WASHINGTON, May 2, 2012 — It’s often said that the two most important jobs in Britain are being the Prime Minister and coaching England’s national soccer team.
The latter is probably one of the toughest jobs in sports because of the high expectations and intense media scrutiny. So give a thought for Roy Hodgson, who has just walked into the lion’s den and been named England’s new coach by the Football Association. He wasn’t the people and media’s choice. That would be Tottenham Hotspur’s coach Harry Redknapp.
There’s nothing flashy about Hodgson, a kind of Everyman coach, who is well-traveled and lived overseas for many years. And he’s already facing the sting of the media. He was mocked by The Sun tabloid today for his manner of speech even though he speaks five languages.
With just six week to go before the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, Hodgson clearly has his work cut out. The 64-year-old coach still has two more club games to deal with at the helm of West Bromwich Albion before he can focus on the England job.
Hodgson, who replaces Italian coach Fabio Capello who quit after the FA stripped defender John Terry of the captaincy, has been handed a four-year deal, taking him through to the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.
To some, Hodgson may appear a light-weight after Capello, who won 14 trophies with four clubs — AC Milan, AS Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid. But Hodgson does have international experience having coached three nations — Switzerland, Finland and the United Arab Emirates. He has also coached clubs in England, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, and Italy, where he was twice in charge of Italian giant Inter Milan.
So Hodgson does own the territory. He’s been at the helm of national teams, unlike Redknapp and Capello before him. Now he will try to satisfy a nation of soccer fans who have been starved for international glory since 1966, when England last won the World Cup. It will be a thankless and almost impossible job. And he has little time to get to know his players before England’s group stage opener against France on June 11 in Donetsk, Ukraine, followed by matches against Sweden and Ukraine.
Hopes are not high for this England team. The players performed badly at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 under Capello and failed to get beyond the second-round after an awful performance in the group stage.
Hodgson now joins a legion of men who have tried to revive the national team.
Before Capello there was Steve McClaren’s disastrous 17 months on the job with England failing to qualify for the 2008 Euros. Poor McClaren was crucified by the English press and left the country to coach elsewhere.
Sven-Goran Eriksson, who survived a sex-scandal, coached England from 2001 to 2006, and was labeled a “quarter-final” coach, an underachiever who couldn’t get his team to build on a 1-0 lead in an important games. When you look back, Eriksson didn’t do a bad job compared to Capello and McClaren.
Before Eriksson, England’s previous coaches, Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables, were both forced out because of off-field problems and Kevin Keegan just walked away from the pressure. Graham Taylor probably got the worst stick back in 1992. When England lost to Sweden 2-1 in the European Championship, Britain’s largest selling tabloid, The Sun, superimposed Taylor’s head on to a turnip with the banner headline “Swedes 2, Turnips 1,” leaving Taylor forever with the nickname: “Turniphead.”
And if that weren’t enough, the BBC’s biting, satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, featured Taylor sidling up to a bar next to Saddam Hussein and Hitler. Hussein and Hitler were politely served drinks, but Taylor was thrown out.
One can only wonder how Hodgson will be treated if England fails to advance from of the group stage in Poland and Ukraine. We wish him all the best.
For over 20 years John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
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