europa League football, which he believes is now within touching distance of UEFA Champions League standards; and an influx of talent in Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Raúl Meireles.
Fresh from leading Fulham FC to last term's inaugural UEFA Europa League final, Hodgson anticipates a winter of quality European football, starting with Thursday's Group K visit of FC Steaua Bucureşti. "I agree entirely with those who say the Europa League is already a good quality version of the Champions League which provides some extraordinary matches," Hodgson told UEFA.com.
"We can't pretend the Europa League is quite as prestigious as the Champions League [which] will always be the biggest. However, it's pleasing the Europa League is now a very good second. There are so many quality sides around in the leading leagues that if you reach the group stage, you'll normally face top teams from Italy, Spain, Germany and England."
Fulham's loss to Club Atlético de Madrid in May was not Hodgson's first experience of a European final. His FC Internazionale Milano team succumbed on penalties to FC Schalke 04 in 1997. The Englishman's exploits abroad should serve him well in this group stage.
"We have drawn big-name clubs but with the good fortune of not having to travel too far. We played Trabzonspor in qualifying, a good team but a difficult place to get to – a long, long way away. When the season is in full swing you are grateful if the trips are shorter. I think the team will carry good support at Napoli and Utrecht.
"They won't be difficult for our supporters to get to – we'll look forward to those trips. Fulham is not traditionally a club where the fans follow the team all over the world. But somehow the European adventure last year entered into everyone's heart and soul and we had incredible support wherever we went. Liverpool traditionally have great fans and I expect that will continue."
The 63-year-old has had 16 managerial appointments across 35 successful years, including Halmstads BK, Malmö FF, the Swiss national side and Blackburn Rovers FC. Perhaps his Anfield tenancy will finally bring Hodgson a European trophy.
The memory of Fulham's fall at the last UEFA Europa League hurdle is bittersweet. "I suppose in one's career the most recent memories and the most recent team always seem the best achievement.
I didn't take home the winners' medal but we were so close. It's cruel to lose a game with three minutes of extra time left."
Hodgson was named by Fernando Torres as a principal factor in his decision not to leave Liverpool, some shrewd investments supporting his arguments. "Konchesky is a specialist full-back which we didn't have," the manager said. "Meireles is a top-quality midfielder who complements Poulsen, and Joe Cole adds things to the squad which we didn't possess before. They are new, I'm new, but we still have the old Liverpool heart and soul around us."