They call it the Impossible Job. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also been labelled the toughest gig in England, making the role of Prime Minister a veritable breeze. We can only be talking about the role of national football manager. And to say that the reaction to what appears to be the somewhat surprising news of Roy Hodgson getting the position vacated by the Italian Fabio Capello has been hostile is an understatement.
The first question to be asked is not why the Football Association (FA) decided against even interviewing the odds-on favorite, Tottenham’s Hotspur’s manager Harry Redknapp (who happened to be cleared of tax evasion charges on the same day Capello resigned in February) but why Hodgson – or anyone for that matter – would even want the job. Ever since Sir Alf Ramsey’s charges won the World Cup in 1966 on home soil, resulting in the unrealistic expectation that it would be the first of many such triumphs, all subsequent managers have failed to emulate the achievement, not even reaching a final of a major tournament. The pressures placed upon the manager by the media, supporters and men on the street (who may not necessarily care a jot for the national pastime) are so intense that it always ends in tears (more often than not literally). Even the late Sir Bobby Robson, who transformed a fairly average England side into unlucky losing semi-finalists to West Germany at the 1990 World Cup, was mercilessly hammered by the tabloids at the start of his tenure, with the Sun handing out pin badges calling for his sacking in 1984, and becoming nastier still four years later (and you should see what they did to his successor).
But back to the future. Or perhaps the past, if you buy into what some supposed experts are claiming, calling the 64-year old Hodgson a backward-looking choice (presumably ignoring the fact that Redknapp is a year older). Playing the role of the nay-sayer (and many of England’s players and supporters are in that camp) it’s undeniable that the FA has plumped for the safe, conservative choice, which is set to be confirmed at a press conference Tuesday at 11.00am ET. And there’s a financial benefit. Hodgson is out of contract at the end of this season so his club West Bromwich Albion wouldn’t be paid a penny, unlike the many millions of pounds Tottenham would have surely demanded.
Yet it’s important to look beyond the bluster and clamor for Redknapp (whose own managerial trophy cabinet wouldn’t take you that long to build) and look at the two attributes at stake: Hodgson’s résumé to date and what he can offer in the way of legacy. Firstly, he’s managed at the highest level, taking Switzerland (not exactly world-beaters) to the knockout stages of the 1994 World Cup and to EURO 1996. He barely lost any qualification games in the process. Hodgson then became the manager of one of the planet’s biggest clubs, Inter Milan, where, though he didn’t win any trophies (a top finish of third in the standings and losing the Uefa Cup final on penalties) he remains respected for his work in Italy.
On Hodgson went, much like a journeyman player, doing sterling work for Swiss, Danish, Italian and Norwegian club sides, as well as managing Finland and the United Arab Emirates. As for his accomplishments in England, there had been a gap of the best part of a decade between his jobs for Premier League sides Blackburn and Fulham: he started strongly at the former (top six, qualified for Europe, before it went south) and ended impressively at the latter, guiding the Londoners to a European final and being voted the League Managers Association manager of the year by a record margin. It wasn’t a shock that he left Fulham for a bigger club and this quickly became the main blot on his copybook: his 191 day spell at Liverpool in 2010 was an unmitigated disaster, as the Reds had their worst start to a season since 1953-54. His departure was expected but he’s quietly and calmly rebuilt his reputation at West Brom, guiding the club to the safe environs of mid-table (his side won at Liverpool last week, which must have given Hodgson considerable cause for celebration).
But the powers that be at England’s Wembley headquarters must have also been swayed by the day-in, day-out work he’ll be able to carry out at the new National Football Centre at St George’s Park, outside Burton-on-Trent, which is conveniently located near his home. Hodgson has carried out technical work for Uefa and Fifa in the past and will be expected to oversee the entire English set-up from juniors to the first team, which he should relish. What’s more, don’t be surprised to see Hodgson take the interim coach Stuart Pearce (who is taking charge of Great Britain’s Olympic team this summer) under his wing and groom him to be his successor. If the negotiations between Hodgson and the FA go as smoothly as anticipated, it’s believed that his contract will cover the three tournaments up to and including Euro 2016.
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When you look at what Hodgson can offer, the least England’s fans and players can do is give him a chance. And Hodgson’s smart enough to know that, with England not having won anything of note for 46 years, he isn’t following in any footballing footsteps to make him quake in his own boots (unlike, say, the managerial situation taking place in Barcelona). But can he win over England’s senior players who had already tweeted their support for Redknapp, though he was still in the Spurs hotseat (which is where he’ll remain)? If he can communicate his message as directly as possible—footballers don’t exactly have the lengthiest attention span— keep his three genuinely world class players of Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole and Joe Hart happy, place an emphasis on the next generation (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack’s Wilshere and Butland) and, crucially, win matches, there’s nothing to stop England from making strides. Though we’d never be so foolish as to predict they’ll end their drought.
Hodgson, however, is someone who enjoys overturning the odds. The first side he managed was Halmstads, in Sweden, 36 years ago. “On the first day of the season 20 newspapers said Halmstads would go down,” he has since said. “We won the championship in style.”