Jim White

Hodgson hysteria taking England down the tubes

Jim White

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If Roy Hodgson was not yet fully acquainted with the cesspit of raving insanity into which he has plunged he should now know exactly what he has taken on. Hodgson this week did two things which — in any other walk of life — would be deemed utterly unremarkable: he caught a Tube and he talked to a couple of fellow passengers. But he is not involved in any other walk of life. He is the England manager. Which meant when his actions came to light it could signal only one thing: crisis.

Far from extolling the virtues of the man for revealing that he still remains attached to the real world as the rest of us experience it, Hodgson found himself this week pilloried for his chatty journey. His problem was not just that he had bought himself a railcard and jumped on the Jubilee line, a mode of transport that, ever since Christian Gross did the same at Tottenham has been taken by certain elements of the press as evidence of near insanity. It was that he engaged in conversation with other Tube users about the prospects of Rio Ferdinand being in his next England team.

Far from this demonstrating that the guy is a decent human being who, when asked a polite question delivers a thoughtful answer, this was seen as somehow reprehensible, disloyal, woefully irresponsible. Hodgson was obliged publicly to apologise to Ferdinand for his lack of respect. His judgment was seen as awry. One commentator I spoke to suggested this was clear evidence that Hodgson was now subject to senior moments, an element of vagueness that overcomes anyone in their sixties. It was something not wholly appropriate in a man attempting to fulfil the most difficult sinecure in British football.

Poor Hodgson. A man who was brought up in a London transport family (his old man was a bus driver) does what he was raised to believe was the natural thing and takes the underground to a football match rather than a chauffeured limo and finds his entire judgment questioned. That will teach him for trying to not to turn all aloof. Get yourself in an ivory tower is the message of this week, and for goodness sake stay there.

As it happens, I believe this travelling incident does tell us something substantial about the England boss: he is a decent, grounded, polite bloke who likes to talk about football. Which is not something you could say about some of his predecessors.

Whether that makes him a good fit for his current position, of course, only time will tell.
There is one thing, though, that came out of his loose lipped journeying on which we can all agree he is right. Those who saw Ferdinand play against Spurs for Manchester United will accept the manager's call that the great defender's international time may well be up. For sure, in the absence of John Terry, Ferdinand is easily England's most distinguished centre back, in his time a brilliant reader of the game, a superb athlete and owner of pace to burn.

But, now approaching his footballing dotage, he looked awfully vulnerable against Gareth Bale and co. And rather than demonstrating muddled thinking, Hodgson's preference for someone younger rather than older than Terry suggests clarity of purpose. Sure Jagielka, Cahill and Lescott may never be as good as Ferdinand was in his prime. But Ferdinand's prime is well behind him. And the manager is looking to build for 2014, not make do and mend.

However, having by default been obliged to tackle head on one of the burning issues of the international set-up — how to replace a centre back pairing which had been at the heart of the team for a generation — Hodgson has not freed himself of every headache. Still he has a few minor concerns. Such as where — in Jack Wilshere's continued absence — he might find a central midfielder who can play the ball. Or how he can turn a group of wholly unprepossessing strikers into world beating forwards. Or how on earth does he persuade Wayne Rooney to perform as if not in possession of a pair of concrete boots when he pulls on a white shirt. You know, little things.

Let's just hope if he has any ideas what to do about such concerns he keeps them to himself. Because he now knows what happens if he does something suspiciously normal like discussing football with the chap sitting next to him as they head through Baker Street on the northbound train to the match.

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