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Why Roy Hodgson’s right for England

The England manager’s job is one of those jobs that everyone thinks they can do. What’s great about football is that it brings people together – and everyone has an opinion. The rise of the internet and an insatiable appetite for comment that has existed since tabloid football hacks lowered the standard of punditry to the gutter means that almost everyone who wants to do can now broadcast their view. The commentariat have been out in force over the past week decrying the decision to appoint Roy Hodgson, who needs no introduction to regular readers of these pages, as Fabio Capello’s successor – thereby derailing the Harry-for-England bandwagon. They are wrong, though, and here’s why.

Roy Hodgson’s international record made him the stand-out English candidate. Once the Football Association bowed to the jingoistic urges of the country and went public with their desire to name an Englishman as the next national team coach, there was a shortage of credible names in the frame. Newcomers to international management quickly get found out (something England fans don’t need reminding about after seeing how swiftly the likes of Keegan, McLaren and Capello himself got into difficulty). The eve of a major tournament, with organisational uncertainty having been wafting around the corridors of Soho Square for a while, is no time for a novice. Hodgson’s experience of making unfashionable nations better sides in double quick time means he fits the bill.

Take, for instance, his remarkable success with Switzerland. Hodgson took the national team to the 1994 World Cup, their first championship finals since since 1966, qualifying from a group that included Portugal and Italy, taking four points off Arrigo Sachi’s Azzuri (who went on to reach the final of the tournament, remember) in the process. He wasn’t finished there. Once they got to the States, the Swiss reached the last sixteen, where they were unfortunate to be eliminated by Spain on penalties. They eased to qualification for Euro ’96, with Hodgson leaving before the finals in England to take over permanently at Internazionale, and were ranked the third best side in the world. More than a decade later, he almost guided Finland to Euro 2008 and masterminded their rise to a record-high 33rd place in FIFA’s international rankings.

Unusually for an English coach, Hodgson cut his teeth on the continent and won’t be flummoxed by facing the different tactical approaches of foreign nations. He’s managed sixteen different sides in eight countries winning six league titles. He revels in the tactical minutiae of football, having been a regular member of UEFA’s Technical Support Group and wrote many of the coaching manuals that have helped some of Europe’s best young minds get to grips with how you set up a winning side. Hodgson’s thoughtful approach to management won’t endear him to bloke who things you should bash in the box, but it is more likely to bring reward that a mere motivator. Of course, his thoughts on formations and how to win tight games – cribbed directly from UEFA’s website – flew right over the heads of the Daily Mail’s readers.

Hodgson’s also a realist. Like the very best father figures, he’ll sit you down and explain patiently why it’s best not to get too carried away, which is something we should be doing about this time of year every time England reach a major tournament. For all the bluster about the golden generation, we’ve not reached a quarter final since 2006. It’s about time people realised that we’re no longer a leading light of the world game. The Football Association deserve credit for making a considered, long-term appointment that, should their internal structures be reformed correctly, could deliver a lasting legacy beyond the senior England side. Hodgson loves nothing more than coaxing a little extra out of talented players on the training field. With Burton finally close to completion, you can imagine him spending hours passing on tips to the country’s best youngsters. He’ll wholeheartedly endorse Trevor Brooking’s blueprint for youth development.

There’s been criticism of Hodgson’s brand of football but it’s remarkably simplistic. If England try to transfer the frenzied pace of the Premier League on the international stage or copy the Barcelona model, they’ll come home with their tails between their legs. I’m sick of poorly organised, defensively-suspect England sides being a perennial disappointment. Hodgson, whom the nation woke up to in a big way when he was a BBC pundit at the World Cup shortly after masterminding Fulham’s fine run to Hamburg, will drill defensive shape into even the most disbelieving prima donna and he’ll quickly dispense with those who don’t toe the line. Ask Jimmy Bullard.

What’s worried me has been the almost casual casting aside of his club record by supposedly serious journalists. Gabriele Marcotti, who was featuring on Talksport’s phone-ins for years, before suddenly being promoted as the cultured continental thinker who could tell the English how to do things better ventured this laughable assertion about Hodgson’s Fulham side when asked for a comment by the Beeb:

Personally, my reservations would be about his ability to judge players from a distance. At Fulham, with the exception of Brede Hangeland, they were mainly players he’d inherited. It was almost like they did well despite his signings.

