Roy Hodgson. The right man for England.

In the 2009 film ‘Invictus’ there is a scene where Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is driving to stop a National Sports Council meeting. At this meeting the members have decided to dissolve the Springboks colours, emblem and name. The reason being that the Springbok are seen to represent the apartheid era and are hated by the former oppressed people of South Africa. Whilst in the car to the center Mandela’s aid is trying to convince him to change his mind. “Madiba” she says to him “the people want this! They hate the Springboks. They don’t want to be represented by a team that they cheered against all their lives.” To which Mandela replies. “Yes, I know. But in this instance the people are wrong! And it is my job as their elected leader to make them see that.”

What does this have to do with Roy Hodgson and the England job? Well before Sunday night and for weeks before it was widely assumed that Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp would be appointed as Fabio Capello’s successor. Redknapp has been the fans favourite, the media’s favourite and even the players favourite. “Gutted capello has quit. Good guy and top coach. Got to be english to replace him. Harry redknapp for me.”Wayne Rooney via his twitter account. Redknapp’s management of Spurs saw them rise as high as third in the table and at one point were in a serious position to challenge for the title. The style of play was also hailed with Sir Alex Ferguson saying in December “They play the best football in the country and their current form is the best in the country.” 

So it would have seemed that Harry Redknapp for England manager was a safe bet. At one stage bookmakers even suspended betting on Harry taking over the England job it seemed so certain. Everyone wanted him! But it didn’t happened. On Sunday night twitter went into meltdown with reports that the FA had been given permission by West Brom to approach manager Roy Hodgson with a view to becoming the new England manager. The reaction to the news shouldn’t surprise anyone. Numerous media outlets have asked why Redknapp wasn’t approached when he is the one ‘everyone’ wanted. Some are expecting a fan backlash to the news. Others have also pointed to Hodgson’s unsuccessful spell at Liverpool as a cause for concern, claiming that it proved who couldn’t manage ‘big players’.

Here is a look at some of the headlines from England’s papers since the news broke.

  • Public favourite Redknapp left out in cold- The Times
  • Anfield flop is FA’s choice- Daily Mail
  • Hodgson is not the people’s choice, nor the player’s choice- Daily Mail
  • FA faces backlash over Redknapp snub- Daily Telegraph
  • In living rooms and pubs across the land last night, the news that Roy Hodgson had been approached about managing England flashed on to the Sky Sports News screen. Immediately, a nation sighed.- Daily Express
  • What are the Hods on that? FA go for Hodgson…not Harry- The Sun

There are many more headlines like this so It would be fair to say that a majority of papers are unwilling to endorse Hodgson as England manager. This will be something Hodgson will be used to after he saw his time at Liverpool undermined by the local press and fans view that Kenny Dalglish should be managing the Reds.

Yet one look at Hodgson’s coach CV and you see that this is clearly a man with a huge footballing experience. Roy had his first managerial job at 29 years of age when he took over Swedish side Halmstad where he won two league championships. Since then he has coached various sides in Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Italy and England. He has also led three national sides- Switzerland, Finland and the United Arab Emirates. It’s a football journey that has seen him become familiar with the challenges of international football. In his roles as manager of Inter Milan and Liverpool he has also experienced the grueling media pressure and fan criticism- something that will come with the England job.

On his time at Inter “I was at a massive club that was known worldwide, and certainly in Italy, so that really was an eye-opener. Despite the fact I had had a fantastically long apprenticeship for the job I don’t think even that could prepare me as it should have done and I had to learn quickly.” On the pressure of matches “There were autopsies after every game,” he said. “They went through judicial processes all week, tearing apart every single aspect of the game and every single aspect of the performance – something I had been spared all of my life and I wouldn’t mind being spared from it for the rest of my life, if I’m truthful.” As much as he may not want to go through that again, the constant analysis of matches is something that will stand him in good stead in his role as national coach. The ‘papers in England are famously notorious in their criticism of former England managers. With the Graham Taylor-Turnip comparison probably the most famous.

