Hodgson’s England…A Bad Idea
On Wednesday, my esteemed colleague David Stringer argued that Roy Hodgson was the best candidate for the England job, despite the generally negative media reaction to his appointment thus far. While Mr. Stringer is a lovely guy, I’m here to point out exactly how wrong he is. In my view, there are a number of reasons why Hodgson is far from the best fit for the job and why this appointment yet again has the all-too-familiar ring of incompetence at the FA. As such, I find myself in the somewhat unfamiliar territory of agreeing with the tabloids. Allow me to state my case.
Firstly, I should make it clear that unlike much written in the press recently (particularly the tabloids), this article was not written with the view that Harry Redknapp should have got the job. He’s a slightly worse candidate than Hodgson in my view, for various reasons that don’t need to be explored now. In fact, Mr Stringer himself wrote about Redknapp’s inadequacies in March as well as in his most recent article. Like him, I don’t rate Redknapp particularly highly as a manager and certainly don’t think he’s a suitable candidate for the England job. The FA have, sort of, dodged a bullet by not appointing him. Even this, however, came with problems and was just one in a series of errors from our beloved governing body.
The first mistake the FA made was to eliminate any non-English candidates from the selection process. The view that the national side should only be managed by someone from that country is certainly a defensible position. Unfortunately, that is not the state of affairs in international football at present, and this would certainly hinder the development of smaller nations who bring in foreign expertise to improve their national team. Other teams do not restrict themselves in this way so there is no real ‘need’ for England to do so. As such, the FA’s stance is a mistake. If your competitors are bound by such restrictions then fine – but the fact is, England are choosing to exclude a wealth of footballing knowledge simply to appease the tabloid press who want ‘one of our own’. It makes no sense to deliberately disadvantage yourself when your rivals are not doing so; the aim, after all, is to win tournaments. Accordingly, I feel that the process was flawed from the beginning and highlights the weak leadership of the FA in the face of admittedly significant pressure from the mainstream media.
That weakness, however, is not consistent. Some would argue that the appointment shows that Club England have not bowed to media pressure for a change. The FA have in fact displayed a staggering failure to understand the ramifications of appointing Hodgson after having done so little to silence rumours that Redknapp would succeed Fabio Capello. By allowing the media to work themselves into a frenzy and convince themselves of Harry’s imminent appointment, the FA have set Hodgson up to fail before he even starts. The recruitment process was dragged out in the name of avoiding disruption to a club’s season, which pointed at Redknapp’s high-flying Tottenham.
The FA could have acted to put the tabloids in their place. They did nothing but offer vague statements about the process being ongoing and several candidates being shortlisted, fuelling speculation rather than dampening it. Moving more swiftly would have avoided this issue but, alas, the FA took their time and allowed the inevitable Harry bandwagon to gain far too much momentum.
With so many footballing personalities joining in the calls for Redknapp to be appointed, it seemed obvious that the FA would toe the line. They haven’t. The media, particularly the tabloids, do not like this one bit. Harry is seen as ‘their man’, especially by The Sun for whom he ‘writes’ a column (although whether he does is suspect given his admission under oath that he is as literate as a toddler). As tempting as it is to discuss quite how despicable I find that particular tabloid to be, Jarek Zaba will be discussing the media treatment of Roy in much greater detail than myself – look out for that one in the coming days. The fact is, the media do not like Hodgson being the new England manager and this is a major problem for him, the FA, and the team. If the FA had wanted to appoint him all along, they should have done so swiftly – dragging the process out for a number of months meant Roy never had a chance of popularity or even acceptance. Unless he manages to win the Euros, it is hard to see the tabloids taking a liking to him. The FA have made this bed for themselves and Hodgson. One suspects that it is Hodgson who will be doing most of the lying in it come the summer and beyond.
Without success, I cannot see Hodgson lasting until the next World Cup. Unfortunately for all concerned, I see little evidence that he is capable of succeeding. The media tend to focus on his time with Fulham (where he turned a relegation-threatened side into 7th place and a UEFA Cup final) and his recent stabilisation of West Brom when they want to talk him up; they even speak of his experience in Scandinavia (where he was hugely successful in the 70s and 80s) and his international experience with the UAE, Finland and Switzerland (whose much-vaunted rise to 3rd place in the FIFA rankings was by Hodgson’s admission completely devoid of meaning). When they want to bring him down, they focus on his high-profile failure at Liverpool in 2010-11. Hodgson was the wrong appointment there too – because he has consistently shown himself incapable of handling a ‘big’ job.
