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Roy Hodgson: the right man for England

Ignore Harry Redknapp’s Fleet Street fan club. For once the Football Association has made a good decision.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Well we didn’t see that coming, did we? The fans wanted Harry. The media wanted Harry. The players wanted Harry. He might have been the bookie’s favourite and the people’s choice. But Harry didn’t even get an interview. To everyone’s disbelief, Roy Hodgson got the job and Harry got the cold shoulder.

Unlike Harry, Roy Hodgson isn’t a media darling. Redknapp’s wheeler-dealer cockney schtick isn’t really Roy’s style. His teams are disciplined and functional. He’s not a ‘sexy football’ kind of guy. Many pundits have derided Hodgson’s appointment as the ‘safe’ option. The honeymoon period was over even before Hodgson was appointed. He may have a job on his hands to win over the players and the fans but – whisper it – I think that the Football Association has made the right decision.

Hodgson’s appointment has provoked a predictable sneerfest. ‘All the players, fans and media wanted Harry Redknapp. It seems to me the FA have gone for someone who’s going to do as he’s told. It looks to me like the cheap option and the safe option’, said Matt Le Tissier. ‘I’ve never really been excited by Roy Hodgson’s teams. I’d like to see England play with a little style.’ A lot of England fans will be unhappy with the new manager simply because Roy Hodgson is ‘not Harry’. In the same way he was never given a chance at Liverpool because he was ‘not Kenny’. Hodgson’s unhappy spell at Anfield prompted Liverpool fans to chant ‘Hodgson for England’ as a joke.

The media reaction was mixed. ‘Bwing on the Euwos’, declared the front page of the Sun, mocking Hodgson’s lisp and prompting an official FA complaint. To be fair, many sports writers felt the Sun had overstepped the mark. If you’re going to kick a man, at least have the good grace to wait till he’s cocked it up at the Euros. While Harry’s cheerleaders grudgingly acknowledged that Hodgson has an impressive CV, they were unhappy that the FA had apparently snubbed Redknapp. James Lawton in the Independent described the FA’s failure to interview Redknapp as ‘shoddy, demeaning behaviour’. ‘[T]he very least he was due was a decent and respectful hearing. His treatment has been nothing short of abysmal’, added Lawton.

Is Hodgson’s appointment another ‘Brian Clough moment’? The FA’s decision has inevitably drawn parallels with the decision to give the England job to Ron Greenwood rather than the people’s candidate, Brian Clough, in 1977. The FA blazers were, at the time, clearly terrified of the maverick Clough. But comparing Redknapp with Clough is facile. Both might be infectious, larger-than-life characters, but Redknapp can’t hold a candle to Clough’s managerial record. By 1977, Clough had already won two First Division titles with unfashionable provincial clubs, Derby and Nottingham Forest. He subsequently led Forest to successive European Cups – not to mention four League Cups.

What has Harry Redknapp achieved as a manager? One FA Cup and, er, that’s it. He has done well to turn Spurs into serious contenders for a Champions League berth but is yet to land any silverware with them. The only thing he’s won this season is a tax-evasion case.

Roy Hodgson, by contrast, is eminently qualified to manage England – and I’m not just saying this because he’s a Croydon lad who was once on the books at Crystal Palace. Hodgson has 36 years’ managerial experience and has coached at clubs in five different countries. He is the first England manager to come to the job with international experience, having managed three national teams – Switzerland, Finland and the United Arab Emirates. He’s won seven league championships in Sweden and one in Denmark. Do the maths – he’s got more managerial honours than any English coach.

Hodgson has a reputation for turning a group of average players into teams that punch above their weight. The perfect candidate for the England job, you might imagine. But the doubters are already questioning his abilities. He’s only managed small clubs and won Mickey Mouse trophies, they say. His spell at Liverpool shows that he can’t handle big-name players. Curiously, none of Hodgson’s detractors level the same accusation at Brian Clough despite his disastrous 44-day tenure at Leeds. I think the ‘big-name players’ issue is a red herring. Hodgson wouldn’t have had such a long and distinguished managerial career if he wasn’t able to deal with dressing-room politics. His success has been built on getting his players to buy into his footballing philosophy. It’s not about how famous or opinionated the players are but whether he is given time to demonstrate the value of his approach.

In an interview with the Independent in 2010, Fulham’s Simon Davies provided an insight into Hodgson’s methods. ‘I don’t want to give any secrets away, but he gets the 11 that he wants on a match day and he drills everything in that he wants. It’s certain drills defensive, certain drills attacking, and we work very hard at it. There are no diagrams. It’s all on the pitch with the ball, nothing unopposed.’ Players, like his former Blackburn and Switzerland charge Stefan Henchoz, complain that these drills can be ‘at little bit boring’ but, as Hodgson’s managerial record shows, he gets results.

But I guess none of this will stop Redknapp’s acolytes shouting from the rooftops that the FA has made a big mistake. If England perform poorly at Euro 2012 they’ll be saying: ‘I told you so’. But anyone who thinks Redknapp is the man to end 46 years of hurt is deluding themselves. It doesn’t matter who coaches England – Harry Redknapp, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola or the ghost of Sir Alf Ramsey. There is no Messiah. There is no one who can deliver England from perpetual mediocrity. Hodgson, if he’s given time, ought to make England better organised and harder to beat; an effective team that is more than the sum of its parts. But he won’t transform England into Brazil or Spain. Nobody can. You need a miracle worker not a football coach to do that.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.

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Topics Politics

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