Harry Redknapp has said in the past “tactics don’t win matches”. In an article for The Sun, Redknapp ‘wrote’: “You can argue about formations, tactics and systems for ever, but to me football is fundamentally about the players.” He continues “It’s 10 per cent about the formation and 90 per cent about the players. If you have the best ones and they do their jobs, then they can pretty much play any way you want them to.” – That was in Aug 2010. Fast forward to this season when Spurs lost 2-1 to Norwich at White Hart Lane. Spurs played a 4-4-2 system that left them “miles to open”. “We were disappointing.” says Redknapp ” I changed the system, I played 4-4-2, we played with four forwards and I really felt we were too open. We’re too open when we play that way, because we haven’t really got forwards who get back into position and play the system well enough.”

It does seem a odd to play a system when you know that you don’t have the players make that system work. In international football tactics plays a huge role in matches (as it does at any level) But with the amount of time in-between matches at that level, coaches study footage for days (or months) trying to analyze and assess their opponents. Redknapp seemed surprised that his team was bullied by Norwich, when anyone who had watched their previous matches could see they try to use their physical strength to their advantage. This season some of Redknapp’s tactics have been questioned. As in 5-2 loss to Arsenal, Paul Parker writes “Spurs weren’t playing especially well but they got themselves into a 2-0 lead, and at that point you should make sure you don’t lose it. But Redknapp changed everything drastically again at half-time, and I couldn’t understand the introduction of Sandro, who was all over the place.” He also writes about the 0-0 with Sevenage in the FA Cup “..big tactical changes don’t help…Harry had three at the back. There was no need to do that, and whatever Redknapp may have said about the pitch, Stevenage were playing on the same pitch.”

There were also unconfirmed reports last week of a player revolt against Redknapp. A number of players complained to Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, via their agents (how brave), about the tactics and match preparation which may have contributed to Spurs only winning one match in nine premier league games. On the other end of the spectrum here is what Simon Davies said of Roy Hodgson when managing Fulham: “Every day is geared towards team shape – and it shows. We would have a little laugh about it now and again, but when he came to Fulham we were fighting relegation. His management style took us to a Europa League final, so you take it. I don’t want to give any secrets away, but he gets the 11 that he wants for a match and drills everything in that he wants. It’s defensive drills and certain attacking drills – with no diagrams. It’s all on the pitch with the ball.” 

What England need at Euro 2012 is organization. Something that no one can call any of Hodgson’s sides was un-organized. Redknapp however has become concerned about the lack of organization his side has displayed recently, especially from set-plays. Conceding goals from corners as well as not scoring from corners. Stats reveal thats Spurs have won 205 corners this season, the 2nd highest in the league and have only scored five goals from those corners. In Nov 2010 after Spurs had scored from a corner, Rafael Van Der Vaart said “Gareth Bale scored a header against Blackburn from my corner. But we didn’t train one minute on it, it was pure luck. Good kicking, good heading, nothing more.”

Often in the past the England side has been so obsessed with trying to attractive football but that they fall under the pressure. In the 2010 World Cup they played poorly in all three group matches failing to convince even when they did win. The exception with appointing Redknapp would be that England should play as Spurs have done throughout the season, attacking and plenty of running. Yet as shown by the poor performances of English sides in Europe (Chelsea excluded) the Premier League style of play does not translate to the European stage. That is a lesson that the national side should noted.

It would be unfair to expect England to play fluid, attractive football given the disruptions that have occurred to the set up. That would seem a silly statement considering the talent on offer in the national side. But bringing the eleven best players doesn’t guarantee great football. Players need a game plan and look to the bench for guidance when things are going wrong. The level of planning that managers go to at the highest level is mind boggling. Managers like Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Germany’s Joachim Löw are known to watch endless dvd’s of their next opponent, give individual players assignments for the up coming match and look for any advantage for their side whether it’s the food, fitness training, camp location or team hotel.

