Do I have a thick skin No, says Hodgson, but I will have to get one
22:50 GMT, 5 May 2012
It is not as if Roy Hodgson did not know abuse and ridicule would be coming his way. It is just that traditionally an England manager has to lose some football matches before the campaign to undermine him begins.
Hodgson awoke on Wednesday to headlines mocking his inability to pronounce his Rs, which was apparently intended as an affectionate but light-hearted welcome to the job.
Much worse has been inflicted on previous England managers and Hodgson would hardly have been mortified by a long-standing joke. But if this was a jovial welcome, it does not bode well for the first defeat.
Time to adapt: Hodgson says he needs to develop a thick skin
Nevertheless, he had better get used to it. Many would argue that the ability to ignore abuse is a prerequisite for an England manager, but Hodgson is disarmingly frank when asked whether he feels he has the thick skin necessary to ignore inevitable barbs.
‘I don’t think so, no,’ he says. ‘I think I have to answer that question honestly. Maybe I should develop one.’
He ought to but, at 64, it will not be easy to change his sensitivities.
‘It probably is required,’ he adds. ‘But I’m a football coach, a manager. That’s been my life. Dealing with the mass media has also been a part of my life, not one I’ve shied away from, and it hasn’t bothered me. I’ve accepted it as part of my duties. I like to think for the best part I get on with it and do a reasonable job. But I can’t deny that my forte, and what I want to do, is to coach footballers, prepare teams, build teams, try to improve teams. That’s basically what the England manager’s job is.
‘I know it [media duties] is also a very important part of it, don’t get me wrong. If I’m to be vulnerable in any area, or lacking, it might be that I don’t have the thick enough skin to deal with you guys. But I’d rather that than not have the wherewithal to deal with players.’
Hodgson does have a coaching record that
commands respect and attention. Even though Bayern Munich players
Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger said they knew little about him,
Hodgson is the only foreigner to have been considered for coaching the
German national team, back in 1998.
Sign of the times at Anfield: Hodgson lasted only 31 games as Liverpool boss
His long record is impressive and he clearly has the ability to coach, but the key question is whether he can pick a squad inside 10 days and organise a team inside five weeks to perform adequately at Euro 2012.
Then, in the long term, qualify for Brazil 2014. And, all the while, cope with being compared to Harry Redknapp and the galvanising effect the Spurs boss might have had.
‘Roy’s very astute and knows that it’s not going to be easy taking on England,’ said one friend of Hodgson’s of more than 40 years’ standing.
‘But he has confidence in his convictions, knowing that some senior players, press or general public might not be sure about him.’
What Hodgson lacks in charisma, he
will have to make up for in organisation. ‘He’s very persistent, and he
doesn’t have great variation in coaching,’ added his friend. ‘The
practical work is to make sure the players know exactly what their job
is, especially defensively. He makes sure everybody knows exactly what
position they should be in when they lose possession, and also when they
Liverpool, such methods were portrayed as a weakness, with players
complaining about the lack of variety and the fact that they were always
required to sit deep. At Fulham and West Bromwich, it has been
fundamental to their relative successes.
High hopes: Hodgson was loved at Swedish side Halmstads (above)
Hodgson himself takes umbrage at the characterisation of his methods. ‘It would be wrong to start suggesting that my methodology would differ from my predecessors,’ he says. ‘I don’t think it does. Things also get exaggerated. What one player sees as a drill, others see as a coaching game.’
With Ray Lewington, his No 2 at Fulham, now appointed as an assistant, this week we will know who else is to be added to the coaching team.
Yet, caution is likely to be a watchword. Another manager acquainted with Hodgson said: ‘My guess is that he’ll play two holding midfielders, sit them in front of the back four and say to them, “Don’t you dare move!” ’
That may be to England’s advantage. Glenn Hoddle says England’s great failing was being outnumbered in midfield, which is why he favoured a five-man middle when he was manager. At the least, they should be solid at the Euros.
Don Howe, England No 2 to Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson and Terry Venables, is said to have been a major influence on Hodgson. He was similarly obsessed by defensive positioning. Ironically, though, it was a man who is the antithesis of that who perhaps sparked Hodgson’s coaching imagination.
‘I think Roy’s coaching education started with Malcolm Allison years ago,’ said a friend. ‘When Malcolm was at Crystal Palace in the early Seventies, Roy was a very junior coach. Malcolm was a great thinker who would talk all night about the game and come up with a real gem. Roy would take it all in.’
Mentor: Former Crystal Palace manager Malcolm Allison
Hodgson's packed diary
Saturday West Brom go to Bolton
May 13 Final WBA game, against Arsenal at the Hawthorns
May 14 Provisional date for first naming first England squad
May 21 Meet with squad at training camp in Spain
May 26 First match in charge, friendly v Norway in Copenhagen
May 29 Deadline for submitting final 23-man Euro 2012 squad
June 2 Last warm-up game, against Belgium at Wembley
June 11 England v France, Euro 2012. His first competitive game
Allison, assistant to Joe Mercer when
Manchester City last won the League in 1968, was the flamboyant
fedora-wearing press darling of his day.
Hodgson, son of a London bus driver who grew up in Croydon, is anything but.
However, he gives the impression of
being someone who regards his ordinary background as fundamental to his
outlook on life. In 2001, while coaching at Udinese, he reflected on the
coarsening of public debate in football and division between managers
‘We’re well paid, even put on pedestals – which we probably don’t deserve – for doing something we love,’ he said.
Right hand man: Hodgson with Ray Lewington (left) at Fulham
‘But more and more we’re divorced from the working world in which I started. I often get the impression that we’re elevated in order to be shot at, that by earning so much we have conceded the right to normal human dignity. I’m not sure that being ludicrously criticised, often by people with very limited competence to do so, is good for you.’
That was 11 years ago. Things are likely to get an awful lot worse.
Hodgson concedes that having been asked to consider the England job last Sunday, the honour was such that he did not weigh up the pressures of the job.
‘When this opportunity came, maybe I should have thought about these things,’ he said. ‘I’m just really delighted and pleased to have the opportunity to lead my country and do the best job I can.’
It is the honest response of a man from a generation who still regard the England job as the ultimate honour. It must be hoped that, assuming there will be some failures along the way, the thick skin will have developed sufficiently to repel the barbs and complete the task.