Why I think Roy Hodgson was the right choice for England

Since Fabio Capello resigned in February, England have been searching for a new manager. It was widely assumed by pretty much everybody that Harry Redknapp was a lock for the job, but today, West Brom manager Roy Hodgson was announced as the England manager, officially taking over after the Premier League season finishes on May 13th. I think that, for once, the FA have got this decision absolutely right, and the Hodgson is a far better option for England than Harry Redknapp would have been.

After the last World Cup, where once again, instead of taking a realistic look at the limitations of the England team and just maybe coming up with some constructive ideas on how to improve English football, the media and fans stuck with their view that the mighty England team should have swept all before them and brought the trophy home and just decided to heap all of the blame onto Fabio Capello’s shoulders.

Stung by the criticism flying his way, Capello announced that he wouldn’t extend his contract after EURO 2012, and the FA responded to the criticism of Capello’s appointment and the huge salary he was getting, by announcing that the next manager of the England team would be English.

Immediately, that narrowed the list of realistic candidates for the England job down to just two, Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson. There aren’t too many other English managers with anywhere near the ability or the experience required to manage the England team. Alan Pardew has done an excellent job since taking over at Newcastle, but his previous record isn’t too impressive, and it would have been a huge risk to appoint Pardew to the England post. There really aren’t too many other candidates. As much as he likes to think he’s a viable contender for the England job, Sam Allardyce was probably given the same amount of consideration for the job as I was.

Money of course would have been an issue for the FA to consider. Redknapp would have demanded a high salary and the FA would have had to have paid Spurs a large amount of compensation for his services, Hodgson on the other hand will probably demand a much lower salary and with his contract running out in a couple of months, the amount of compensation the FA would have to pay West Brom for his services would be minimal. But it would be unfair to either Hodgson or Redknapp to suggest that money was the primary factor behind Hodgson’s appointment. If the FA had truly believed that Redknapp was the right man for the job, they’d have paid however much it would have cost to get him as manager.

Redknapp was the choice of many fans, and the darling of the media. It seemed as though everyone, Redknapp included, expected that he would get the call to become England manager. It seems as though the only people who did not were the FA, who have kept very quiet over the last few months. People assumed that was out of respect for Spurs, so that they wouldn’t destabilise their season, but it may be that, having been burnt by media intrusion in the past, with Luiz Felipe Scolari accepting then turning down the England job due to media interference, the FA were happy for the press to misdirect everyone.

Redknapp was a more than credible candidate. He has had some success in club management, and has taken Spurs from a decidedly mid-table side, to a side consistently challenging for a Champions League place, playing some of the most attractive football in the Premier League along the way. Redknapp could probably take over at any Premier League team and do a good job. But Hodgson is a better candidate for an International management role.

Redknapp presentation of himself as somewhat of a loveable rogue may well have been his undoing in the FA’s eyes. Just before Capello’s resignation, Redknapp was in court facing charges of tax evasion (he was acquitted of all charges). During his testimony, Redknapp presented himself to the court as some sort of bumbling Grandfather, he admitted to being barely literate, useless with money and being somewhat of a technophobe.

Redknapp painted a picture of himself as an old-school manager at a time where the FA where looking for a more cerebral manager, prepared to embrace new technology and cutting-edge coaching techniques, who is equally comfortable both managing and coaching the national team, and giving a PowerPoint presentation on tactics to the England youth teams at the new national football centre. Hodgson fits the bill perfectly.

Hodgson’s previous experience of international football with Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and Finland would have counted massively in his favour. It can be difficult for managers to adjust from the day-to-day involvement with players to the more hands-off existence that is international management, where international managers can go months without getting to work with their players. There is nothing in club football that can replicate an international tournament, and the unique set of challenges they provide a manager.

As well as the games themselves, and the constant media spotlight, you also have to worry about what happens in between matches. You want the players focussed on the job at hand, but relaxed as well. You don’t want the players to be bored, but you also don’t want them to treat the experience as a holiday. Then there’s the question of how much access to give Wives/Girlfriends/Children. This proved to be the undoing of the last two England managers. Sven Goran Eriksson was criticised for making his World Cup basis too relaxed, Fabio Capello was criticised for being too strict and making an unhappy environment for the players.

Hodgson led Switzerland to their first World Cup in 28 years, qualifying with only one defeat out of a group that contained Italy, who went onto finish as World Cup runners-up, Portugal and Scotland. He also led Switzerland to qualify for EURO 96, the first time they had ever qualified for the European Championships, though he left to manage Internazionale before the tournament. At one point under Hodgson, Switzerland were ranked third in the FIFA rankings, a remarkable achievement for a small nation. He also came within three points of taking Finland to EURO 08’, which would have been the first time Finland had ever qualified for a major tournament.

Hodgson’s critics point to his slightly defensive style of play, and it is true that Hodgson’s Fulham and West Brom sides are known for a battling style of football, as befitted teams that lack the finances to compete with the best, but do play some quality football too. Also, at Fulham he managed to get the maximum out of average players like Bobby Zamora and managed to give Danny Murphy’s career an Indian summer. That may be vital to the England team as this summer Hodgson will have to coax the last drops of brilliance out of some aging players for England to have any success.

Whereas Redknapp’s, fast-paced, dynamic, attacking style of football is perfectly suited to the Premier League, Hodgson’s slower, more measured style with high emphasis on retaining possession, which has been a major flaw in England’s game for years, and pressing the opposition is perfectly suited to International football.

Predictably in England, the reaction to Hodgson’s appointment has been a mixture of disbelief and an underwhelming feeling. Many in the press are angry Redknapp has been overlooked. Hodgson has already been derided as ‘Mr Average’. Some of the senior England players are meant to be unhappy with his appointment. Hodgson has been mocked for his rhotacism, had a successful 35-year career in management dismissed offhand by many, and has even had a spell coaching in apartheid-era South Africa dredged up in a bid to discredit him, conveniently forgetting the many England players who went over there to have one last hurrah in their careers.

Hodgson’s unhappy time as Liverpool manager has been brought up time and again by his critics. I believed, and still believe, that Hodgson was given a raw deal by Liverpool fans. He wasn’t the man the fans wanted, inherited a team very much in transition, wasn’t given a great deal to spend and was then lambasted when he couldn’t turn things around. Even with a huge investment in the team, results haven’t improved since his departure.

There are many who say that Redknapp would have been the right choice to take England to EURO 2012. There is some merit to that. Redknapp would definitely have got the players motivated, and motivation can help in a tournament, but I think he would have struggled with what would have come after the tournament.

England’s so-called ‘golden generation’ has reached the end of the line. Should they be selected, this will be the last tournament that John Terry, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and possibly Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard will play in. The England manager will have to transition those players out of the team and replace them. That is a job I feel Hodgson is far more suited to than Redknapp.

Hodgson isn’t your typical England manager. He isn’t a man full of bluster and always good value for a quote or two. He isn’t a man who lets his heart overrule his head. Far from being Mr Average, Hodgson is a man who has managed all over Europe, becoming fluent in several different languages as well as becoming fluent in several different formations and tactics. Hodgson is a man who can discuss existential literature as freely as he can discuss zonal marking, a man who a couple of years ago compared his career to a Kandinsky painting.

For years in England there has been a debate as to what type of person should be the England manager. Should it be the traditional English manager, who fans believe has more passion for the role than anyone else could? Or, should it be the continental manager, who has a more tactically astute, cerebral approach to management? In Roy Hodgson, they have both simultaneously.

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