Hodgson in for the long haul

He may not be the pundits’ first choice but Roy Hodgson is England’s best long-term option, writes Jason Dasey.

Roy Hodgson
Hodgson took Fulham to the Europa League final in 2010 but only has a month to bring that winning mentality to the England squad ahead of June's Euros 2012 [GETTY]

The doomsayers will point to his recent failure at Liverpool as a reason not to put Roy Hodgson in the England hot seat. But the lasting benefits of his three seasons at Fulham are a better indication of Hodgson’s qualities as a manager.
Fulham will move three points above Liverpool on the English Premier League table into eighth position if they can beat Sunderland at home on Sunday. Earlier this week, the Cottagers won the battle of Hodgson’s former clubs with a surprise 1-0 victory at Anfield.
It is almost two years since Hodgson left Craven Cottage, with Mark Hughes and now Martin Jol filling his shoes. Yet the core of the surprising side that progressed to the 2010 Europa League final remains.
Fulham shocked the footballing world by accounting for Juventus, holders Shakhtar Donetsk as well as Bundesliga sides Wolfsburg and Hamburg on the road to the final.

Hodgson turned a group of workmanlike players into a formidable unit as the unfashionable London club reached its first major European final in 130 years.
Eight of the men who featured at Hamburg’s Nordbank Arena in the 2-1 defeat in extra time against Atletico Madrid in May 2010 were involved in Tuesday night’s impressive performance at Liverpool.

And if Fulham can grab eighth place this season, it will almost match their best ever finish of seventh, achieved by Hodgson in the 2008-2009 campaign.
Mark Schwarzer, Brede Hangeland, Damien Duff, Stephen Kelly and Dickson Etuhu – players signed by Hodgson – remain at the heart of Fulham’s success. Other 2012 mainstays like Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird and captain Danny Murphy joined just before his arrival in 2007.

Tactical qualities
Hodgson enhanced his reputation for man management and optimising resources at current club West Bromwich Albion, who are on course for a satisfying top-10 finish.
Those who have worked with the former Switzerland, UAE and Finland coach say that many of the stereotypes about him are inaccurate.
The media often portrays him as conservative, out-of-touch and a bit soft. But, in reality they say that Hodgson is sharp, tactically astute and ruthless when necessary.
Hindsight has shown that Hodgson’s Liverpool record was not as bad as first thought. He was sacked in January 2011 after losing nine of 20 Premier League games. Compare that to the record of Kenny Dalglish’s side outside of cup competitions: 13 defeats and 10 draws in 36 matches. And remember that King Kenny has had a much better squad to work with.
The dynamics will be interesting if Hodgson opts for Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard as national captain. It may be the safest choice, given Scott Parker’s inexperience and John Terry’s tarnished reputation.

Hodgson has a proven track record in getting the best out of the journeymen of Fulham and West Brom. But how will he handle the considerable egos of England’s ageing superstars, whose lofty public profiles almost always surpass their performances at major tournaments?
In two spells at Inter Milan in the 1990s, Hodgson enjoyed only mixed success during an era when the Nerazzurri lacked superstars. And he did have a falling out with Roberto Carlos when he wanted to play the Brazil left back in an unfamiliar, more advanced position.
Signing a four-year contract will give Hodgson a sense of security as he takes England to next month’s European Championship in Ukraine and Poland. Even if the Three Lions fail to advance from the group stages, his job will be safe.
Front-runner for the job, Harry Redknapp was painted as the master motivator in the mould of Terry Venables who guided England to the semi-finals of Euro ’96 on home soil.

It will be a challenge to psychologically lift the current squad, who will be missing the suspended Wayne Rooney for the opening two matches.

Daunting task
Despite his bold statements this week of entering the tournament to win it, Hodgson will inwardly know that even getting to the semi-finals will be an over-achievement.
His most important task will be to ensure the development of younger players to replace the remaining members of the so-called golden generation with Gerrard, Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Gareth Barry all on the wrong side of 30.
Hodgson is undoubtedly not the perfect choice for the job. But given the preference for an Englishman after the disappointments of the Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson eras, he is probably the best of the available homegrown options.
Redknapp may have been better in the short-term, but Hodgson’s measured and analytical approach should assure England’s comfortable qualification for Brazil 2014 and beyond.
But to expect Hodgson to turn England into instant world-beaters in Ukraine and Poland is simply unrealistic. Despite the infuriatingly high expectations of the British public, the current squad is closer to Basel than Barcelona in pedigree.
As he always does, Hodgson will do a professional job. And as England rebuild, the fruits of his endeavours at Fulham and West Brom will continue to be enjoyed in the Premier League.

Join Jason Dasey and guests each week on http://www.footballfeverpodcast.com/ for lively football discussion with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey   

Source: Al Jazeera