Again Spur’s Rafael Van Der Vaart on Redknapp: “There are no long and boring speeches about tactics, like I was used to at Real Madrid. There is a clipboard in our dressing room but Harry doesn’t write anything on it! It’s very relaxed. The gaffer gives us the line-up 20 minutes before we go out to do our warm-up. And the only words he speaks to me are ‘You play left or right, work hard, have fun and show the fans your best’. Then the defenders get an instruction about who to mark at corners and free-kicks — and that’s it.” he goes on “It’s not that we do nothing- but it’s close to that.” Could you imagine the England team being run like that?

That seems in stark comparison to what Simon Davies said earlier about Roy Hodgson. So often England go into tournaments with a heightened sense of optimism. Or you could say unrealistic expectations. While he may not be the fans, or pundits first choice he does lower the expectations that has so often weighed down the national side. It’s a view best summed up by former Liverpool player John Barnes “Roy Hodgson is as good as anyone, he’s competent, he’s a good manager and he’s proven at international level, although the expectations with Switzerland and Finland are not what they are at England. People have to take a more pragmatic approach about England and if we quell our expectations, he will do a good job. We have to be looking to get results and be competitive rather than thinking we’re the best in the world and should try to play like that. Roy will give us consistency. We’re not Barcelona or Spain so let us get a manager who will play to our strengths and be pragmatic and organised.”

Obviously not everyone will be convinced by Hodgson, mostly from some sense that he is a mid-team manager parachuted into a job because he is a safe option. He also doesn’t have the media baggage of Redknapp who went through a court case this year for his alleged financial irregularities. He’s also viewed (unfairly) as a sort of puppet figure who the FA can control easier then Redknapp. Some also highlight the fact that Hodgson was out of contract at the end of the season with West Brom and so wouldn’t cost the FA anything in terms of compensation. I would just rebut that that it is fate he is out of contract. And a manager who has been managed at clubs such as Inter Milan, Liverpool and three national sides can hardly be accused of being a puppet, a degree of hard work and determination goes into becoming a successful manager. Not just by being a yes man.

A lot has also been made of FA chairman David Bernstein’s words that Hodgson was “the only manager we have approached..”  People seem to find it hard to believe that there could only have been one candidate for the job. But such is the fickle nature of reporting that if the FA had come out and said they had a list of five or ten candidates there would be accusations that they didn’t not know what they wanted and were just offering the job to anyone who might take the job. Overall the FA wanted someone who will do more then just manage the side at the up coming Euro’s. They want a manager who will look to help with youth development, future coaching and someone to be involved in every level of the England set up. Speaking on Sky Sports News this morning Alan Curbishley: “David Bernstein…is looking for a certain type of manager I think and with the big move to St George’s Park coming up it was a manager who was going to embrace all levels of the game and be involved on the coaching side. I think that when it comes down to that then Roy Hodgson ticks most of the boxes. The Job description probably suits Roy more than Harry in that respect.” 

Alan went into a bit more detail on what the England would now involve. “I do think it’s more of a wide-ranging job than perhaps Sven-Goran Eriksson had and Fabio Capello had. They basically took charge of the first team – and that was when the internationals came up. I think the FA are looking for someone to get more involved at all levels. With the move to St George’s Park they may be based there for some time, embrace the coaching courses and the young managers coming up who are taking their badges. The job has changed to what we felt Capello’s job description was.”

Harry Redknapp will now be compared to Brain Clough. Another great English manager who was never given the chance to coach the national side. It may not be the most popular choice, but the appointment of Roy Hodgson may turn out to be the best thing for English football. Sometimes a fans passion can blind them to what is really needed. There is no point in being negative about the appointment. It helps no one. Should Hodgson take the job he will need the support of the fans and media alike to make his job as easy as possible. What shouldn’t happen is the continued wave of criticism, negativity and blame that has saturated English supporting culture for generations. As Mandela said “..in this instance the people are wrong” Let’s hope that the officials of the FA know what they’re doing. They have made a brave choice to go against the popular opinion and make a move that may upset the public. But thats what officials there for. To make decisions for the greater good even if it is not always the obvious choice.

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