Hodgson: a surprise choice?
Friday, 4th May 2012 at 06:57am
This week the FA named Roy Hodgson as England manager to the surprise of all but looking deeper should we have been that shocked? On the outside it appears that way but dig a little deeper and it becomes less of a move out of left field.
Ever since Fabio Capello and the Football Association parted ways in, one name has been on the lips of all football fans and the media in England as the perfect man to replace the Italian: Harry Redknapp.
At the time when it was announced that Capello wouldn't be the man to lead England to Poland and the Ukraine, Tottenham Hotspur were riding high in the Barclays Premier League and seemed destined for a title challenge.
Such was their form that a three-horse race was being spoken about and Redknapp seemed the ideal choice to replace Capello.
After all, he was English, was enjoying success at a decent sized club, had held his own in the Champions League the previous season and was popular with the players, the fans and, perhaps most importantly of all, the media.
Then the FA announced that it would take a couple of months to announce Capello's successor which seemed baffling at the time with a major championship looming at the end of the season and the right man for the job seemingly willing to take over.
Despite the hesitation, Redknapp appeared to be a shoe in for the job provided the FA could come to some sort of agreement with Tottenham.
Then on Sunday, there came the announcement that the FA was to interview Roy Hodgson for the position and that the 64-year-old would be the only candidate they'd be interviewing.
Roy Hodgson? Where had that come from? Didn't he fail at Liverpool?
The announcement came as a shock to football fans the length and breadth of the country and even seemed to take the all-intrusive, know-it-all media by surprise.
The announcement by the FA ruled Redknapp out of the running, something he seemed disappointed about even if he didn't particularly allude to it in passing interviews with reporters outside White Hart Lane, choosing instead to wish Hodgson all the best.
It's true from the point when Redknapp was named as the man likely to try and lead England to glory, Spurs' form slumped alarmingly but surely he was better equipped to deal with the pressures of English football's biggest and toughest job.
FA Chairman David Bernstein said, however, Hodgson was the "perfect choice".
"Roy emerged as the stand-out name. With the board, we were unanimous in choosing Roy, a manager of vast experience of international and European football. This is the first time the FA have appointed an England manager with any previous experience of international football. He has experience of major tournaments, having taken Switzerland to the World Cup in 1994.
"He has outstanding contacts through his work with Uefa and Fifa, and can walk into any training ground around the world and command respect. This experience, ability and track record of building teams that made him the outstanding candidate for us I'm extremely happy. It's been handled very professionally, confidentially. We always said we'd make the appointment around now, and we've stuck to our timing."
It's true that Hodgson has a long CV and has managed 18 club sides and three international teams in his 36-year career, taking the reins at Inter Milan and Liverpool and led Switzerland, the UAE and Finland.
But with no disrespect to those three teams, managing them is nothing like managing England.
The pressures that come with the England manager's job are second to none in world football. If anything there's more pressure on the England manager than there is on the Prime Minister such is the love of the game in England and the ridiculous expectations we have.
And it is that pressure that makes Hodgson a curious choice. During his six months at Anfield it became evident that the job was too big for Hodgson. Inter Milan aside he had never managed a big club and he only lasted one season with Inter.
It was evident from the results - losing to Northampton in the League Cup and home defeats to Blackpool and Wolves - and his dealings with the press that he wasn't up to the task.
Standout moments include Hodgson lauding the performance during a distastrous 2-0 defeat away at Everton as "the best of the season" and that a routine win over Bolton was a tremendous achievement to words of that effect. No win over Bolton for Liverpool should ever be considered a tremendous achievement unless it was 9-0 or some other cricket score.
It showed a small club mentality that isn't going to cut it at international level with England.
"Roy, how would you describe England's 2-0 victory over San Marino?"
"I thought it was a tremendous performance and anyone who knows anything about football will know what tricky opponents San Marino are."
It makes you shudder with horror.
Hodgson seemed to shrink as the pressure grew with every passing poor result.
By contrast, Kenny Dalglish takes it all in his stride and if anything uses it to spur him on - and he's had to as there have been a number of poor results this season.
True, the man known on the Kop as "The King" is afforded more leniency due to his stature at the club but in exchange he's also under more pressure.
If the pressures of Liverpool proved too much, how on earth is Hodgson going to cope with a job that is far bigger in terms of stature and ridiculous expectations?
Could Harry Redknapp deal with the pressures any better? That's an impossible question to answer as he has never managed one of England's recognized "big clubs" but he has led Spurs into the Champions League and he also managed to continue doing a good job when under investigation for tax evasion.
That he was able to laugh off a potential jail sentence and still do a good job spoke volumes for how Redknapp handles difficult situations.
He also has the press eating out of his hands at press conferences, which seem informal, friendly and also humourous occasions.
Despite getting a warm reception on his return to Anfield, Hodgson was never a popular choice at Liverpool.
The problem for him was that he wasn't Kenny Dalglish, the man who Liverpool fans wanted to take over the club during those troubled times.
