New Man

After Fabio Capello’s departure, the preliminary assessment of (apparently) everyone in the country was that the man to take charge of England at the European Championships would be Harry Redknapp. All the pieces of the puzzle fit very nicely together; Tottenham were flying, so Redknapp could leave on good terms with Spurs having qualifed for the Champions League; the rabidly jingoistic media would not only satisfy their craving for an English manager, but also have someone to get chummy with at press conferences; and your “average football fan” would be happy that Harry, Man Of the People, “I don’t know nuffink about tax, me, but I have got an offshore bank account” Redknapp was in charge of the England team.

So with the news that Roy Hodgson will be interviewed for the England job today, where has it all gone wrong for ‘Arry? While it’s laudable that he’s spent the last two and a half months avoiding all questions about his future, the looming possibility of “the job” and all the media speculation surrounding it has clearly had an effect on his team. In the 11 league games since Capello resigned, Spurs have won just 3 times. In the same period, Hodgson’s West Brom have won 6.

It has at least been noted that Spurs’ business in the January transfer window has been a factor in their recent poor form, but the blame for the movement of underused and disgruntled players lies at the feet of their manager. For team to finish in the top 4, a manager has to be capable of effective squad management. That means even when things are rosy and you’re beating everyone in sight, you need to be able to rest players, keep things a little fresh, and to try and stave off burnout in the latter stages of the season. Spurs have a fantastic first XI, but they had several worthy squad players who could have played a vital part in the last couple of months when the chips were down somewhat. Look at how Steven Pienaar has driven Everton forward since rejoining in January. Harry must be cursing himself for letting him go as Tottenham allowed a double figure points lead over Arsenal turn into a deficit.

Was Harry’s ego the problem? Was he so convinced of his impending coronation as national boss that he thought he could wait the FA out, that they would silently hold the position open for him until the end of the domestic season? The FA had given him plenty of time. His trial had finished and he was acquitted on all counts. Why, then, was he still so reluctant to throw his name into the hat?

An experienced manager like Hodgson will be under no illusions of what to expect if he is to become England manager. The more recent history of his tenure in charge of Liverpool is the perfect example of what will happen if results and performances aren’t immediately up to the level expected – i.e. he will be hounded out within months if he isn’t able to acutely overperform with a distinctly average and overrated bunch of players.

But in this case, that may just work in his favour. With the FA dragging their feet over appointing Capello’s successor, Hodgson will have little time to prepare his charges and so even the notoriously unforgiving and rabble-rousing tabloid media should cut him some slack. Hodgson has shown that, given the willingness of the players and certain amount of luck, he can create a well-drilled and efficient unit.

What England lack is the genuine world-class flair player to complement any organisation that Hodgson is able to instil into the team. Gerrard’s star is fading. Lampard is a passenger and should be considered no more than an impact sub. Wilshere won’t be there due to injury. There is little to be excited about on either flank, unless you find Ashley Young’s QWOP impression titillating. Sturridge and Welbeck are good young players, but it’s easy to look good when carried by a decent club team; it remains to be seen how they will cope when the space and service dries up as it always does when England have the ball.

That leaves Rooney, the most unreliable outfield player in an England shirt in the last 20 years, who also happens to be suspended for the opening two games due to a spectacular moment of unreliability in the qualifiers. And who will not be afforded the leeway to scream, shout, kick and elbow his way to glory as he does in the Premier League. Which doesn’t fill one with the greatest amount of confidence.

Perhaps then, with expectations at an all-time low, a new manager, and a squad in a period of generational transition, England could finally, finally, make it beyond the quarter finals of a major tournament. At least (one would assume) Shaun Wright-Phillips won’t be there playing on the left wing, causing all manner of household accoutrements to be thrown in frustration at the TV. Or perhaps Hodgson will lead England to a “golden decade of quarter-final glory” (© Robin Hearn).

As far as England managers go, Hodgson will be the most likeable one since Bobby Robson, albeit without the rent-a-quote media savvy that would have kept the media onside a la Redknapp or Venables. He is somewhat understated, but has an unerring belief in his methods, which have served him pretty well over a 30 year managerial career. My nagging suspicion is that the ego-laden England squad won’t take well to Hodgson getting them to repeat defensive drills many times over, but there’s always a chance. There’s always hope. And that’s what kills you.

Good luck, Roy.

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