Friday, 4 May 2012

Roy Hodgson: Right Man, Wrong Country?

By Shane Thomas

The appointment of Roy Hodgson as the manager of the England team was met with as much enthusiasm as the England team are these days. The pervasive sense of ennui that surrounds the squad, combined with the shambolic co-ordination of the hiring process, means that Hodgson is immediately starting behind the 8-ball, particularly with large swathes of the tabloid press, who favoured Harry Redknapp being given the job.

However, while Hodgson isn't a choice that should have the England fans and media bouncing off the walls in excitement, they shouldn't bemoan his hiring either. International management means that you have to work within the resources of the country; no relying on the largesse of sugar-daddy owners, no spending sprees, you have to reap from the natural soil in your nation. This means that the head coach has to excel in an oft-overlooked skill of management, which is improving the players at your disposal. Whether it's by psychological motivation, a specific formation and/or pattern of play, astute strategy, or a combination of these things, this is an area of football that Hodgson has proved himself to be skilled at.

Pro-Hodgson people point to his achievements with Fulham, West Brom, the Switzerland national side, taking Inter Milan to the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) final or his first season at Blackburn.

Anti-Hodgson rhetoric points towards his dire second season at Blackburn, when he was sacked - a similar thing happened to him at Internazionale. And the biggest stick used to beat him with is his moribund tenure in charge of Liverpool, which lasted only 31 games, and brought forth a very uneasy relationship with the Merseyside press, who are still sniggering about Hodgson being in charge of the England side.

However, the press and the fans are secondary to the players. One thing that most people are agreed on is that Hodgson's teams tend to be well organised and compact, with a strong reliance on solidity and industry through the centre of the pitch, with pace and flair in wide positions. His preference for a big target man dovetailing with a smaller foil up front means that we can expect his England team to be no more than functional.

And this could be where the problem lies. While the delusion about the standard of England's football seems to have finally dissipated after the woeful display at the 2010 World Cup, you wonder if the bulk of the squad which go to Euro 2012 are of a similar mindset. If they accept that they are not a first-class team, but are in the top rank of the second-class nations, then Hodgson and England could work. Especially in the European Championships, in which the condensed nature of the competition means that you only have to peak for a short period of time to reach the latter stages of the tournament. If you look at Euro 96, England have shown they are capable of this in the past.

While England are right to look at the leading nations of Spain, Holland and Germany as the measuring stick, they have to also accept that this is not a viable plan for the summer. England should look to go as far as possible in Poland and the Ukraine, and the best chance of that is to play as a team that is more than the sum of its parts. Trying to rely on individuals, who are always fatigued in the summer anyway, has clearly not worked, and with Jack Wilshere injured, and Wayne Rooney suspended for the first two games, it's unlikely to do so this time around.

The worry however, is that some of the players will be too obstinate and intransigent to sacrifice themselves for the good of the squad. During Hodgson's time at Liverpool, stories abounded that the players grew bored of his didactic training sessions. If the same is true of the England players, then Euro 2012 is set to be a disaster.

The Times journalist, Rory Smith, has quipped for the past few months that Hodgson is an ideal fit for England, as he's got a good track record of extracting good performances from average players.

Yes, England. Average. Not world-beaters, but not overpaid callow dilettantes either. Just average. Euro 2012 will show us just how ready England are as a country to accept that fact.


- Fiorentina sacked their manager Delio Rossi after these extraordinary scenes in the Stadio Artemio Franchi. Losing to Novara, Rossi substituted midfielder, Adam Ljajic. Clearly annoyed at being withdrawn, Ljajic sarcastically applauded Rossi as he walked to the bench, and in the spirit of reciprocity, Rossi attacked Ljajic.

Now, I'm sure we all deplore Rossi's conduct and have little sympathy with him being fired - even if Ljajic does has an increasing reputation as a malcontent. Sir Alex Ferguson must have been grateful to find a buyer for the Serb when was a player at Manchester United.

However, this is not the first example of physical confrontation between players and managers. Be it Brian Clough punching Roy Keane, Ivano Bonetti having his cheekbone fractured by a plate of chicken thrown by Brian Laws, or Tony Pulis allegedly headbutting James Beattie (reputedly in the nude, sorry if you're eating while reading this), the Rossi/Ljajic fracas seems to have become a huge story due to the fact that it was in public.

Is the lesson from this story that it's acceptable for a coach to strike a player, as long as it happens behind closed doors?

- Lionel Messi, what more to say? After breaking Gerd Muller's record for most goals scored in a season (for a top-flight European club), words can no longer do him justice. So I'll forego the verbals, and go straight to the numerals to show just how magical this footballer is:

Messi in 2011/2012: 

68 goals in 57 games - which on average results in a Messi goal every 70 minutes.

46 goals in La Liga

31 goals at the Camp Nou, as many in his last 2 seasons combined.

9 hat-tricks.

P.S. Barcelona still have two more matches to play this season, so the goal tally may increase. What's to say he won't reach 70 goals by the season's end?

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