E2K's wonderful piece on Hodgson and England:

Posted by Hinesy on September 5, 2014, 08:23:24 PM

One of RAWK's best Scribes, E2K, has written a damning article on Hodgson and England, we thought you might like to read it.

"After two and a half years of cordiality and mutual appreciation between Roy and the media (and, seemingly, the vast majority of England supporters), some of his behaviour is now definitely beginning to resemble the manager we saw at Liverpool. I don’t know about anyone else, but when he says “the fact of the matter is that we haven’t got many more (players)” and argues that “you can’t play five games for England, be a regular in the Liverpool team for six or seven months, and be David Beckham. You can’t come in like Phil Jones after all the injuries and nail down a place in the central defence of Manchester United and become John Terry. You can’t be Jack Wilshere, who has lost all that football through injury, and all of a sudden be Bryan Robson,” I immediately hear echoes of “whoever takes my place will be doing a similar job with similar players” and “fans are waiting for a man with a magic wand that can turn all of the ills that everyone has seen into something different. Those of us who work in the game and have been working in the game a long time know that magic wand doesn’t exist”. And when he says “let’s be fair about these things, that is all I am asking,” I think of the Goodison derby in October 2010: “That was as good as we have played all season, and I have no qualms with the performance whatsoever. I only hope fair-minded people will see it the same way”. Not only that but, judging by his aforementioned comments comparing Sterling, Jones and Wilshere to Beckham, Terry and Robson, it’s only a matter of time before we start hearing things like “these players have to accept responsibility” and “if they are not playing well and not helping the team to win, I will be advising them to look into the mirror rather than look for excuses elsewhere”.

None of that will come as any surprise to us, of course, having been forced to endure six months of the man’s stewardship of Liverpool back in 2010. We could have predicted this and, indeed, many of us did. Roy Hodgson, even leaving aside a consideration of the infamous methods which “have translated from Halmstad to Malmo to Orebo to Neuchatel Xamax to the Swiss national team,” is a manager who has almost pathologically avoided pressure for his entire career. By my reckoning, in 36 years of management prior to accepting the England post, Hodgson had spent just 28 months (or 2 years and 4 months) in jobs with anything approaching a high level of scrutiny and expectation: a cumulative 22 months across two spells with Inter (90 games) and 6 months at Liverpool (31 games), a total of 121 games in the pressurised environments of the San Siro and Anfield. Aside from that, he preferred to ply his trade in countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark and Finland. Even Blackburn Rovers, just a couple of years removed from a League Championship, were a provincial club in a small town, and Fulham were looking less for a Europa League run than they were simple Premier League survival. In other words, Roy has spent a good 90% of his career avoiding the bright lights and when the pressure has come on, he hasn’t handled it very well. I can’t speak for his time at Inter but his other job in Serie A, at Udinese, ended after 6 months with Hodgson calling them “an extremely strange club”. And we’re all aware of the invective he spewed at Anfield, such as childishly responding to a fair but critical question from a Norwegian journalist by saying that he never wanted to work in his country again (or Denmark, for that matter).

He doesn’t like or handle pressure, and the interesting question now is how long this kind of behaviour (e.g. “that is absolute fucking bollocks”) will be tolerated by the very people who championed him for this job, who once beseeched Liverpool supporters to give him time and were happy to place the blame for his abject failure at Anfield on the shoulders of predecessor Rafael Benitez while cheerfully ignoring the worst of his ramblings (e.g. labelling wins at Trabzonspor and Bolton as “famous” and the possibility of winning at Goodison “utopia”). Now they can’t ignore it because they’re England fans and he’s managing their team. So what’s it going to be? Will they admit that they were wrong, that they touted the wrong man for the job? Or will ego and professional pride preclude them from doing that? Will they instead continue to flog the flagging horse, expertly shifting the blame elsewhere until it collapses head-first into the ground, convincing themselves that this is as good as England can do anyway?

