A Love Letter To Roy Hodgson, England's Next Manager

First written when Roy left Fulham for Anfield, the points about him being an articulate, cliche-free and intelligent coach who can manage egos and plot victories remain. Altogether now, Hodgson for England...
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First written when Roy left Fulham for Anfield, the points about him being an articulate, cliche-free and intelligent coach who can manage egos and plot victories remain. Altogether now, Hodgson for England...

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Roy was like a modern day Alec Stock, in that he was out of step with the bulk of his fellow managers in the Premier League.  A cliché-free zone, his articulate responses to the media reflected his love of words, and an intelligence that filtered through to his players whose compliance with his rigid, repetitive, game-centric training methods led to a relentless confidence on the pitch and a brief golden era by the Thames: that extraordinary great escape from relegation, successive and comprehensive home wins over Manchester United, home wins over Liverpool and Arsenal, a record breaking seventh place that led to a European odyssey described by Alex Ferguson as one of “the best British performances of all-time”, an FA Cup Quarter Final and finally a Europa League Final.  Roy’s tenure at Craven Cottage illuminated a giddy two-and-a-half year period that may yet be remembered as Fulham’s finest.

One Liverpool website has claimed only 6% support for a man already dubbed “one shot on target Hodgson”, a reference to Fulham’s ambition in last season’s 0-0, the second successive clean sheet at Anfield.  But they may want to remember the way his Fulham side destroyed Liverpool at Craven Cottage last season, not to mention the manner in which he masterminded the destruction of some of the most fancied sides in last season’s Europa League: Shakhtar Donetsk; Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg.  There’s no doubt he can manage Liverpool’s biggest players at pivotal periods in their career as well.  Hodgson’s man management is first class, while the way he has coached the best out of players like Bobby Zamora, John Pantsil and Chris Baird is simply remarkable.  He also wasn’t shy of getting rid of Jimmy Bullard, whose self styled “I just want to play football” shtick didn’t wash with the experienced Hodgson, who rightly let Hull succumb to his ludicrous pay demands en route to the Championship.

It’s easy to understand why he’s opted to go, and it would have been awful for it to go wrong the way it did at Blackburn, because Fulham can never compete financially with the upper echelons of the Premier League and our achievements of the last two seasons may well prove to be a one off.   This is a man with 33 years managerial experience and, his Fulham adventure aside, had spent just a season and a half as a top flight manager, taking Blackburn Rovers to sixth place and a UEFA Cup spot in 1998 before a poor start to the following season led to his dismissal, amid dressing room unrest and accusations of poor signings, particularly the £7m spent on Kevin Davies; a player who has since proved exceptional value for money at Bolton.  By his own admission it hit him hard, and his reputation was damaged to the extent that Sven Goran Eriksson was preferred as England manager in 2001 and he shied away from his homeland, plying his trade in Italy (Inter), Switzerland (Grasshoppers), Denmark (Copenhagen), the UAE  and Norway.  Hodgson was the Finnish national team manager before taking the Fulham job.

Fulham had pulled off a masterstroke by appointing a man many people regarded as a slightly curious lone wolf

So, despite some notable achievements on the continent; taking Inter Milan to the 1997 UEFA Cup Final, leading tiny Halmstads from the Second Division to two Swedish titles, winning five consecutive titles with Malmo and taking the hugely unfancied Swiss national team to the World Cup in 1994, Hodgson never returned to prove himself again in England, until Fulham came calling.    Did he consider us a stepping stone??   Maybe, but the only true loyalty in football comes from the fans.  He won’t be the first and he won’t be the last, either on the pitch or in the dugout, to move from Craven Cottage to bigger and better things.  It’s a fact of life for clubs of our size.

Roy took the helm in the bleak mid winter of the 2007-08 season when Lawrie Sanchez had assembled a half decent team but had no plan B when the rest of the Premier League briskly sussed out  his route one style.   In all honesty, his arrival hardly set the pulses racing, but people within the game nodded sagely when one mentioned his name.  Whether by luck or design (probably the former) Fulham had pulled off a masterstroke by appointing a man many people regarded as a slightly curious lone wolf, but those in the know fancied his chances.  As a football coach his reputation in Sweden for example was of a pioneer, a man credited with revolutionising football in a country that was a back water, while his reputation in Italy was such that he had the option of taking a Director of Football role at Inter before making his way to SW6.

As it transpired, his return to the UK couldn’t have been more dramatic and he made an immediate impact. Hodgson achieved three remarkable feats within his first five months at Fulham. Firstly there was the not inconsiderable task of keeping the seemingly doomed side in the Premier League, winning four out of the final five games in a heart-stopping finale to the season. But as the club emerged into the Spring it was obvious he had smoothly changed gear from the desperate long ball tactics favoured by the hapless Sanchez to a more pleasing – but initially prosaic – style, which eventually blossomed into the winning flurry that kept us up.  He also dealt well on the transfer market; Brede Hangerland for £2m!!  Erik Nevland, discarded by Man Utd at 21, and plodding along in the Eredivisie with Groningen made a vital contribution in the final run-in, while players like Danny Murphy, Jimmy Bullard and Simon Davies now had the ball at their feet rather than sailing over their bemused heads.  Pundits had initially scoffed at his signings and Fulham’s chance of survival, but by May, Roy Hodgson had fashioned a fabulous return to English football for himself while the club’s supporters heralded the most remarkable upturn in fortune since Mohamed Al Fayed took over the club in 1997.

"It reminds me a bit of that Peter Sellers character in the film Being There. Here was a simple gardener who said something like 'After the sun shines there is always rain' and everyone thinks he is profound.  I do feel we have that a bit in this country when it comes to foreign coaches."

So then, as now, the man has a point to prove and he still probably feels his record abroad didn’t get the credit it deserved while foreign managers quickly achieve deity in this country. Together with the late, great Bobby Robson, Hodgson is a rarity; an Englishman who has succeeded on the continent.  The Premier League’s (and indeed the FA’s) obsession with foreign coaches baffled him.  In typical Hodgson fashion, he was quick to debunk the mystical status given to certain managerial imports and their ludicrous one-liners lapped up by a press understandably bored shitless with a now endemic reticence by managers to stray from their usual post-match monotonies, telling Paul Hayward last season:  "It reminds me a bit of that Peter Sellers character in the film Being There, Chance the Gardener.   Here was a simple gardener who said something like 'After the sun shines there is always rain'.  Or 'What appeared inflation became deflation’ and everyone thinks he is profound.  He rises from being a gardener to an advisor to the president. I do feel we have that a bit in this country when it comes to foreign coaches. I know it the other way around and, yes, you can benefit from that language barrier a bit and people not knowing all your background because you then have an allure of mystery.”

Another line from the same piece proved ominous for Fulham supporters however: " I just hope people see older English coaches like myself and Harry Redknapp or, say, a younger one in Steve Bruce, and realise we are capable of doing the big jobs if they come along - whether that would be with the England team or Manchester United."

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