Ever since Capello walked out on England back in February, my choice to replace him was Roy Hodgson. He’s a superb organiser and generally has had a good record of leading teams to better than expected finishes – Fulham’s best ever league finish and Europa League final appearance being the most notable recent examples.
His teams aren’t as thrilling as Redknapp’s at their best, but they aren’t as chaotic and illogical as Redknapp’s at their worst. Given that it’s hard to strike up the kind of relationships and understanding at international level that make teams like Redknapp’s Tottenham work, an ‘organised’ manager like Hodgson seems the smarter choice. And, if Redknapp is a ‘miracle worker’ for what he’s done at Tottenham, how about Hodgson? He took Fulham to a Europa League final, and, way back in his first season of management, took a Halmstad team predicted to go down to a league title?
In case it seems like I’ve turned against Redknapp as it’s became fashionable to do so, I wrote back in March, when Redknappmania was near it’s height, about my very mixed feelings about ‘Arry.
In short, I’m generally more or less a fan of his teams, and the game as a whole is better off with a manager who can produce the creativity and flow that his teams have. But he seems a very instinctive manager, who doesn’t seem to plan that far ahead. To me, Hodgson is definitely the best English candidate for this position, with tactics, quick adaption, and building an understanding between players being traits I’d associate more with Hodgson.
Of course, plenty would say we’re better looking abroad. Guus Hiddink and Pep Guardiola would also have been plausible and impressive choices. But I believe that, as a sporting principle it’s better to have homegrown staff as well as the players, as it keeps any achievements more pure. Possibly that sounds a little close to xenophobia – I’m not against foreign involvement, but it diminishes the pleasure a little.
At club level, I’m a Hartlepool fan. In recent years I’ve seen a few players come through as local lads from the youth team, and establish themselves as first team regulars. Having said that, I have hero-worshipped a Greek, Aussie, a few Norwegians and even a Londoner. But there’s just…something a bit more to having players who represent local pride, local society, whose personalities were shaped by the local culture. And I think this kind of local pride comes more into play at international level than at club.
In addition to the matters of principle when choosing the nationality of the England manager, there’s the practical matter of understanding the psychology of the players, the unique fears and beliefs of different nations. Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson both had outstanding records in qualifying. But Eriksson’s tournament finishes were decent, rather than the outstanding standards he generally met at club level, and…we weren’t very good at all in the World Cup under Capello. I think a failure to understand, or at least click with English psychology, was a large part in their failure to transfer their excellent club records to the international arena.
For instance, Capello’s faith in Rooney’s assertion that his dad’s legal troubles wouldn’t be a distraction showed faith in his man. But perhaps, as an outsider, it’ll have been less obvious that in the modern age at least, we tend to be a nation with little self-awareness. (Just watch most X-Factor auditionees, or any reality TV show.) And Eriksson was criticised after the 2002 World Cup exit for not giving a motivational speech when the players thought it would be most effective – again, a failure to understand the strange idiosyncrasies of the English mentality.
Just because a manager is hugely talented, it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to transfer their skills to all arenas. Hiddink, despite his spell at Chelsea, hasn’t managed a team made primarily of British players and I don’t think Guardiola has coached a single Brit.
So, those are the reasons why I’d prefer an Englishman to a non-English manager.
If the FA were to look purely at ‘the best English manager’, Alan Pardew would definitely be a contender, but has ruled himself out of the running. Even Steve McClaren could be worth considering (though we may need to rename the nation FC Twente). I’ll open myself up to mockery by saying I don’t think Mick McCarthy would be an awful choice, and Brian McDermott, Nigel Adkins and Ian Holloway are all doing good jobs in the Championship. But realistically, Pardew aside, I think the choice comes down to a straight battle between Redknapp and Hodgson.
