Roy Hodgson comes across as quite a boring old man. He’s got a wrinkly worn out face that looks like it’s only got a vague connection to the skull it covers. This is a sign of experience, one of the key words that gets banded around when people talk about international managers. Was he your first choice? I doubt it.
Most people seem uninspired by his selection and the worry is that the players will share the same feeling. Another Steve McClaren perhaps, but I don’t think they have much in common.
He’s certainly not who the media wanted, Harry Redknapp was their man and has been from the get go. Whereas Harry loves to chat with reporters, is good for a story and is approachable; Roy is more reserved, more grouchy and far less inclined to make the lives of reporters easy. They are both like granddads of the English game, Harry is the fun granddad that takes you places, buys you fun toys and often gives you pocket money. In contrast Roy is the hard going granddad who tells you to do your homework, work hard in school, pay attention and make something of yourself. They both care about you, but have different ways of expressing it.
English is as English does
There are two things that spring to mind when talking about the next England manager. The first is should he be English? It’s a fairly simple question with a less than simple answer. Most of the other big footballing nations appoint a manager from their own country. But then most big footballing nations have a far better record of producing managers and coaches than we do, so by extension that makes their job of picking someone from their own country easier.
It’s all about how you frame the question, if you say “should the manager of the England team be English?” the obvious answer is yes, it feels like the right thing to say. But how about this one, “is Harry Redknapp more qualified to manage England than Jose Mourinho because he’s English?” now we’ve stumbled into a tricky area. The obvious answer here is no, Mourinho has managed in England, speaks excellent English and has been hugely successful with just about every team he’s ever managed, the fact that he isn’t English in no way means he’d be a worse England manager than Redknapp who hasn’t enjoyed anything like the same success.
So why does the manager of the England team have to be English? Perhaps he doesn’t, it would be nice if he was, but surely it’s about getting the right man for the job? But there is the problem, you have to get your man. So another question, “does being English make a manager more likely to accept the England job?” Again, obvious answer, yes.
The best manager in England is Sir Alex Ferguson, based on you know, everything he’s won. Then we’ve got Arsene Wenger, very successful despite the lack of recent accolades. The same is true of Kenny Dalglish, he’s won the league with two different clubs. Roberto Mancini won the title in Italy a number of times and could well do the same this season in England and if not this year then next. These are the top managers in the country. None of them are English, none of them would want the England job.
Of the managers working in the Premier League today, of which only 4 are English (3 really as Terry Connor barely qualifies), the collective English trophy haul is 1 F.A Cup (Redknapp) and 1 Football League Trophy (Alan Pardew). Discounting English managers who have had the job before (because none of them deserve a second go at it) and Stuart Pearce who said he didn’t want the job long term, the other possible contenders who have managed in the top flight and are currently working in English football are all in the Championship, Chris Hughton, Ian Holloway, Neil Warnock, Paul Jewell and Sam Allardyce, a hugely inspiring list of names. If you really want you could perhaps add Alan Curbishley, Gareth Southgate, Phil Brown and even Steve Coppell to the list, but hey why stop there, why not throw in Ray Wilkins for some extra flavour or even go as far as Sir Trevor Brooking. Looking at that list suddenly Roy Hodgson almost looks like the attractive option.
The last English manager to win the top division in England was Howard Wilkinson with Leeds in 91/92, which is pre-Premier League. The moral of the story is England produces terrible managers. English managers don’t get the jobs at the top English clubs and so stating that the England manager should be English is like trying to find someone to run a marathon for you but insisting that you only look at people with one leg.
Three Lions on your chest
The second part of what some people apparently want from an England manager is someone who can inspire and motivate the players. The old three lions, get the team playing with passion, get them living and dying for their country, giving it everything, hyping the players to the extent that when they step onto the pitch they shout “for England!” before exploding into a mad frenzy.
This is the most naive idea that pollutes the theory of football management. Harry Redknapp is undoubtedly a good motivator. The phrase “he makes players feel 10 feet tall” is always talked about, but the idea that you can win a game of football at international level because you are motivated pains me. Sure it helps if you can give a rousing half time team talk, but most of the work is done in the weeks leading up to the tournament on the training pitch, that’s where I’d want my choice to shine.