There is every chance that history could be about to repeat itself as Hodgson might suffer for not being Redknapp. It's unfair on the man, but life has never been fair.
In fact it might have already started. He hasn't even managed the team yet or even met his players and already the S*n newspaper has taken to ridiculing his speech impediment.
If this is how sections of the national media are going to treat him before a ball has been kicked, what chance does he have? It's unlikely that Redknapp would have been mocked for any of his imperfections, however.
That said, it's the S*n and nothing they ever do should be given any credibility and it was warming to see them roundly criticized for their paper.
There are marked differences between the pair when it comes to handling players. There have been a number of players come out to laud his managerial style, most notably Ben Foster who said he was better than Sir Alex Ferguson but again it is his time with Liverpool that stands out.
Hodgson criticized individual players during his reign at L4 and also didn't defend others - notably Fernando Torres - when he should have done. There are also rumours of players deeply unhappy with his methods where time spent on the training pitch is all about defensive drills.
Again, if the Liverpool squad was a bridge to far, the 23 prima donnas in the England changing room should be too much especially if he follows up on his plan to try and keep the poisonous John Terry in the setup.
Removing Terry from the squad would win Hodgson a lot of praise but it's hard to imagine him having the balls to do it.
Redknapp on the other hand is loved by his players, defends them to the hilt and also is admired by players from other clubs. When he was installed as favourite for the job, players the length and breadth of the country took to social media outlets to hail him as the perfect choice for the job.
Then again, that should come as no real surprise: "Harry Redknapp? Great choice; I'd love to play for him".
Not one tweeted suggesting Hodgson's name at the time but have subsequently done so post his appointment; again no great shock there.
One player who has openly come out in support of Hodgson was Steven Gerrard, something which took yours truly by surprise.
Call me an old cynic, but Hodgson's appointment is likely to see Gerrard return as England captain so there may have been more than a hint of self-interest in his comments.
All in all, Hodgson remains a curious choice but while everyone was surprised by the appointment, scratching below the surface you wonder if we should have been that shocked?
The last time the FA gave into the weight of public opinion was in 1999 with Kevin Keegan and that ended in tears just outside of the toilets of the old Wembley stadium.
Just like he was at Anfield, Hodgson is the safe choice. He won't rock the boat, upset the suits, nor will he be involved in any off-field misdemeanours unlike Sven Goran Erikkson.
David Bernstein said Hodgson's appointment will "define his tenure" which could be as disappointing for him as it could be for England fans. As kingmaker, he also has to go if the king falls on his sword.
Matt Dickinson wrote in The Times Hodgson and Bernstein are a "match made in heaven".
"The marriage of Hodgson and Bernstein brought together two serious men who talk the same measured language, reflect the same outlook and, yesterday, seemed fully committed together for the long term.
"Suddenly the decision to go for Hodgson seemed so obvious, and it no doubt delighted Bernstein that we had all failed to spot it. The FA chairman was pleased with himself and, to be fair, he had his reasons for that contentment."
Given this, it's no surprise that the FA plumped for the pragmatic Hodgson instead of the more maverick Harry Redknapp, clearly his own man and unlikely to be the "yes" man that perhaps the FA were looking for.
Another thing is Hodgson's favour where the FA is concerned is that he also comes cheaply. Hodgson is out of contract at the end of the season, whereas Redknapp still had one year remaining on his Spurs contract.
It is thought that it could have cost as much as 10 million in compensation to Spurs to get Redknapp released from his contract and the former West Ham manager would have commanded a bigger salary too, perhaps as much as 4 million a year.
Bernstein insists that money wasn't a factor in appointing Hodgson to the position but it's hard to see how it couldn't have been.
If Hodgson stays the course it will cost the FA an estimated 10 million. Had Redknapp been given the job it might have been in the region of 26-30 million; a substantial amount especially considering the 100 million outlay on the National Football Centre in Burton.
In many ways this is like the appointment of Don Revie over outspoken Brian Clough back in 1974. That's not to suggest that Hodgson and Redknapp are of the same ilk of the pair respectively, but the similarities are there.
Notably, England failed to reach the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and Revie went on to become manager of the United Arab Emirates, while Clough enjoyed his greatest successes with Nottingham Forest.
After Euro 2012, the next World Cup is of course in South America. Should England fail to reach Brazil it will mean the end of Hodgson as England manager and the search for a new "Messiah" will begin again and we'll all be left wondering what if?
The desperation to see England succeed at international level means this appointment has left the football supporters of this country decidedly flat.
This could be a blessing in disguise as expectations are at an all time low and the players and management team can go into the tournament relaxed knowing that no one expects them to do anything special.
The last time that happened was Euro 96 and we all know what happened there...
This appointment is a 'safe gamble' and success would be a shock but should it somehow work out, the FA will have pulled off a master stroke and everyone will have a lot of humble pie to eat.
What's more, we'd all be glad to do it.