Despie what the media have been saying about Hodgson’s lack of trophies, he has managed teams to the top of the Swedish league seven times, going on to win the Allsvenskan championship (at the time decided through a playoff, as in the MLS) twice. He’s also won the Danish Superliga, two Swedish cups, one Danish cup and the Danish equivalent of the Community Shield. Though opinions may vary, I’d say that’s better than Redknapp’s record of a Championship title, League One title, Football League Trophy and an FA Cup. (And his FA Cup was won against ten-man Manchester United and five Football League teams, with a squad whose expense has since crippled the club). Hodgson has also got a far more diverse range of experience, having managed in six different nations,and taken charge of three foreign national teams. Hodgson will be the first ever England manager, caretakers aside, to come in with international management experience at junior or senior level.
In the 1994 World Cup qualifying groups, Hodgson’s Switzerland finished above Portugal, and only one point behind Italy, who they’d taken four points from. Hodgson’s Switzerland took four points from the Italy side who would reach the final of the overall competition, although they were heavily beaten by Spain in the first knockout round.
Hodgson took over at Inter Milan in October 1995 and stabilised them in seventh place at the end of the season after finishing sixth the previous year but with a lower points total. He took them to third the following season, as well as the UEFA Cup final, when Inter decided he wasn’t the right man to build for the future.
His record in charge of Finland is less impressive, but with a team who have never qualified for a tournament, they finished just three points behind qualifying behind Poland and Portugal.
Roy’s spell in charge of UAE doesn’t seem very good, finishing fifth in the Gulf Cup, though I don’t know what the baseline of expectation was. However, it was one of a few rare failures and Hodgson has said that the players were ‘basically uncoachable’ - the culture of the players he was working with being more amateurish and lax than any he’d previously worked with.
All in all, that’s a pretty decent record of management. And Hodgson’s record in international management seems most impressive against the better teams, rather than battering the smaller teams to rack up the points, which bodes well for the knockout stages. His record at Inter Milan, while not outstanding, seems to contradict the claim that he can’t handle the pressure of big clubs.
Hodgson has a talent for spotting players who can ‘do a job’. In the recent transfer window he signed Keith Andrews and Liam Ridgewell, as well as Billy Jones and Gareth McAuley during the summer. None of these have looked outstanding from what I’ve seen, but they’ve fitted into the system and performed exactly as Hodgson wanted.
For better and worse, Harry Redknapp wants to make his star players happy, even if, for instance, that means allowing Gareth Bale to drift from the left wing where he’s most effective but has often been double-marked. I can imagine him falling into the age-old trap of trying to incorporate Lampard and Gerrard into the same midfield, even if it means asking one to do something they’re incredibly unsuited to. Whereas I can imagine Hodgson, for instance, calling up Leon Britton if he decides his ball retention skills are what the team needs or making similar left-field calls that most of us wouldn’t predict. Hodgson is a man who knows what he wants and finds the people to fill those roles rather than trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes. (It really shouldn’t be that big a selling point, but unfortunately, in the modern game it is.)
In addition, squad management is really more of Hodgson’s strength than Redknapp’s, with Corluka (still a Spurs player despite being loaned out) being openly critical of Redknapp during the week. Steven Piennar and Niko Kranjcar are other examples of Redknapp not making the best use of his squad players. With tournament football coming so thick and fast, and tactical changes being a bigger part of the game at that level, the ability to use the squad is more important at that level.
Hodgson’s Liverpool spell is the most commonly used criticism against him.
His signings at Anfield weren’t great, but the logic behind all his captures were solid. Christian Poulsen had been an key part of the Sevilla side that overachieved for several years before a decent spell at Juventusand there was every reason to believe that signing Joe Cole on a free transfer was good business; Paul Konchesky was a perfectly decent and proven Premier League fullback who should have been able to do a job until an outstanding player became available; Raul Mereiles has since proven himself good enough.
Not a successful transfer policy, but generally understandable mistakes. And on a budget probably smaller than any Liverpool manager (relative to inflation) since Shankly’s early days.
