Hodgson has spent his career becoming perfect for England
07:57 GMT, 6 May 2012
The England manager Roy Hodgson… there, that wasn’t difficult. Only a week in and the phrase fairly trips off the keyboard. The man himself still seems a touch bewildered by the pace of events, but already the novelty is fading and a kind of normality is starting to take hold.
There have been one or two irritating sideshows. With prattish predictability, the front page of The Sun made a few infantile jibes at his manner of speaking while, elsewhere, there was the odd, mean-minded effort to depict his career record as no more than mediocre.
But Hodgson set his own course. Aware of the preposterous expectations which the job attracts, he was the very model of moderation; promising little and offering no hostages to fortune.
Fighting his corner: Roy Hodgson has emerged from a whirlwind week in credit as the England boss
He remains a relative stranger to most of the nation, but after this first week, I suspect that the nation quite likes what it sees.
In fairness, this second-guessing of national opinion is a hazardous business. We had been ceaselessly assured that Harry Redknapp was the nation’s choice. So implacable was that assertion that any doubt or deviation was treated as heresy. The job was Harry’s; not if, but when.
Yet the Football Association quartet charged with making the decision gave no indication of the appointment being a done deal. In fact, they appear to have acted responsibly all along the line.
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They kept their own counsel, even through the absurd attempts to blame them for the slump in Tottenham’s form. And when the chosen candidate was produced, their smugness was decently subdued.
It should be said that Redknapp has behaved with good grace. I wouldn’t know about his private thoughts, since we are not on confiding terms, but clearly he imagined that the job was his, so the disappointment must have been acute. Yet publicly at least, his reaction has been impeccable.
It is easy to see what the Spurs manager might have achieved for England. Redknapp is a glorious tap-dancer, a man who blossoms in the spotlight. He would have won the trust of his players and persuaded them to express themselves with energy and flair. He would have acquired a wider audience for his one-liners, and he would have revelled in his reputation as a card. And he would have showed any amount of ‘passion’, that attribute for which English football has such a curious regard.
But when the inevitable bad times arrived, then Redknapp might have struggled. A man of notoriously thin skin, he would surely have been affronted by the resulting criticism.
Denied the opportunity to play the transfer market and aware that mature English talent is in perilously short supply — the Spurs team who started at Bolton the other evening contained just three men qualified to represent England — he might well have come to curse the day he accepted such a thanklessly restrictive task.
Hodgson, I suspect, will approach things differently. Like Redknapp, he does not react well to criticism, reasonable or otherwise. And while he was never given the extended support he deserved in his short spell at Liverpool, he was patently affected by the level of abuse.
But he understands the rhythms, the snares, the dynamics of international football, having managed three countries in a total of 80 international matches. It is the most impressive single aspect of his curriculum.
In the spotlight: Sure, Harry Redknapp would have been a 'popular' choice, but was he the right one
And something else. When the FA chairman David Bernstein was introducing the new man the other day, he said, in what was almost a throwaway line: ‘You mustn’t underestimate the importance of St George’s Park in all of this.’
Indeed not. It is the FA’s intention that the future of the English game will be found in those sprawling acres of Burton on Trent, upon which some 100million of investment has been lavished.
The feeling is that Hodgson will embrace this concept more enthusiastically than any other candidate. He has witnessed at first hand the influence of these institutions in other major, more successful European nations.
Abuse: Graeme Le Saux suffered taunts simply because he was a reader of a broadsheet newspaper
So he will throw himself into the task of
coaching the coaches, of persuading teams to travel in the same
direction, of influencing the culture of the game and elevating the
ambitions of the young men who play it.
The popular impression in this country is that footballers keep their brains in their boots. Expectations are depressingly low.
I recall a striker with a London team who was once caught flicking through a Jeffrey Archer potboiler on the team bus. He was forever after known as The Professor.
And who can forget the distinguished international full-back Graeme Le Saux suffering disgraceful homophobic abuse from dullards up and down the country on the grounds that he read The Guardian!
It will take time, patience and a degree of wisdom to alter such attitudes when the pressures demand that you chase the next result or risk the clamorous consequences.
The new manager has just enjoyed an easy week, full of high hopes and supportive smiles. Next week could be quite different, and all the weeks and months which follow.
But Roy Hodgson’s entire career has been a preparation for such a task. He has earned the chance to take it on.
Fabio sees what he's missing
After a two-month holiday, an old friend is ready for action. And Fabio Capello wants it known that he would welcome a return to English football.
Capello, you will recall, was paid around 6million per year to manage England. It seemed a lot of money at the time, although not enough to persuade him to master the language of his adopted country.
After presiding over a disastrous World Cup campaign, Capello took up a contract extension to take him through to Euro 2012. When the FA, quite properly, decided that John Terry could not remain as England captain after being charged with a racially aggravated public order offence, Capello flounced away.
Sign him off: Fabio Capello is interested in getting back in the dugout
But that was February. Now the world has changed. Now he wants ‘one more challenge’.
Nothing to do with money, of course. ‘I don’t work for money,’ he says. ‘I want to manage a team that want to win something.’
Cue Mrs Merton’s immortal question to the lovely Debbie McGee: ‘Tell me, what was it that first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels’
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Pressure cooker: Alex McLeish's players are lacking discipline and the fans want him out
McLeish himself had left his players at the ground. He was ‘shocked’. He said: ‘There was alcohol in the suite, but not on the players’ tables. I thought, naively perhaps, that they would all just go home.’ A good man, Alex McLeish. But I fear that last, unworldly sentence may be the one which brings him down.
PS They are unveiling a statue of Sir Bobby Robson at St James’ Park this morning. A handsome bronze to commemorate a local hero. ‘This is where his love of football began,’ says his widow, Lady Elsie. ‘As a boy he’d come here with his dad. He was always a Newcastle fan at heart.’
Bobby would have been thrilled by this honour in this place. It is a proper tribute to a beguiling man. Sometimes, the rackety old game gets it just right.