Many forget Hodgson’s disastrous time in charge of Blackburn Rovers between 1997 and 1998 – like Liverpool, a very short time period – where he took over the remnants of a title-winning side and left them in the relegation zone. Make no mistake, regardless of Blackburn’s current lowly position this was a ‘big’ job at the time. When he first took over, Rovers were outsiders for a title challenge until Christmas but once he started bringing in his own players (and letting others go) they didn’t win for a long time and scraped UEFA qualification on the last day. He then sold the 1995 Champions’ defensive lynchpin Colin Hendry and signed Darren Peacock, which I find neatly summarises his reign. He left in November 1998, having spent between £20-30m (in 1997-98 this was a huge amount of money) on footballing luminaries such as Nathan Blake and Christian Dailly (a combined £10m), Kevin Davies (£7.5m, 1 league goal) and random Scandinavians, while massively alienating key players such as long-time captain Tim Sherwood. Rovers won two games in the 1998-99 season under him.
A BBC match report on the 2-0 loss to a poor Southampton side which saw his dismissal featured a particularly apt line:
Ironically, Hodgson had been touted as the next England manager and angry Blackburn fans were mockingly chanting “Hodgson for England” towards the end of game.
“People say that his sessions aren’t always the most free-flowing because he is so meticulous in everything he does. He probably spends more time preparing the team for what they have to do when they don’t have the ball than what they need to do with it. Shape, discipline, knowing where you have to be positioned in relation to your team-mates: he will stop a practice game every couple of minutes to point out if people are out of position or not covering in the right way. It is stop-start, but thorough. You can see the influence his time in Serie A with Inter had on his style. He is a true scholar of football.”
Regardless of the players he went on to mismanage at Rovers, he also claimed that his Inter side (which finished a disappointing 7th and then 3rd as they reached the UEFA Cup final where they lost on penalties after twp legs) “lacked stars apart from Paul Ince”. This was a side featuring the likes of Pagliuca, Bergomi (Inter’s appearance record holder before Javier Zanetti overtook him), Berti (who had scored in two UEFA Cup finals previously), Zanetti, soon-to-be World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, and Ivan Zamorano.
Perhaps Hodgson’s failure to recognise the talents of his playing staff is part of his failure at high-profile clubs. If he fails to flatter the England players sufficiently, I suspect he will not prove too popular with them. I am not for one minute saying that this is the right situation (frankly, it isn’t at all), merely that the current crop of England players have cultivated a certain attitude which even the dour Fabio Capello could not quash.
Hodgson left Inter as a target for hate by the fans, pelted by coins and lighters after their UEFA Cup Final defeat and equally hated in his short stint as caretaker once sacked by Blackburn. Over 148 games with these clubs, the most high-profile stage of his career until recently, he had a win percentage of 44% in Italy and 35% in England. At Liverpool over a decade later, he won just 13 of 31 games. This, then, is a man who excels when he has the time to mould lesser players into rigid systems but has never achieved consistent success at a high level, in no small part due to his failure to manage big names under a lot of expectation. Someone remind me of the England brief then? Oh yeah, manage a load of big names under a lot of expectation in a tournament situation, with little time to prepare and instill the rigid tactics he prizes.
Therefore, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you that Roy Hodgson is extremely unlikely to achieve success as England manager. The FA have set him up for a fall already with their handling of the situation thus far; in choosing someone whose approach has repeatedly failed when working with ‘top players’ in high pressure situations, they have guaranteed that such a fall will happen. I propose that Mr Hodgson’s methods can find success in the right environment and with the right group of people, if he is given time to establish his methods, but that they will not find success in a situation like England’s current predicament.
Ultimately, he is the wrong choice. Unfortunately, given the FA’s criteria he became the only choice, the lesser of two evils. The process was flawed from the start. The England job is a poisoned chalice for the best of men; for someone like Roy Hodgson, it will only take a few sips to kill him off.