Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Harry or Hodgson

The news that on Sunday (29th April), the Football Association (FA) made an approach to West Bromich Albion to begin talks with their manager, Roy Hodgson about the vacant position of England manager came as some sort of surprise to many.  Even more so when it became knowledge that Hodgson was the only manager that they have approached.  This means that the FA will be holding no talks with any other available manager, most prominently Harry Redknapp, the bookmakers favourite and People's Choice for the role this summer at the European Championships.

Hodgson is a vastly experienced manager, in world football and with esteemed clubs across Europe.  Hodgson took a limited Switzerland side to the 1994 World Cup in USA where they made the first knockout round, beyond expectations.

It seems that Hodgson works against this brief at every club.  Exceed expectations.  At Fulham, he took the team to the Europa League final, most notably defeating Juventus 4-1 at home to win on aggregate; before they lost to a very good Atletico Madrid starring Diego Forlan in the final.  This came a season after he saved the club with a last day escape at Portsmouth. Yet this journey to that final gave Hodgson some cache and was given the chance at a big club in England, having previously managed Inter Milan in Italy.

Liverpool came a calling and Hodgson understandably jumped at the opportunity, much like he will with the England job, yet Liverpool turned into a poisoned chalice of a job.  Hodgson struggled to gain rewards through his tactics and vision, there were chants from the crowds of boring football and a series of bad results ending with a home defeat to Wolves in early January 2011 led to the guillotine being dropped on Roy as he headed for the hills.

During a new takeover of the club by the Fenway group, Roy did not fit the bill as the head coach who installed Kop legend, Kenny Dalglish, as manager for the remainder of the season.  The new owners opened their chequebook for Dalglish, something they failed to for Hodgson who signed Joe Cole, a player who failed to impress or fit into the system behind Fernando Torres and in front of Steven Gerrard.

After Hodgson's departure, new signing Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll arrived in the January transfer window; then Jose Enrique, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson in the summer.  Hodgson could have benefited from such signings, yet his pedigree deserved longer than 6 months in charge at a big job.

He shortly returned to management landing with the baggies in West Bromich Albion; a team he resuscitated surviving a nervy relegation battle with games to spare.  A solid summer signing players who work hard and gaining more out of players has led to a solid season, that will avoid the threat of relegation easily without moving up.  That must be a target for the club to break the top 10 next season, of course it would need Hodgson to remain at the Hawthorns, something that looks unlikely.

So why has Hodgson being picked over Redknapp?  A lot has been made of Redknapp's trial in early January for tax evasion, for which he was acquited from.  Since then and following Fabio Capello's resignation, it was expected that Redknapp would be told the England job was his come the end of the season.

Yet the FA have played the waiting game to see how both managers have fared.  In early January, Tottenham were knocking on the door of a title race, and looking assured in 3rd place 11 points clear of Arsenal.  Yet a disastrous last hour of the game away at Arsenal, going from 2-0 up to 5-2 down led to defeats against Manchester United, Everton and further dropped points away to Chelsea and Sunderland, and a crippling home defeat to Norwich.  Tottenham are battling for 4th now, they are ahead of Newcastle on goal difference, yet have an easier run-in with three winnable games - Bolton (A), Villa (A) and Fulham (H) - compared to the Toon Army who have to travel to Chelsea and play champions elect, Manchester City at home.

Yet the poor run of results for Tottenham following a 5-0 home victory over Newcastle, resulted in one win (Swansea 3-1 at home) in 9 games showed a bit of naivety on Redknapp's behalf.  For most of the season, he has an idea of a starting XI who have played or started most of the season.  In this day and age of quicker more intense play, the team could have done with squad rotation yet unfortunate injuries to Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and always niggled Aaron Lennon, has led to few players getting rest when it could have been afforded.  Also the requirement to give Ledley King a week off between games has actually  been counter-productive for continuity as King has actually looked slower this season than ever before as he fights father time.
Redknapp also let several squad players depart - Vedrun Corluka and Steven Pienaar left on loan to Dortmund and Everton respectively, yet Pienaar would have had a good run following Lennon's hamstring and his form at Everton has helped that side end the season in formidable form, assisting and scoring goals.  For Everton, Pienaar replaced Landon Donovan effortlessly.
Redknapp also trusts the starting XI too much failing to make substitutions or leaving them too late for any player to make an impact; also the lack of impact off the bench (sorry Jermain Defoe) might make this a mute point.
He has also not been helped by players such as Luka Modric and Gareth Bale not living up to their own standards or thinking about next season's employment.  It goes without saying that if Tottenham fail to get Champions League football, those two players will depart.

Yet Redknapp also has too much of a personality for the job, of course he has a good relationship with the press but can he deal with the pressure of a whole nation.  In a knockout tournament, his tactics might get found out quickly, and he has to be able to keep a lot of egos happy in one dressing room.  Whilst the players may respect Redknapp, there is a difference between appreciating a man and listening to him.

Hodgson may garner as much respect, but he has a bit more tactical nous about him in relation to how other nations play football; England need a tactical mastermind for the European championships, not a cheerleader.

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