The back of this morning’s Times newspaper made Roy Hodgson out to be a senile old man. The headline to Alyson Rudd’s piece on his impending appointment as Crystal Palace’s successor to Frank de Boer said he would ‘take [the] Palace job aged 70‘. I’ve searched in vain for similar stories denoting Harry Redknapp’s age when he aged to coach Birmingham City last season and found none. This isn’t the first time Hodgson has been decried in such a manner. The back page of the Sun made fun of his speech impediment the day after his unveiling as England manager.
Of course, it is that spell in charge of the national team that garners most attention. Being beaten by Iceland, after all, is his most recent act as a football manager. That defeat cut him deeper than anybody else but, whilst it showed that international football had progressed significantly since he had seen Switzerland to their best finish at a major tournament, it also served as a timely reminder that England, once the creators of the game, were no longer a footballing powerhouse. The suggestion on a national radio station by Joey Barton that England’s performances under Hodgson deserved to see him ‘taken out to the garden and shot’ was crass even by that particular cretin’s standards.
Liverpool fans were never particularly wild about Hodgson either. He didn’t fit the mould of Anfield managers or play the type of football that such a storied club desired. It is his achievements after Anfield, with West Bromwich Albion that are probably most appropriate to compare with the situation he inherits at Selhurst Park this evening. When he was appointed at the Hawthorns, the Baggies were hovering above the relegation zone on goal difference, but after five wins and five draws in their last twelve fixtures, Albion finished eleventh in the Premier League – their highest ever position in three decades. The following year, Hodgson guided the Baggies to tenth with wins over Wolves, Chelsea and Liverpool, before accepting the FA’s approach to replace Fabio Capello.
Hodgson’s methods are meticulous and repetitive, not exactly designed to appeal to the modern footballer. More than one high-profile player has decried his training sessions as devoid of entertainment and several pundits based in this country have railed against his sterile football, but Hodgson’s sides are built not to get beat. His teams might be regimented but there’s no substitute for organisation and discipline, qualities that can go a long way when facing modern sides who can be cavalier in their approach.
No Fulham fan will need reminding of Hodgson’s miracles by the river Thames. Fulham were down among the dead men when he was appointed to replace a desperately out of his depth Lawrie Sanchez – but Hodgson was regarded as yesterday’s man even then. One young journalist even asked his colleagues who Hodgson was following Fulham’s unveiling – presumably having only been brought up on a surfeit of Premier League football. The Whites’ great escape in 2008 was the stuff of legend – spurred on by a win at Manchester City from 2-0 down when relegation seemed a formality, Fulham went on to beat Birmingham and home and then survive courtesy of Danny Murphy’s header at Portsmouth.
Hodgson was mocked for paying big money to bring in Bobby Zamora and John Pantsil from West Ham, but the following season brought a seventh place finish, with wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, and a place in the Europa League, which initially appeared a distraction with its summer start. It soon became anything but. Progression through the group stages with a memorable victory in Basel seemed a real achievement, but the journey was just getting started. Fulham disposed of the holders Shakhtar Donestsk, before overturning a three goal deficit to knock out Juventus – with Chris Baird and Dickson Etuhu in central midfield – and toppling Wolfsburg and Hamburg to reach the final against the might of Atletico Madrid. His side, with no stars and a work ethic that made light of their 60 game season, were only beaten with three minutes of extra time remaining by opponents who could count David de Gea, Raul Garcia, Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero amongst their number. His fellow coaches voted him the LMA’s manager of the year by a landslide margin never seen since.
Hodgson’s achievements on the continent are less well-known but worth recalling given that his longevity in the game is now being used against him. He won a total of eight Swedish titles with Halmstads and Malmo in a period where he was crediting with reinventing the domestic game, reached a UEFA Cup final with Inter Milan and won the Danish double whilst coaching FC Copenhagen. Nobody in Scandinavia would hear a word said against Hodgson either. He was ‘knighted’ for his services to Finnish football after he stupendously almost guided the national side to Euro 2008.
There is plenty to be said about the process that led Crystal Palace to appoint de Boer and the shoddy nature of his dismissal after just four games. Much of the media reportage following the Dutchman’s departure has focused on the fact that, with players paid north of £100,000 a week, the south London club can’t afford to drop out of the top flight. The last time they were in trouble they opted for Sam Allardyce. He spoke on Monday Night Football last night about just how difficult it is to catch up to the rest when you are marooned at the bottom. Hodgson knows just how tough the task is. He also has a track record of securing survival. Palace couldn’t have picked a better man to get themselves out of this fine mess.