Why Roy Hodgson - not Redknapp - is the right man for England
Hodgson can appeal to fans who want a passionate Englishman and those who demand a cerebral continental
A FEW Sundays ago my wife and I and other family members went out for the afternoon to the picturesque Cotswolds village of Bourton-on-the-Water. In the car park I saw a man, elegantly dressed, studiously reading the information board about the area. I recognised the man, but other passer-bys didn't. It was Roy Hodgson, a Premier League manager, who instead of spending that Sunday afternoon watching the football on Sky, had decided to do what we had done, and go to visit a place of interest. How many other Premier League managers - caught up in the all-consuming world of top-flight football - would have done likewise?
Hodgson has a hinterland. He reads widely and is a big fan of American literature. He likes art - in a newspaper interview he once compared his career to a painting by Kandinsky - and he speaks several languages. He enjoys fine wines. The fact that Hodgson has an interest in so many things outside of football is, I believe, a big reason for his success. Far from detracting from his management, it makes him do his job better as it gives him a sense of perspective and has stopped him from becoming stale. The afternoon out exploring Bourton-on-the-Water certainly didn't appear to do Hodgson much harm; since then his team, West Bromwich Albion, have won three times, including a 1-0 win at Liverpool.
That day in March wasn't the first time my path had crossed with Hodgson's. I was living and working in Switzerland when he was the manager of the national team in the 1990s. He did a fantastic job, steering the Swiss to the finals of the 1994 World Cup - their first major tournament since the 1960s - and getting them through to the knock-out stages. It was the first time Hodgson had managed a national side and his success with Switzerland bodes well for his England prospects, should his appointment be confirmed.
As does the splendid work he did with Fulham. Having saved the west London club from near-certain relegation in the 2007/8 season, he then secured their highest ever league position (seventh) one year later and took them into Europe. In 2010 Fulham reached their first ever European final and their progression - which included a memorable 5-4 aggregate win over Juventus in the last 16, showed that when it comes to getting it right against European opponents, Hodgson has few peers.
Critics of Hodgson will no doubt argue that having such a contemplative and intellectual man as manager of England won't excite the fans and that England would be better off with 'the people's choice' the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, who has been the red-hot favourite to succeed Fabio Capello. In an article in today's Daily Mail entitled 'Hodgson's record at West Brom reads P52 W20 L20... Is this a job for Mr Average?', Martin Samuel describes Hodgson as "a man who is lauded for winning as many matches as he has lost with West Bromwich Albion".
He continues: "Poor old Harry Redknapp. In the end, he just wasn't ordinary enough for the Football Association and England. Ordinary would have fitted the schedule. Mediocre could have slotted right in."
It's unfair criticism, as there's nothing remotely mediocre - or ordinary - about Hodgson. His team may occupy a lower league position than Tottenham, but that's largely to do with the club's financial resources. It's worth noting that in the period 2006-11 Spurs spent over four times more on new players than West Brom. As for Hodgson not exciting the fans, the thing that will do just that is if England start to win important international matches. Redknapp is undoubtedly a good Premier League manager and can always be relied upon to give the press good copy, but Hodgson has far more experience of European football (he has managed in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Italy as well as in Switzerland), and his style of play and the tactics he employs are ideally suited to get results against European teams.
"Our style of football works really well for us in Europe, playing against European opposition, because of the way we want to play football, the way we close down our opposition, retain possession," Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer explained in 2010.
Hodgson provides the perfect compromise between those who believe that English people make the best managers of the national side because they have more passion and those who say continental managers are better because they are more cerebral and more tactically astute. The former PE teacher from south London, who has spent a large part of his career working in Europe, is the Englishman who though patriotic, is actually more continental than he is English. So we get the best of both worlds.
If the FA does appoint Hodgson we're going to get an intelligent, thoughtful man, who can motivate his players to perform to their optimum and also someone who realises that while football is very important, there are also other things in life too. The kind of detachment that makes a top flight manager go out for an afternoon trip to a Cotswolds beauty spot on a Sunday during the football season is exactly what we want from the manager of England.
That said, if Hodgson is successful and leads England to European and World Cup glory, his chances of escaping to the Cotswolds largely unrecognised by the general public, will be greatly reduced.