It’s almost comical that the Times’ signature football columnist doesn’t know that Hodgson reshaped a doomed Fulham side after pulling off the most miraculous of escapes from relegation. The players he didn’t inherit included Mark Schwarzer, Stephen Kelly, Damien Duff, Zoltan Gera and Bobby Zamora, all of whom played pivotal roles in the European run that convinced the country of his birth to give this throwback to football’s good old days a second look. For Mr. Marcotti’s benefit and everyone else’s enjoyment, here’s a look at Hodgson’s best bits from Craven Cottage, with thanks to the brilliant Billy Murphy from Acquiesce Productions:

I’m afraid I can’t end without mentioning the disgraceful front page splash of the newspaper that shall not be named. For a company that had just been savaged by a legislative enquiry into serious wrong-doing, it was a staggeringly depressing error of judgement to run a front page mocking a good man’s speech impediment. In the 21st century, it smacked of the bore at the bar who goes for the cheap laugh and misses with predictable regularity. Not only that, but it’s this particular red top that always implores us to get behind the boys. They got off to a great start.

The press and the public might have wanted Harry, whose limitations have been laid bare for all to see in the last few months at White Hart Lane. If Hodgson’s given a chance, they might just be grateful that the FA were brave. What’s more, people have finally realised that you need a Craven Cottage connection to take England to success in international tournaments. For George Cohen and Bobby Robson, read Roy Hodgson. He’ll even have Ray Lewington at his side for good measure. At a stroke, my interest in England has been revived. These four years should be fun.

Hodgson’s move for Lewington falls short

The Daily Mail reports tonight that Roy Hodgson’s plan to replace Michael Appleton with Ray Lewington at West Brom has been thwarted by the Baggies’ lack of cash.

Sporting director Dan Ashworth has told Hodgson that there isn’t enough money in the club’s coaching budget to try and tempt Lewington to the Hawthorns. Appleton was appointed as the successor to Steve Cotterill at Portsmouth having spent seven years with the Baggies. Hodgson had previously worked with Lewington during his three years at Fulham and the report claims he had tried to lure Lewington away from Craven Cottage in the summer.

Whether Lewington, now restored to his former status as first-team coach after the departure of Mark Hughes, would leave Fulham remains to be seen. Mohamed Al-Fayed had promised Lewington a job for life to ward off interest from Alan Pardew shortly after he was appointed Newcastle boss.

What to do with the backroom boys?

Two of the Sunday papers report that Martin Jol has asked Mark Bowen, Eddie ­Niedwiecki and Kevin ­Hitchcock to report for duty at Motspur Park on Monday.

The trio still have a year to run on their Fulham contracts and were placed on gardening leave when Mark Hughes resigned abruptly last month. After Hughes failed to land a new job, Bowen, Niedwiecki and Hitchcock are unsure of their future role at Fulham – and they are to thought to be handed non-first team coaching positions. Jol told his first press conference as the club’s new manager that the backroom staff’s situation was in the hands of chief executive Alistair Mackintosh.

Jol has already moved to bring in his own coaching team. He has been joined at Fulham by his brother Cock and his trusted lieutenant Michael Lindeman, whilst Hans Segers has recently arrived as first-team goalkeeping coach. Ray Lewington, who was demoted to Academy duties after Hughes replaced Roy Hodgson, has been restored to his former role.

Hughton considers working with Jol

Chris Hughton is interested in working with Martin Jol again – but only if he fails to land a managerial position by the start of the new season.

The former Newcastle manager is thought to be amongst the top contenders to replace Dave Jones at Cardiff, with the Championship club expected to make a decision early next week. Jol has told Fulham’s board that he wishes to bring Hughton, who was his assistant at Tottenham, to Craven Cottage as part of his backroom team and Hughton’s interest comes as something of a surprise after he was quoted saying that he was only looking to managerial posts last week.

In yet more welcome news, it looks as if Ray Lewington will be promoted back to working with the first-team having been sidelined under Mark Hughes.