• England

In two-horse race, Hodgson hire makes most sense

Alex Dimond May 2, 2012
Roy Hodgson made a decent first impression as England manager

If Roy Hodgson was previously unaware of the particular challenges of the England job before he accepted it, then now - barely 24 hours after shaking on the Football Association's four-year offer - he can be under absolutely no illusions.

More journalists and cameramen turned up at Wembley for his opening press conference on Tuesday than had probably ever appeared to hear him speak before while, kicking off his first full day in the top job in English football, his speech impediment was mocked on the front page of the biggest selling newspaper in the country.

It is always dangerous to draw distinctions broadly on class lines, but that appears to be what has happened among the country's major newspapers. The broadsheets, it seems, have tended to be cautiously optimistic about Hodgson's appointment while the tabloids, a friend to the quotable Harry Redknapp for many years, have expressed a certain amount of incredulity - notionally on behalf of their readers - that the Spurs manager was overlooked.

Just like the Sun's front page, however, this looks to be misguided. Whatever tabloid writers might suggest, there seems to be no overwhelming consensus among the general public that Redknapp should have received the job, especially as Spurs have experienced such a downturn in form since his name was first linked with the post following Fabio Capello's resignation three months ago.

Redknapp, after all, has a CV dominated by somewhat transient recent achievements - among them a solitary Champions League qualification with a Spurs side that nearly achieved the same success under Martin Jol, and an FA Cup win that, in light of recent strife at Fratton Park, seems to have been bought with borrowed money (it was also his first major piece of silverware in a 25-year managerial career).

Hodgson (who speaks a number of languages and is highly regarded across Europe) perhaps cannot match the highs of Redknapp's recent years - and, in his six month spell at Liverpool, has a real blot on his copybook - but he has a depth and breadth of experience that should not be overlooked.

He has won eight league titles across the continent, and reached European cup finals with clubs as big as Inter Milan and as comparatively small as Fulham. He has seemingly always been building towards an application for the top job with the Three Lions - cutting his teeth at international level with countries as varied as Finland and the United Arab Emirates.

Hodgson became the 13th full-time England manager on Tuesday - yet he is the first to arrive in the job with prior international experience. If nothing else, that will help him during the whirlwind few weeks he now faces.

That does not necessarily mean he will automatically make a better national team coach than Redknapp, who it can be said would have provided a more immediate boost to the mood and confidence of the squad - and also found man-management and motivation a more natural task. He would also have dealt far easier with the heightened scrutiny, something Hodgson has expressed a real aversion to in the past.

The 64-year-old will have to work on those areas. Beyond that, however, his supposed biggest weakness while at Liverpool might turn out to be his biggest strength at the international level.

"When you train with Roy every day, it can be a bit boring as you repeat the same motions," Stephane Henchoz, who worked with Hodgson at Blackburn and Switzerland, revealed to TalkSport recently. "I wonder if big players at big clubs are really prepared to do that type of job.

"We have unwittingly become rivals but I hope we will remain friends"
Roy Hodgson on Harry Redknapp

"At smaller clubs, where players want success, they are more prepared to do the work the way he wants it done."

That regimented style cost him at Liverpool but it might be the making of him with England. With limited time to work with the players available to him - a problem even more acute this summer - he should still be able to instil his own methods in the players, without carrying out the same drills to the extent that players get bored.

It's a tough ask - after all it is one Capello, one of the greatest managers of them all, obviously struggled with at the World Cup - but Hodgson's prior international experience should prove a huge aid in his bid to succeed where the Italian failed and get his side prepared in every possible way.

Hodgson gave a solid account of himself during the first media engagement of the rest of his life on Tuesday. Wide-ranging as it was, the press conference was perhaps most noticeable for the one important question he did answer - that Wayne Rooney will indeed be in his Euros squad, despite his two-match international ban - and three he evaded; a worthwhile question about John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, a mischievous one about Steven Gerrard's captaincy candidacy, and a patently absurd one about his decision to play in apartheid-era South Africa back in the 1970s.

But one of his answers hinted that, contrary to FA chairman David Bernstein's vague protestations, Redknapp was being just as strongly considered by the FA, at one point at least.

"We have unwittingly become rivals but I hope we will remain friends," Hodgson said. "He's dealt with it well in all his interviews and I appreciate it.

"I've got great respect for Harry. He has been very gracious. I hope we stay friends."

Hodgson's comments suggest, if little more, at least at one point both men understood that they were competing for the job - that this wasn't just media speculation, but the word they were hearing directly from the corridors of the FA offices at Soho Square.

It had been suggested in some quarters that Hodgson's more favourable contract situation - with his deal at West Brom expiring in the summer, compensation for his services has been quoted in some quarters as almost £10 million less than it would have cost to extricate Redknapp from White Hart Lane - was the deciding factor in the FA's decision, after years paying Capello's exorbitant salary had left the accountants twitching.

Bernstein insisted that was not the case, however - rising to the bait on this occasion, where he had previously flat-batted any questions that probed at Redknapp's failed candidacy.

Roy Hodgson has already made one big decision over Wayne Rooney - but many more will follow © Getty Images
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"[Hodgson] could walk into any training ground across the world and command respect," Bernstein said. "We had unanimous agreement on the appointment. We were driven purely by the desire to get the best person possible ... it was not driven by financial considerations."

Maybe Redknapp's hopes were scuppered by something else, something that might never be fully revealed. Regardless, hopefully the money that was not spent on compensating Spurs for the loss of their manager will instead be diverted into grass-roots development - helping the long-awaited completion of the National Football Centre and focusing on a cohesive, proactive youth development strategy that seems to have worked such wonders for Spain and Germany.

Hodgson, one of the most cultured and senior footballing figures English football can call upon, might just prove as much help in this area as anything he does with the senior side.

That is not his immediate priority, however. His immediate priority is the European Championship, and making big decisions in a short space of time. Rooney might already be on the plane to the Euros, but with that being the case can he really risk taking Darren Bent (set to return to fitness on the eve of the tournament) too?

Will he reintegrate Frank Lampard - enjoying a renaissance with Chelsea in recent months - into the team, reawakening the Gerrard midfield debate, or not? Has Kyle Walker usurped Glen Johnson as England's right-back, or will he favour experience over youth where possible?

These are just a selection of the problems he will now be expected to deal with. The encouraging thing, however, is that he obviously has a real pride in the career he has had and feels it all warrants the chance, the honour, the poisoned chalice he now holds.

"Nobody should expect," Hodgson said, when asked if he thought he would be offered the job. "I wouldn't say I was particularly surprised. I was always hoping that the choice would be made and would work out in my favour.

"When the Football Association asked me to be England manager no-one said it would be an easy job and I would be able to look forward to some sunny, pleasant days ahead. I have got 40 days and 40 nights before the start of Euro 2012 and I'm going to be working long hours."

England may still lose this summer, regardless of how hard Hodgson works. But that will not mean his appointment was a mistake. In so many ways - for this summer, but also in the future - his appointment looks the best decision the FA could have made. On the pitch and off it, progress can be made.

Ultimately, the speech impediment is irrelevant. It's everything else we should be focusing on.

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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk