Evening Standard

Hodgson: 'English football's health is judged on just five results a year. It has to be more important than that'. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Nothing much surprises Roy Hodgson. “I am fatalistic,” he says. “So many things happen in football that, if you have a long career like I have, they are going to happen to you sometime.”

The West Brom manager takes another sip of beer when we meet in the Park Lane hotel, where his team stayed for last weekend’s game at Chelsea. But, for all his acceptance of football fate, he is surprised by how things have turned out since he was sacked by Liverpool. “I’m back at a club similar to the one I left for Liverpool: Fulham.”

As with Fulham, he was called in to save the Baggies from relegation. Last season’s rescue lacked the drama of keeping Fulham up in 2008 when the winner against Portsmouth came in the 76th minute of their last match but, says Hodgson: “It still was a close escape. We weren’t fooled that we finished mid-table [11th]. I was no more confident than we were at Fulham.”

What has changed for the 64-year-old is that, this time, he did not react to the Liverpool debacle by leaving England in a huff, unlike when Blackburn got rid of him. Lured from Inter Milan in 1997, two years after Jack Walker’s millions had helped Rovers win the Premier League, he was sacked 17 months later and admits: “I did a very foolish, bit of an arrogant thing: I went back to Inter. What happened at Blackburn was not because I was no good.”

It was another decade before Hodgson returned to England with Fulham. This time he remained at home and, one month after leaving Anfield, he was at the Hawthorns.

He is very philosophical about his unhappy seven months on Merseyside. “I do not regret taking the job. It is a big job. But I went there at the wrong time. I was not the right man at that particular time in the club’s history.”

He admits that, even as he accepted the job, he had misgivings. “I was a bit concerned and I went in with my eyes open, knowing this could be problematic,” he says. “I was fully aware Martin Broughton and Christian Purslow [then chairman and managing director] were trying to sell the club. There would be new owners and they might want to make a change. I am not certain the new American owners were determined to do that but they wanted to listen to the fans. That is the way American clubs operate.”

And Hodgson was left in no doubt who the Kop wanted. “Kenny [Dalglish] had said he wanted the job and a lot of fans made it pretty clear they did not want me, they wanted Kenny,” he says. “My situation was not strong anyway from the first moment and the results were not good.”

But, while Hodgson will not accept that fan power led to his Liverpool exit, he has no love for the social media outlets Anfield supporters used to make their feelings known.

“I am not convinced the internet is a true reflection of what people in general think of anything, least of all in football clubs. ‘Interneters’ or ‘twitterters’, whatever you call them, want to make themselves a bit special by getting their voices heard.

“In the past, newspapers relied on their sources within the club. Now what you read in the papers just comes from people shifting through the internet. But there is a large body of people out there who care about their club. They are much more fair-minded but their opinions don’t get canvassed because they do not broadcast them.”

And, for all the bruising he received at the hands of the Liverpool fans, Hodgson sees no reason to question the coaching methods he has developed over four decades, starting in 1976 in Sweden when, at 29, he managed his first club, Halmstads BK.

At Liverpool, there was criticism of what was felt to be a regimented coaching style. “Perhaps there was,” he says. “I do not think the criticisms came from Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Jamie Carragher. That would bother me. I am sure there were players who did not feel they were getting a fair chance under me who had plenty to say. What Gerrard, Torres and Carragher said was very positive.”

It is this certainty in his ability that would sustain him, should he get the England job. As one of only seven English managers in the Premier League, he must stand a very good chance of making any shortlist to replace Fabio Capello. In the 2009-10 season during his Fulham heyday, when Hugh Grant joked he wanted to go to bed with him, Hodgson told the Standard that only the England job would tempt him away from the club. When I remind him of this he says, “Did I say that?” as if the thought had never crossed his mind.

He goes on: “I would like the job if they thought I was the best candidate, having looked at the qualities I would bring to the job, the things they know I would be good at doing. I’m not certain that is always the case when the appointment is made – mass media have a large influence. They also have a large influence in getting the manager kicked out.”

And, should he take charge of the national team post Euro 2012, he would make sure we judge English football not merely on the basis of how the national team are doing.

“What is English football? Is English football the next result when England play Bulgaria? And if it is Bulgaria 1 England 5, then English football is fantastic. But if it is Bulgaria 1 England 0, then English football is nothing at all.

“English football’s health is judged on just five results a year. It has to be more important than that.

“The Football Association have to ask what we can do to push our football forward: investing in aspects of the game, having better coaching, what we are putting into our youth teams, how the academies are run. The England team winning or losing is crucial but, whether the team win or lose, the work underneath still has to go on.”

For Hodgson, his work at the moment is to preserve West Brom’s top-flight status and he has a points’ total in mind for the team: “Forty will keep us up.”

Although they are without a point from their opening two games, the fact West Brom were handed possibly the toughest start to the season – matches against Manchester United and Chelsea – means there is no reason to worry, particularly as they only lost both to a goal in the last 10 minutes.

West Brom, as their fans chant, are the “Boing, Boing club” after thrice bouncing back from relegation. But Hodgson warns that it will be particularly tough this year for any club who make the drop.

“The Championship is chock full of clubs that have been in the Premier League: Southampton, Leeds, Derby County, Leicester City,” he says. “Leicester’s transfer spending dwarfs ours. We have spent a net £2million. The only player we have bought is Shane Long [who has scored in both games], others are free transfers or loans.

Southampton are having a go and so are Brighton. If you go down now you will find it much harder.”

What sustains Hodgson is that his new club have complete confidence in him. “I am happy at West Brom because people do believe in me and everyone gets behind me.”

You can feel the relief as he says this, given what happened at Anfield.


Share |



Latest Tweets

Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact | Website development by Pedalo