The timing was just right for tomorrow morning’s newspapers, but the name isn’t the one that most had expected to see at the top of their short-list. Earlier this evening, a statement appeared on the Football Association’s website confirming that they have made a formal approach to West Bromwich Albion to speak to Roy Hodgson over the position vacated by Fabio Capello two months ago. We had been starting to wonder whether an appointment would ever be made. After all, it’s only forty days until the start of the 2012 European Championships and the possibility that the FA had somehow forgotten that they should probably have a coach for this tournament – even if in name only – was starting to become a little less implausible than it might otherwise have been.
Hodgson may well of the old school, but he is a damn sight more cosmopolitan than any of the other Englishmen that might have been hoping for a call from Lord Bernstein. He has coached in eight different countries – Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland – speaks five foreign languages and has coached at international level, precisely the sort of qualifications for coaching this particular position that the bookmakers’ favourites for the position do not hold. Yet the very nature of the debate that has surrounded the matter of the next England coach has meant that the next England coach will be a divisive figure, no matter who he is.
There has been an unsubtle narrative in the media since Capello resigned, and it has largely concerned their favourite, Harry Redknapp. The succession of Redknapp into the England manager’s position has treated his appointment as being little more than a process of coronation, and should Hodgson and the FA agree terms it would be unsurprising to see some quarters of the football media looking a little red-faced at having called it so wrong. This in itself may well mean that Hodgson doesn’t receive anything like a honeymoon period should he be offered the position, meaning that that personal attacks may well be under way in around two months time should England not get through the group stages of the European Championships this summer. The editors of the red tops may already be sharpening their knives in preparation for this.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t have reservations about any decision to offer Hodgson the position that may be made over the next few days or so. His previous spells in high profile positions had mixed results. At Internazionale in Italy, he took the team into the UEFA Cup, but departed after a surprise defeat against the German side Schalke 04 in the final of the competition. At Liverpool, meanwhile, he lasted just a few months during a period within which the tumult within the club meant that any sort of success was always likely to be more or less impossible. In addition to this, that the Football Association may be preparing to offer the position to somebody that will be celebrating his sixty-fifth birthday in three months time could be considered a lack of long-term foresight. How long would Hodgson be employed for, and what does it say about coaching in England that the leading English candidates for the position are both into their seventh decades? More about the stating of coaching in this country than about the calibre of the candidates, in all likelihood.
That said, with expectations tempered by the chaotic events of the last few months (or, we could reasonably argue, years) it could well be argued that Hodgson would be taking the position at just right time. Those that are already sharpening their pencils, however, would have their agenda with his appointment, and while this summer’s European Championships may already be a lost cause, any failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals would be disastrous for the national team and the group stages begin on the seventh of September. The team doesn’t have an insurmountable task to get through its qualifying group, but Montenegro, Ukraine and Poland will provide tricky opposition and getting through these matches successfully cannot be considered anything like a foregone conclusion.
The appointment of Roy Hodgson into the England job would hand the English press a pre-written script on a plate. Indeed, if Twitter this evening is to be believed, some members of the fourth estate are already preparing their best lines in anticipation of what may be to follow. Between those with an agenda and those of the opinion that sarcasm is the highest form of wit, Hodgson will need a thick skin should he be appointed into the position at the very least, but at least he has been here and faced such criticism before. The agendas that will follow him into this position, however, are deeply ingrained and, we suspect in some of some of its expected proponents, highly personal. If the press didn’t even really get the opportunity to move out of second gear in its moves to attempt to systematically discredit Fabio Capello, then we may well see Hodgson on the receiving end of ridicule unseen since the latter stages of the Graham Taylor era of almost twenty years ago.
Ultimately, though, the choice of coach for the England national team remains the biggest red herring in European football. Until the English game sorts out its structural deficiencies it will, broadly speaking, continue along the same, long, downward trajectory that it has been following for much of the last decade, and there seems to be no appetite towards reshaping the club game, training methods and the system for bringing through more and better qualified coaches for the benefit of the national team. If anything, attitudes towards the England national team have never been more apathetic and this is not something that any managerial appointment would fix, no matter how many of Harry Redknapp’s cheerleaders might think otherwise. There may be some furious words written over the next few days over their man not being parachuted gently into the job, but they have one small consolation if this is how things end up playing out – at least they’ll have a punch-bag for the next couple of years.
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