And while I feel like I’m setting the bar pretty low here, Hodgson’s Liverpool signings and what he got from them haven’t been nearly as wasteful as Kenny Dalglish’s. Going by the figures I can find, Liverpool spent about £18.7m on Hodgson’s four major signings, taking in £17.5m for Mascherano the same summer.
The next summer, Liverpool spent £51m whilst the only major sales were Hodgson’s signings, for a few million each. There were certainly none whose departure ripped the heart out of the team like Mascherano’s did.
In all honesty, Hodgson’s Liverpool started badly, but it felt as an outsider that he wasn’t given the time to turn things round. Liverpool being knocked out of the League Cup by Northampton was clearly a massive underachievement, but Benitez bounced back from a FA Cup exit to Burnley and almost all of his first season was awful. At least pp until the later stages of the Champions League.
Incidents such as the over-reaction of fans to relatively innocuous comments about young prospect Dani Pacheco will have made the players feel divided between loyalty to their manager and the fanbase. Rumours suggest that Liverpool players were unwilling to accept Hodgson’s more structured approach, which is possibly a downside to the ‘Boot Room’ culture at Anfield, and the tradition of encouraging players to have their own, strong opinions.
While I don’t want to claim that Hodgson was actually a success as Liverpool manager, their managers have generally started slowly. Two months back, The Times’ Gabrielle Marcotti looked at various Liverpool managers’ first 44 games in charge, the point Dalglish had just reached. Although Hodgson was sacked after 31 games, his point ratio was roughly the same as those Marcotti looked at, so it could be argued that Hodgson would have turned his bad start around in the same way that Evans, Houllier and Benitez did. His lack of confrontational instincts also seems to have been held against him at Anfield, for instance refusing to be drawn into a feud with Ferguson over an alleged dive by Torres. And it’s worth remembering that three months into his reign, fans were chanting for Dalglish, so he was hardly given an excessive amount of time and faith.
However, any manager with a career as long as Hodgson’s will have failures and disappointments. His Blackburn spell was, from the little I remember, an inexcusable failure and should have been used as criticism far more than his Liverpool spell. Signing Kevin Davies for £7.5m and James Beattie in exchange stands out to me as the most obviously bad decision, of the little I can recall, and Brian Kidd took his side down shortly afterward. Elsewhere on BornOffside, Gerry McAuley will give the reasons why he thinks appointing Hodgson is a mistake and as a Blackburn fan, he’ll be able to go into more detail than I can about his time at Ewood Park.
But even so, any manager with thirty-five years of experience is going to go through bad spells. Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson, Carlo Ancelotti, and Fabio Capello all have spells when their teams have underachieved, so Hodgson is hardly alone.
I’d argue the fact that he has had periods of relative success at Fulham and West Brom either side of Liverpool suggests that the problem was not Hodgson himself, (or at least that he had the potential to turn around his own bad start given time and faith), and should encourage any potential dissenters to tow the line.
Hodgson is apparently prickly in press conferences,and unhelpful when dealing with the press. This, coupled with Fleet Street’s refusal to think rationally and analytically, means he’s a worse manager than Redknapp in their eyes. In The Times, Tony Evans criticised the apparently huge size of Hodgson’s bathroom cabinet, and even the relatively reasonable Henry Winter has claimed that Hodgson over Redknapp is like choosing Greenwood over Clough, and focused on the near irrelevant matter of popularity. Most ludicrously, Martin Samuel has used West Brom’s record (20-12-20, tenth place) to depict Hodgson as ‘Mr Average’. I’d argue that the truth is more that Hodgson has achieved average results with below average players, whereas Redknapp has achieved good results with an outstanding squad, probably the best squad outside of Manchester.
I genuinely don’t understand the accusation of averageness – in basic terms, a ‘manager’ in any industry, manages the skills of others. As a result, they use the talents of others, rather than their own, and the failure or success of any manager is dependent on the talents of those under them. How they manage that talent is the barometer of success of failure as a manager. There are those managers who consistently achieve what is expected of the talent under them, no more, no less. Alan Curbishley fits into this description, Mick McCarthy, Claudio Ranieri probably would as well.