Have you ever seen a Vicente del Bosque interview? He’s a quiet, shy man who has all the charisma of a dead frog wrapped in wet flannel. But he won endless trophies at Real Madrid and he’s won the World Cup with Spain. He understands how to get the best out of his players. He knows Spanish football, he understands the tactical side of the game, his team are well prepared, organised and play in a way that they understand and is natural for them. He has also benefited from working with some very, very good players.
England beat Spain in a recent friendly. It was a classic international football match, tight, edgy, not that many chances, one teams nicks it 1-0. That’s international football, you keep it tight and hope that you’ve got someone in your team who can nick a goal with a bit of magic or work something from a set-piece. Spain are successful because they keep the ball, it’s their form of defence and it’s what got them to the World Cup final, with a little help from the goals of David Villa.
A group of super-charged-heart-on-your-sleeve English men running around madly on a football pitch diving into tackles and working ridiculously hard would be great to watch, but it wouldn’t make the team successful. International football is about tactical discipline. It’s a staring contest between two heavy-weight boxers, blink first and the other guy gets to hit you in the face as hard as he can, which at the top level, is often a knock-out punch. The most successful manager has ever had is Sir Alf Ramsey, who is coincidently, also the most tactically astute manager England has ever had.
So why Woy?
Roy Hodgson has a record of taking groups of average to good players and making a team that’s hard to beat. Fulham’s run in the Europa League is evidence of this. But go back a bit further and during his time in charge of the Swiss national side you can see what can be accomplished by a group of players with no incredible individuals who conform to the ideas of a coach and play as a team. They were hard to beat to put it mildly.
The problem is that’s not what England fans want and it’s not what the Liverpool fans wanted either. Both sets of fans want to see their team destroy the lesser sides, especially at home. They want, open, expansive, free-flowing attacking football. The kind of football that Spurs produced at times this season, which perhaps goes some way to explaining a lot of the clamour for Redknapp in the deluded hope he’ll be able to make England play that way. Under Hodgson Liverpool didn’t have the players to do that then and they still don’t now, hence the number of draws at home this season when teams are happy to sit back and defend at Anfield. England are in a similar position and putting ‘Arry in charge won’t change Stuart Downing into Gareth Bale, as much as we would like it to.
How many top attacking players do England have? I’ll tell you, it’s one. Wayne Rooney is a top notch attacking player. Nobody else England currently have comes close to him, we’ve got players with potential but none that have really proven they are good enough to be relied upon at international level. Rooney’s goal scoring record at international level isn’t great, because scoring goals at international level is hard, his record at major championships is also not that good. His disciplinary record is even worse, because playing for your country in a finals is a huge test mentally, fraught with intense pressure and frustration.
You want to know what having lots of good attacking players looks like? Take a glance at Argentina: Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Higuain, Milito and there are probably a few I’ve forgotten. England on the other hand have world-class defenders, that’s our strength. An England team needs to be organised and built to defend and that’s what Roy Hodgson does best. We don’t have the attacking flair of Argentina, we don’t have the technical quality of Spain, we can’t fight them and go punch for punch. We have to box clever, stay compact, strong and organised, then choose our moment and when it comes, take it.
What is success?
Sort term, getting out of the group stage of the Euro’s would be a good start. Winning it would be beyond anyone’s realistic expectations. Avoiding humiliation is probably the best remit. But there is a bigger job at hand, which is building the next generation, planning ahead and putting in place a process to bring through players at a stage for the national side where everything in the national set up is changing. For this Roy has a safe pair of hands and is no doubt relishing the job.
The media don’t like him which is a terrible start. Liverpool fans don’t like him either which isn’t going to help. Hodgson needs to keep his cool to keep his job. If he does that until we qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil then that will be a success for him. England haven’t had any luck at a major finals since Euro ’96. Injuries and suspensions have plagued us. Roy Hodgson will make an England team that is hard to break down, that is well drilled and tactically organised. He’ll send them into a cup competition and like the rest of us he’ll hope for the best, if we get a bit of luck who knows where we might end up.
Is he the best man for the job? Probably not. Is he the right choice? Well that depends who else you are willing to consider and depends ever further on who you think might actually take the job. But of the people available, who would want to be England manager, I think he’s the best bet. If England do well this summer I suspect Roy Hodgson will get very little credit, if we do badly he’ll almost certainly get all the blame. Who in their right mind would want to be England manger? Well, if they can’t find anyone else, I’d certainly take the job.