Jim White

Hodgson already up against it

Jim White

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Three days into the job and Roy Hodgson must already wonder what it is he has let himself in for.

There he was much admired at the Hawthorns, doing a sterling job turning West Bromwich into Premier League regulars, quietly and assiduously repairing the damage to his reputation that was inflicted by six months on Merseyside. Then he takes the England job and immediately discovers quite what a dangerous parapet it is over which he has just stuck his head. Flak which might decapitate a lesser man has been fired relentlessly in his direction.

The Sun in particular seems to have had it against him from the moment he was appointed. Their headline mocking his way of speaking was not the light-hearted gag they subsequently insisted; it was designed to undermine him by hinting at weakness of character. Even Steve McClaren was given a month or two before such disparagement surfaced. But then McClaren did not beat a Sun columnist to the job.

In a sense, however, it is not a bad idea for Hodgson to have the flak early. It has galvanised a steady stream of support for him, not just from the media, but from plenty of fans anxious to state that it seems only fair to give the guy a chance. Football likes to call itself a results business. It would be nice if the new guy were judged solely on results.

On that front, the FA has not helped him. Jupp Heynckes, the Bayern Munich coach, suggested this week that Hodgson had been given a significantly tougher task than would have been the case had the governing body acted with expediency and given him the job immediately after Fabio Capello resigned. Four months to prepare, get to know the players, staff and procedures, would have been a lot more useful than the month of sleeplessness he now has.

Heynkes said that such a situation would never have happened in Germany.

"Absolutely not. Because we have a totally different mentality. I don't think it would be possible in Germany. They [the German FA] would have sorted it out way, way before. Whether it's with a club or a national team, when one manager finishes, the next day, the new manager is presented."

Interestingly, the FA's insistence that Hodgson could walk into any training ground in the world and command instant respect was somewhat undermined by the response of Heynckes and his players who, when questioned about the new England boss, all admitted they knew very little about him.

That he does not have universal name recognition among German figures is more revealing of the FA selection board's anxiety to hype up its choice of manager than it is of Hodgson's abilities.

Germany is one of the few places where he hasn't worked. But the places where he has — Switzerland, Inter, Fulham — all speak highly of him as a man and coach. His training is methodical, repetitive and thorough. Perhaps at times they are a little too methodical for some tastes, Joe Cole among them. But there is no doubt they achieve a degree of organisation and clarity of thought.

More to the point, those who have worked with him report a strength of character and mental resilience that belies the Sun's depiction of him as some sort of lisping softie. And it is not his fault that he was pitched into imaginary battle with Redknapp, the media's appointed people's choice.

Redknapp probably recognised that his chances of getting the job were diminished the moment the FA created a committee to oversee the selection process. No point a committee being formed if they come up with the bleedin' obvious, so Redknapp's candidacy would quickly have been discounted by those wishing to justify their position by being seen to make their own mind up.

And to be fair, Hodgson fits in with the FA's wider strategic aims. With the construction of St George's Park in Burton, the idea is that the game will be much better coached in this country. What the FA want is a Spanish style production line. And in order to do that they need many more qualified coaches working at the grass roots. Rightly they no longer believe it is plausible to produce decent young players by giving the nearest dad a bag of balls and asking him to take charge; after all, you are unlikely to produce a symphony orchestra if the man in charge can't read music.

The FA blueprint was that the England boss should be at the pinnacle of the coaching pyramid. If they want people to get qualified, then there could be no better figurehead than the professorial Hodgson, who has more badges than the chief scout. Redknapp, who is much more intuitive in his approach, hardly sets the standard for continual learning.

The problem is, most of us don't really notice or care what is going on at the bottom of the game. More's the pity. All we want is success at the top. And the irony is, the Sun is not alone in thinking Redknapp's instinctive ability to coerce performance out of his charges might have delivered more from the England team.

But we will never know. Now Hodgson is the anointed one, that is entirely irrelevant. It is pretty pointless to use Redknapp as a stick to beat the new man.

Sure, it would have been great were Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola or Arsene Wenger appointed by the FA. But none of them were either. Hodgson is the man. Though as he will already have recognised, the only way he is going to be accepted as such is to win a few games in Ukraine.

Do that and the headlines will be all about Harry Who? No pressure, then, Roy.

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