Others are inconsistent – Steve McClaren with England achieved significantly less than would be expected, but significantly more than expected with FC Twente.
Generally, I’d say Hodgson has achieved more than would be expected with the talents at his disposal.
In fact, if I was to use the ‘doing what’s expected’ definition above to judge averageness, Redknapp, who only took the Lampard-Ferdinand-di Canio team West Ham team into Europe once through the Intertoto Cup and spent a lot of money to win the FA Cup at Portsmouth would fit the description better than a man who achieved better than expected results in at least half his career.
It seems bizarre to me that Hodgson is being described as the ‘safe’ and ‘conservative’ choice. The accusation appears to be that the FA are afraid to think outside the box, afraid to be bold. But if Adrian Bevington and the FA suits are more interested in protecting their own back than maximising England’s chances, wouldn’t they choose the man the media are behind, the man higher placed in the table, the man less likely to fall out with the big names, and more easily defensible if things do go wrong?
The fact that the new manager’s time in charge will have a tournament so early will help. Qualifying results are almost always ambiguous – even tight victories against the likes of Poland and Croatia can be painted as disappointing or the minimum standards, if the press decide to do so. Hodgson will need to instill a ‘small club mentality’, – get the players to function as a team, working for each other, rather than relying on the strange idea that Redknapp has some magic pixie dust he can sprinkle on the players.
Given the humiliating failure at the last World Cup and failing to qualify for the previous European Championships, I think the players might actually be open to being drilled with his ideas, even if they may discourage some of the players’ natural creativity. But even then, I’ve enjoyed watching Hodgson’s Fulham and West Brom sides – they have played with a decent amount of flair and invention.
Given that I don’t believe Redknapp’s methods will transfer successfully to international football but that the FA have a history of giving in to what the media want (Keegan, an early appointment before the 2006 World Cup), I was resigned to Redknapp’s appointment. I was also prepared for deification of his good old fashioned English values, the papers’ confusion and wild rage at under-prepared players making simple mistakes, then self-destruction leading to exit.
Either that or, as seemed increasingly likely in recent weeks, the FA would continue putting off the decision for longer and longer, until by default, Stuart Pearce was left in charge for the tournament, whilst also preparing for the Olympics and the U21 qualifying. I like Pearce as a man, but his teams always seem very high effort but unsophisticated and often disorganised. There may be a very good manager in him somewhere, but, to me, he needs more experience before he’s ready to go up against some of the best managers in the world. It looked as if one of these two men would be the appointment, and, as the FA continued to delay, I found it harder and harder to care which.
But Hodgson is a man with a track record of organising his teams, at times (Fulham being the most notable example) making an impact at relatively short notice. Add to that his international past, and his cross-cultural experience, and there seems to me that there’s no doubt he’s the best man for this particular job. But Hodgson is pretty much the dictionary definition of an unshowy boss, and the FA in recent years have a record of going for the most famous or most celebrated candidate, rather than putting thought into who can best thrive under the unique demands of this particular role.
When I saw the headline on BBC Sports’ website on Sunday night, I honestly leapt out of my chair in excitement to go and share the news. I didn’t quite yell “Yes! They’re being sensible!” or “They’ve put a little bit of thought into it!” but I might as well have done, such was my surprise at what I see as basic competence from the FA.
I’m not claiming that Hodgson is one of the best managers in the world. I’ve no problem with the idea that Redknapp is a better manager overall – both are good but not world-class managers, who have excelled at different times, in different scenarios.
And I don’t suddenly believe England will walk through the competition. But I feel that, under Hodgson, England could go into the tournament as a more cohesive team, having the kind of tournament we had at Euro 96, France 98 and Euro 2004, where the team looked pretty good, and there were solid reasons to dream that maybe, just maybe…