To be fair, the penny may finally be dropping with one or two of them (excepting those with connections to Liverpool who have already seen this process unfold first-hand once before). For them, a turgid 1-0 win over a country that hasn’t qualified for a major international tournament since 2000 in a half-empty stadium may have been the straw that finally broke the camel’s back in a way that one point from three games at the World Cup (and that against a team that hadn’t qualified from the group stages since 1990 and had only one player, Joel Campbell, playing in the Champions League last season) didn’t. And maybe his prickly responses afterwards, including the “don’t hit me with statistics” gem which called to mind the best intelligence-insulting material used during his time at Liverpool, has also given a few of them cause for concern in a way that his recent attempts to lower expectations into the dirt by comparing England to Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004 didn’t (populations 5.6m and 10.8m respectively versus England’s 53m, by the way), even though he inadvertently advertised his own shortcomings as a manager in the process by reminding us all that a Greek team seriously short on talent but high on belief, organisation and leadership (all of which were instilled into a group of seriously average players by their manager, Otto Rehhagel) was able to beat a Portuguese side comprising Ronaldo, Figo, Rui Costa and a number of Porto’s Champions League-winning side (twice), the France of Zidane and Henry, and a Czech Republic team boasting the current Ballon d’Or holder Pavel Nedved amongst their ranks in winning Euro 2004. It may not have been pretty (neither is England under Hodgson, to be fair) but it was damn sure effective.

The question arises accordingly, as it did for many observers before, during and after a World Cup where Costa Rica went desperately close to a semi-final berth and where Cardiff City’s Gary Medel and Nottingham Forest’s Gonzalo Jara helped Chile knock out reigning champions Spain, why England couldn’t achieve more with a squad of players boasting (per the excellent blog of RAWK’s own Grobbelrevell) 21 players from the top 8 clubs in the Premier League last season and 11 from the top 4, quite a few of whom were also Champions League veterans (and that’s even with the omission, by choice, of John Terry and Ashley Cole). The grobbelramble also points out that Hodgson’s record at major tournaments, including his appearance at World Cup ’94 with Switzerland, comes to a “win percentage of 33.33%, which, ironically, is precisely the same ratio that he managed during his time at the helm of both Fulham and Liverpool and only marginally lower than the 35.05% achieved over the course of 214 matches in English club football overall”. Furthermore, in his time at Fulham (which is what largely earned him the Liverpool job), he guided them to the safety of 17th in his first season, then 7th and 12th respectively, an average final league position of 12th – Liverpool’s exact position upon his departure in January 2011. He then finished 11th and 10th at West Brom. All of which is to say that Roy Hodgson is a career mid-table manager at the highest level and the obvious danger of hiring him for the England job, that he would merely maintain a kind of parity with what his “methods” had achieved at Blackburn, Fulham, Liverpool and West Brom, is exactly what has come to pass.

And yet even considering all of this and the slight shift in attitude which may or may not have taken place amongst sections of the press in the aftermath of Norway on Wednesday (described by Hodgson as “a good opponent” despite being currently ranked 53rd in the world – then again, he did once call Northampton Town “formidable”), I’m not so sure that his chief apologists and cheerleaders in the media are ready to call time on Roy just yet, even if one or two might be starting to get a bit restless. After all, if you can bring yourself to ignore and even justify England’s World Cup 2014 campaign, sparing the manager most if not all of the blame where, in the past, the likes of Bobby Robson, Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello took it with both barrels while achieving similar or (excepting Euro ’84 and Euro ‘88) better performances (a quarter-final and semi-final respectively for Robson in 1986 and 1990, three quarter-finals in a row for Eriksson between 2002 and 2006, and a second-round with Capello in 2010), then there’s clearly some other factor at play that precludes a straightforward appraisal of the job being done. This was alluded to in recent articles by two of Hodgson’s most loyal acolytes who are also, incidentally, two of English football’s highest-profile writers, the Telegraph’s Henry Winter (who suggested yesterday that “some context is required to understand properly what will be depicted in certain quarters as Roy’s foul-mouthed rant,” something which I don’t recall Benitez being afforded in 2009) and the Chief Sports Writer of the same newspaper, Paul Hayward (who described Hodgson on his appointment at Liverpool in 2010 as the “sage” needed by the Kop “to restore spirit” and suggested that he would rid the club of the “mechanical pragmatism designed to destroy the opposition’s plans rather than impose their own).

