In the wake of Fabio Capello’s sudden resignation as England manager on February 8th, all that could be heard from the FA’s Wembley Headquarters was a conspicuous silence. Two months on and no replacement has been appointed – no talks held. The English national team has remained manager-less and the FA has given no hints as to what their next course of action may be.
Stuart Pearce MBE assumed caretaker charge and may do so for the upcoming European Championships, but only in the eyes of very few is he seen as a genuine candidate for the permanent post. A look at his track record and one can see why; stints in the manager’s job at Manchester City and Nottingham Forest as caretaker boss stand out in what can only be described as an average CV. Though Pearce has been gaining vital experience as the under-21 manager in recent years – and with great success – his credentials are still far from impressive for a job as big as that of England manager.
And so the media bandwagon turned its attention immediately to Old ‘Arry, Hazza ‘the wheeler-dealer’ Redknapp. After the Tottenham Hotspur manager won his court case against tax evasion on the same day as Capello offered his resignation, fate had set out its stall and England had already chosen its next hero. But since the frenzy of speculation began, Redknapp’s Spurs have proceeded to win only four of sixteen games and, without a second’s thought, the spark that lit the fire rapidly started to fade.
If Redknapp was not the man, England now seemed short of options. Alan Pardew – one of this season’s greatest success stories – ruled himself out of contention on day one and, with the FA supposedly looking for a home-grown successor to two consecutive foreign coaches, alternatives seemed thin on the ground. It was then that the bandwagon stopped at a service station, took a decisive U-turn and made its way through London onto the M1 towards West Bromwich. There stood Roy Hodgson, the choice of a fair few as the ‘ideal’ man for the job.
The Hodgson argument is one based on experience and stature within the game. It is said that because Hodgson has managed a vast wealth of teams – both domestically and in foreign countries, and both at club level and internationally – he is sure to have the knowledge and mental strength required to successfully handle the loneliest seat in the country. Hodgson has managed sixteen different teams, most notably Switzerland, Blackburn Rovers, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion. He speaks five languages, has won the Swedish and Danish league championships, managed at the World Cup and European Championships and been linked with the England and Germany jobs in the past. His coaching style and man management techniques have been praised, whilst his more recent stand-out achievements of saving Fulham from relegation and then guiding them to the Europa League final were rightly lauded for their phenomenal nature.
Yet, West Brom (Roy Hodgson’s current club) are lying 13th in the league table. Are those that champion Hodgson’s case saying that this is a good enough claim for the role of England manager? Granted, West Brom are operating with very minimal resources, and the job Hodgson has done there deserves credit. However, performing at a mid-table Premier League club where winning one in every three games is seen as ‘doing well’ are far different propositions to managing one of the biggest national teams in world football.
In Hodgson’s career, he has reached two second-tier European finals, but did he win them? No. He did win multiple league championships in Scandinavia, but this is, once again, a different level to what is required at Wembley. And, though in 1994, he achieved remarkable success in guiding Switzerland to their first World Cup finals since 1966, this was almost twenty years ago; what’s more, this was done in a country where qualification was seen as an exceptional achievement, not a given – as it would be with England. With all due respect to Hodgson’s work, West Brom were no nearer to relegation under Roberto Di Matteo, whilst his more high-profile achievements have since been counter-balanced through failure with various different clubs.
Indeed, top-tier management in football is a completely different ball game. Though it is claimed that the media hounded Hodgson out of Inter Milan, the fact of the matter remains that he did not last there; in any case, if media attention is something that scares you – England is not the team for you. Nor did he last at Liverpool, another club where performing averagely throughout a season does not warrant lavish praise but intense scrutiny, as Kenny Dalglish can testify. When the stakes are raised to another level, Hodgson seems out of his depth.
Of course, if the FA has no interest in Redknapp (or vice versa) Hodgson may have to be considered due to an inherent lack of alternatives. Glenn Hoddle is another name that has been mentioned, but he has been out of mainstream management for several years, casting serious doubt over his credentials to return to a job with which he already had a crack at the whip in 1996. And without venturing into the Championship or an even lower division, Hodgson may well be the best available candidate who was born and bred an Englishman. However, this is where the situation becomes potentially dangerous.
Whilst people suggest that Redknapp may come up short like Kevin Keegan did as the ‘people’s choice’ – swept in amidst a wave of mass hysteria – one must acknowledge that simply choosing the most convenient (and possibly cheapest) recruit can also go disastrously wrong.
In November 2007, a man with distinctly ginger hair stood under a colourful umbrella on a rainy night at Wembley. That umbrella failed to prevent a 3-2 home defeat to Croatia, which promptly dumped the English national team out of contention for qualification for Euro 2008. The man was Steve McLaren and yes, under his reign, England didn’t even qualify for the Euros, let alone come close to winning them. Certainly, Hodgson is exceptionally more experienced than Mclaren, being 14 years his senior; but Mclaren, too, had taken a mid-table team (Middlesbrough) to the final of Europe’s secondary club competition, whilst similarly impressing with their league campaign. His subsequent showing as England boss should serve a timely reminder that settling for second best is not a sufficient answer.
Alas, though Hodgson is undeniably a good manager, perhaps holding the unique advantage of having previous international experience – he is not the man for England, even if he is the ‘nicest man in the world’.
And so, the bandwagon must change direction once more and find itself yet another destination, and it must do so pretty fast – the European Championships are less than two months away.
Tim is also the sports editor of the LSE student newspaper The Beaver