By Sachin Nakrani
It is always heartening to see a drowning man raise his head above water, but 16 months on from his sacking as the Liverpool manager, few could have predicted Roy Hodgson would have clambered onto shore in such spectacular style.
He was sunk at Anfield, a man ruined and humiliated, and yet here he now is, picking England’s squad for Euro2012. It is jaw-dropping, eye-rubbing stuff. Not for everyone, of course.
Ask Fulham and West Bromwich Albion supporters and they will tell you that the 64-year-old fully deserves a chance to lead the nation of birth into a major tournament.
Others, too, would argue Hodgson’s case, most notably supporters of the Swedish clubs Halmstad and Malmo, who won multiple titles under the Englishman’s charge, as well as those of the Swiss national team, who reached the 1994 World Cup as well as third place in the Fifa world rankings while managed by the same man.
Overall, Hodgson’s managerial career spans 36 years and takes in 18 different sides in eight different nations.
Hodgson is, then, a well-travelled and reasonably successful coach, but sure to forever hover over his achievements, and in particular as he prepares to manage England, is his time at Liverpool.
It was as brief as it was brutal.
We all know the mitigating circumstances; chaos in the boardroom, a demoralised squad in need of major improvement that was unlikely to receive reinforcements because of, well, the chaos in the boardroom, but, nonetheless, it is no exaggeration to say that presented with a chance to make his name at one of England’s powerhouse clubs, Hodgson messed up badly. It probably couldn’t have gone any worse.
Along with the terrible form – Liverpool won just seven out of 20 Premier League games under Hodgson’s charge as well as exiting the Carling Cup to Northampton Town on a sodden and sorry night at Anfield – there was also an insipid, almost primeval style of play, best encapsulated by the story of how Hodgson reacted one afternoon upon seeing Daniel Agger trying to play his way out of defence.
“Just fucking launch it!” came his order to the Danish centre-back.
Most alarming of all, however, was Hodgson’s demeanor during his six-month stay on Merseyside. When he arrived on a sweltering day in July, I for one thought Liverpool had appointed a man who would bring calm to a club in crisis, but he more than anyone got caught up in the maelstrom, increasingly coming across as a desperate and overwhelmed figure with the nadir perhaps reached during Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat away to Newcastle on the 11th of December 2010 when Hodgson could be seen rubbing his face so hard that one could only presume he had become possessed.
The lowering of expectations was what possibly upset Liverpool fans the most and, ultimately, it came as no surprise when they turned on Hodgson. I was there for the miserable defeat to Wolves at Anfield on the 29th of December 2010 and while I did not participate in the chants of “Hodgson for England”, neither did I shake my head in disgust.
His time was up, we knew it and he probably did, too. But who could have imagined then that “Hodgson for England” would
become less a taunt and more a prediction of events to come. The bulk of Liverpool supporters probably couldn’t give a toss given their generally apathy to all matters concerning the national team.I am part of that collective but, equally, I do feel some concern for a man who by all accounts is decent and upstanding and, let us not forget, did arrive at Liverpool with the intention of doing well by the club.
Because if Hodgson found life at Liverpool tough-going than he is surely about to receive one heck of a bolt to the system. The scrutiny
that comes with being the England manager is 10-fold, as has already been seen by the cruel front-page put out by a certain newspaper to mark his appointment to the job, and by Hodgson’s own admission he is not a man who takes criticism well.
Then there is the team itself; one that is strikingly similar to that which Hodgson found upon replacing Rafa Benitez at Anfield in that it is lacking in balance and a sizeable number of top-quality players but, nevertheless, is under demand to win regularly and to do so
playing reasonably eye-catching football.
All England fans can hope is that he gets it right this time.
But what exactly is “right”? Hodgson has already said that England will travel to Euro2012 with the intention of winning the tournament but only a tub-thumping fool would think that is even a remote possibility. As said, the squad is hardly crammed with high-calibre talents with perhaps only Joe Hart, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney its genuine world-class players and, don’t forget, the later is suspended for the opening two games of the tournament.
In a group that contains the hosts Ukraine, the consistently-capable Sweden and the much-improved France, England would do well to make the knockout stages. From there anything is a bonus, and should England make the semi-finals then all involved, Hodgson in particular, should be lauded to the heavens.
The fundamental thing holding progress back is a lack of preparation.
Hodgson will have named his squad for the tournament having not even met the majority of the players and will have less than a month to scout England’s group opponents, an absurdly short space of time that has come about due to the FA’s desire to drag their feet over appointing Fabio Capello’s successor. Their intentions were noble but the eventual outcome is quite frankly bonkers.
The flip-side, of course, is that England will travel to Ukraine and Poland with little or no expectations of making an impact, a welcome departure from the usual hyperbole and tabloid-led bullshit that follows the team onto foreign shores. That is sure to suit Hodgson who despite his new-found bravado, still comes across as a man who finds ambition and swagger unsettling; the bank manager to Harry Redknapp’s casino owner.
But I for one wish him well. He failed spectacularly at Liverpool but never meant us any harm and has now at least shown the bravery to take on a job that turned the majority of his predecessors into joke-figures and vegetables.
The country wanted Redknapp, they have ended up with Hodgson. Yes, it still seems a little startling but there are those in Sweden,
Switzerland, London, the Black Country and even Milan that will assure you he is a more than capable coach. All the nation can hope for ahead of Euro2012 is that the ghost of Anfield past does not continue to haunt him.
Sachin is a sports journalist for The Guardian and you can follow him on Twitter here