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Saturday, May 5, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

Hodgson guaranteed a rough ride in charge of England


LONDON — "Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, viniculture, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?" — Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Christopher Davies

The appointment of Roy Hodgson as England manager saw many journalists questioning the Football Association's decision while bookmakers were left rubbing their hands together. The perceived shoo-in of Harry Redknapp as Fabio Capello's successor never happened and some of the initial press coverage was vitriolic.

The Sun decided to make fun of Hodgson's slight speech impediment on its front page which prompted a complaint by the F.A., but the newspaper's offensive ridiculing of the West Bromwich Albion manager had the effect of turning those who were against his appointment into supporters.

To paraphrase the Life of Brian: "Apart from two Swedish Championships, eight Swedish Cups, two UEFA Cup finals, a Danish Superliga, a Danish Super Cup, taking Finland to its highest ever FIFA ranking, guiding Switzerland to third in the FIFA rankings, to the second round at USA '94 plus its first European Championship in 36 years, what has Roy Hodgson ever done?

When Hodgson was appointed manager of Liverpool, his biggest problem was that he was not Kenny Dalglish. Now, he is criticized because he is not Harry Redknapp, who in 29 years as a manager has won one major trophy — the F.A. Cup with Portsmouth.

Redknapp may look back and regret making so many public comments about the England job which the conservative powerbrokers at the F.A. will probably have regarded as being presumptuously arrogant. You have to play the political game in football and Hodgson has handled this side perfectly. With the F.A. trying to rebuild bridges with FIFA, it would have been delighted Sepp Blatter tweeted his approval of Hodgson's appointment.

Redknapp's fan club points out how he has better man-management skills than Hodgson and always gets the best out of players. But an international manager usually has only a few days with his squad which is not enough to teach players anything or improve their technique. He cannot manipulate the transfer market or influence players as a club manager can.

He is at the mercy of the players who are available to him over which he has no control. Hodgson's main priority will be to ensure a happy squad (though why multimillionaires playing football for a living and representing their country in the European Championship should be anything but happy will puzzle most). His main problems will be appointing a captain, probably Steven Gerrard, and ensuring the relationship between Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, if selected for Euro 2012, does not harm team-spirit.

The Chelsea captain is due to stand trial in July for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. Rio is too professional to allow this to affect his on-field performances, but the Manchester United defender is fiercely loyal to his brother and it is safe to say he will not be sharing a breakfast table with Terry.

Welcome to the no-win job, Roy.

* * *

IN DAYS gone by, F.A. Cup final day was sacrosanct. I used to sit in front of the television with my dad from breakfast time, mum doing what mums do while we watched the buildup to the big game.

News photo
Poisoned chalice: Roy Hodgson is the latest manager to take on England's "Impossible Job." AFP-JIJI

It started with reporters outside the finalists' hotels near Wembley, perhaps a chat with the players as they ate their corn flakes. The coverage may have been amateur by today's standards but it was a ritual — the F.A. Cup final was not so much a match, it was a day's entertainment at a time when it was virtually the only televised game.

What used to be the highlight of the season has now been relegated to a support act as the Premier League reaches its climax. Chelsea v Liverpool at Wembley will decide the winner of the F.A. Cup, but Newcastle v Manchester City is significant for the title race and the battle for fourth place which carries a passport to the Champions League.

Newcastle is playing some breathtaking football and City certainly has a much harder task than Manchester United, which entertains Swansea. In a season that has provided so many twists and turns it would be foolish to rule out a final twist in the title tale.

Arsenal, which hosts Norwich, must win to keep ahead of Spurs, who travel to Aston Villa as the north London rivals slug it out for third place. The F.A. Cup final kicks-off at 5.15 p.m. for the first time to accommodate league football. Let's hope the occasion is worthy of the competition.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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