In his customary post-mortem of England’s exit in Brazil this summer, Winter launched an impassioned defence of Hodgson who, he suggested, “is playing poker with a limited hand against veteran card-sharks” (Jorge Luis Pinto and Per-Mathias Høgmo are surely unlikely card-sharks) and “doing his best”. He argued that Roy still “believed unequivocally that he had shaped the team right tactically, choosing a system that suited them best” in Brazil, as if the manager’s belief in the same tried and trusted “methods” we had to hear about during his seven long months at Anfield automatically trumps hard evidence and common sense. He went on to speak of Hodgson “slowly developing a more enlightened style” which is, I would wager, greatly at odds with what any of us are seeing, and highlighted “lapses by individual players” as being the ultimate determinant of England’s failure against Uruguay rather than anything the manager did or didn’t do, kind of like 1998 when David Beckham was recklessly offered up as the villain for getting himself sent off against Argentina as opposed to Glenn Hoddle who left Michael Owen on the bench for the crucial group game lost to Romania (Owen came on and scored but it wasn’t enough). If Leighton Baines or Phil Jagielka were tactically at fault for the Luis Suárez double against Uruguay, then maybe the manager should have picked Champions League and England veterans Terry and Cole instead. Just a thought.

All of this was, of course, in stark contrast to Winter’s verdict on Hodgon’s predecessor following England’s exit four years earlier when he suggested that it was time for Capello to fall on his sword. Why? He argued that “if Gerrard had played in his Liverpool position and Rooney in his Manchester United role up top, England would have had their two potential match-winners in tandem.” In addition, he maintained that “if England had played 4-2-3-1, they may still have lost to the vibrant Germans but it would have been worth utilising a system that coaxed the best from Gerrard and Rooney” and that “the flaws inherent in 4-4-2 were brutally exposed here as the Germans flooded through.” He also praised the 4-2-3-1 system as “a formation that gives width and central numbers.” In fairness, Winter was correct that a pure 4-4-2 formation has severe limitations in the modern game, especially against opposition utilising more sophisticated systems (and the vast majority of successful teams in World Cup 2010, including the top three Spain, Germany and Holland, used a variation of 4-2-3-1). Yet what formation exactly has Roy Hodgson used for more than 30 years and, with the exception of the first-half against Italy, used again at the World Cup? 4-4-2 with Rooney forced in somewhere behind the front man does not a 4-2-3-1 make, and it was a damn shame to see Gerrard and Henderson exposed as badly as they were at times against Italy and Uruguay, especially given how effectively their manager at club level had utilised them in the season just gone.

Which isn’t the point anyway. The point is that Capello, a born winner with a treasure trove of trophies and medals at the top level with AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus, not to mention an impressive winning percentage with England, was afforded none of the understanding given to Hodgson by Winter and others this summer. Instead of pointing to individual mistakes and going on about some phantom enlightenment, he could have wondered, for example, whether Raheem Sterling should have remained in a central position against Italy (where he was tormenting the Italians) instead of being forced wide to make way for Rooney in the second half and giving their ageing opponents a far less mobile threat to deal with as a result. But he didn’t. Why is that?

Well the reason is made explicitly clear in Winter’s article: “the England manager should be English” at all costs, despite the fact that “the reservoir of high-class, experienced, home-grown managerial talent is painfully shallow.” So the solution is to stick with the best of a bad lot and defend him to the death rather than go out and headhunt the best manager that money can buy (regardless of nationality) to do what Guus Hiddink did with Korea or Rehhagel did with Greece, not simply mould a bunch of limited players into contenders by any means necessary (because England have a level of quality and experience in that squad which dwarfs what Korea and Greece had) but approach the job with ambition, with a concrete vision, with a plan towards implementing that vision and a level of organisation that gives his players the best possible chance they have of winning. So it’s ok to keep a manager clearly out of his depth and even champion him because this is an “impossible job” anyway (called such by Winter in two articles on 20 June and 4 September)? It’s ok to accept mediocrity from your manager because “the flaws of English football run deeper than Hodgson’s limitations” and because “it is the fault of the development system that England have no natural holding midfielder…the fault of the avaricious Premier League, and those club managers thinking only short-term, that English prospects are not trusted…the fault of certain young players and their agents that they focus more on money than trophies and self-improvement”? It’s all the system’s fault? By that logic the Greek Superleague must have been churning out a golden generation in the early 2000’s, I must have just imagined former Leicester stalwart Theo Zagorakis lifting the trophy and being named Euro 2004 player of the tournament…

