Just eleven weeks since leading Fulham FC in the UEFA Europa League final in Hamburg, Roy Hodgson returns to the competition at the helm of Liverpool FC.
The Filip II Arena in Skopje may be a far cry from the Hamburg Arena where Fulham pushed Club Atlético de Madrid to the limit in last season's showpiece, but Hodgson will be hoping his new side's third qualifying round tie against FK Rabotnicki represents the start of another fruitful adventure.
For Hodgson, that journey began on 1 July when he accepted the challenge of replacing Rafael Benítez as manager. Benítez's 2005 UEFA Champions League triumph seems a distant memory after last term's seventh-place finish, yet Hodgson is lifting morale as the new campaign approaches.
His powers of persuasion helped convince England international Joe Cole to make the move north and, with Serbia's Milan Jovanović and fellow recruit Danny Wilson also eager to make an impression, the season commences on a more positive note than the last one ended.
The whole club is built on success. I can feel the hunger and the desire here, and that's a great base to come from," Cole, 28, said. "The gaffer's experience and organisation are another positive and, with all the quality players they have here, I am convinced we will do better than last season."
Cole will be rested for Thursday's first leg along with national-team colleagues Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Glen Johnson who miss the trip to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as Hodgson trusts in a young squad. FIFA World Cup-winning striker Fernando Torres is due back from holiday on Monday and while Hodgson can look forward to working with the Spanish international, midfielder Javier Mascherano's future appears more uncertain. Hodgson is at pains to point out that his rebuilding work is only just starting.
"Rome was not built in a day," he said. "
It's important we make the point it is a new start. It's something of a new dawn when a new manager and players come to a club, and you don't put to right things that have gone wrong overnight. You have to work at that and that's what our job will be."
The match has generated huge interest in the region with tickets at the 22,000 capacity stadium selling out in a day, as Rabotnicki – which means the workers club in Macedonian – prepare to welcome European aristocrats. Five thousand tickets have been requested from Liverpool fan clubs in neighbouring Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Albania, swelling the ranks of the thousand or so supporters likely to travel from England.
This is not the earliest they will have watched their side in Europe. The three-times UEFA Cup winners began the defence of their fifth European crown against The New Saints FC in the first qualifying round on 13 July 2005. Yet an early start did Fulham no harm last term, their odyssey spanning ten months, 19 games, eight countries and ultimately a maiden European final.
Hodgson's road to Liverpool has been similarly circuitous. It is the first time the much-travelled and highly respected 62-year-old has led one of England's traditional heavyweights and he is determined to prove they still pack a punch.
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