Even if simple common sense doesn’t tell you that the English game is deeply flawed, a quick comparison with Germany (who have gone from losing 1-5 at home to England in 2001 to beating Brazil on their home patch 7-1 in a World Cup semi-final not 13 years later) will highlight the problems to which Winter is referring. Those are accepted; the point is that even if the FA had a plan to rival that of Germany in the early 2000’s which ultimately led to 3rd, 2nd, 3rd and 1st place finishes since 2006 and the likes of Jens Jeremies, Fredi Bobic, Kevin Kurányi and Carsten Jancker giving way to Mario Götze, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and Mesut Özil (and the evidence says they don’t), even if said theoretical plan eventually bore fruit to the same extent and a new wave of young English footballers began to emulate in the next decade what the Germans have done in this one, the very simple proposition is that Roy Hodgson should still be doing better than he is with the raw talent at his disposal. To blithely pass off the England job as “impossible” does a massive disservice to players like Sturridge, Sterling, Henderson, Lallana, Hart, Wilshere, Shaw, Chambers, Barkley, Walcott, Welbeck and Stones, all talented footballers in their early to mid-twenties who deserve better than to be lumbered with a tactical dinosaur who once stood on the sideline at St. James’ Park furiously rubbing his face because he simply didn’t know how to stop Liverpool being beaten 3-1 by Newcastle. Even if there was a plan in place to change the system to which Winter refers, instead of sticking with Hodgson until that plan bears fruit or a new generation of English coaches appear, why not “stick with” your players instead and get the right man in to get the best out of them? The rigid idea that “the England manager should be English” is a cop-out, pure and simple.

Winter isn’t the only member of the media to whom it appears far more palatable to blame the players and the system that has produced them than to blame the manager or the organisation which hired him. On Tuesday, the day after the transfer window closed (or “slammed shut” in Sky’s lexicon) in a piece largely previewing England’s friendly with Norway at Wembley, Paul Hayward bemoaned the list of “downwardly mobile English talent” over the summer, specifically naming Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Nick Powell, Jack Rodwell, Micah Richards, Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, James Milner and Glen Johnson who were “either culled by top-six clubs or told they might be available at the right price”. Indeed, Hayward described the English footballer as being “left outside with the empty bottles” during “another cork-popping transfer window of sometimes grotesque extravagance” while inferring that the arrivals of “three household names” from abroad, Falcao, Ángel di María and Mario Balotelli, were a symptom of the same malaise referred to by Winter which is gripping English football generally and, more specifically, the national team. Those bloody foreigners again #smh

I surely cannot be the only one who sees this as a case of moaning for the sake of moaning, or moaning for the sake of excusing the manager of all responsibility. To consider just a few of the names mentioned by Hayward, it was Jack Rodwell’s decision (like Scott Sinclair before him) to leave a top-half club (which is now back in Europe, incidentally) where he was first-choice to go to Manchester City and try his luck dislodging the likes of Yaya Touré. His choice, and a move away would surely be better for him and the England team. Danny Welbeck’s position is actually better now given that he’s playing Champions League football at another big club and no longer finds himself behind the undroppable Van Persie and Rooney in the pecking order. What, would it have been better for him to warm the bench behind those two and Falcao? Micah Richards, who has barely played for City in two years, is going to a foreign league with a decent club (Fiorentina) where he can hopefully get his career back on track, and that’s somehow bad? If Glen Johnson has been told he can leave Anfield, it’s because his performances have deteriorated in a manner not commensurate with his salary. James Milner took one of the worst corners I’ve ever seen against Norway, sending a teammate scurrying back towards the halfway line to retrieve it, so not great timing mentioning him, yet he would undoubtedly have some high-profile suitors if he decided to leave City. Is it preferable that he stay on the bench there when those ahead of him are clearly performing better?

Let’s not consider the development of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Jon Flanagan at Anfield or the arrival of Adam Lallana this summer, all of whom will be playing Champions League football from next week, or the all-English central defensive partnership at Chelsea (one of them still not picked by choice), or the fact that Welbeck will be first-choice for Arsenal over the next few months along with Jack Wilshere and (potentially) Callum Chambers, or that England’s number one ‘keeper plays for the Premier League champions. Most of all, let’s forget that Antonios Nikopolidis, Giourkas Seitaridis, Traianos Dellas, Michalis Kapsis, Takis Fyssas, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Angelos Basinas, Theodoros Zagorakis, Kostas Katsouranis, Angelos Charisteas and Zisis Vryzas won an international tournament ten years ago because that would lead to questions as to why a squad with the talent of England’s cannot make it out of the group stages of the World Cup, and that buck would eventually have to stop with the manager. I don’t know what the likes of Winter and Hayward like about Hodgson, it’s probably just a case of their jobs being easier with him around, but the amount of excuses they’ve thrown out to take the spotlight away from him over the past few months would certainly indicate that they’re not ready to give up on him, and so regardless of what he does or says, I expect the media support for him to continue for another while yet.

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