England expects more than any coach can deliver, so for its new coach, it can only end one way.Roy Hodgson stepped through the double doors and into the glaring, blinding lights on May 1, settling into his seat for his official unveiling as England manager. It was a harsher, less forgiving light than any he’d ever faced in 36 years of top-flight management. Suddenly, every blemish on his face was visible – live and in HD.
It’s been a week since Hodgson was appointed after the job was vacant for almost three months following Fabio Capello’s resignation. It’s been a week since Hodgson got the job even though another man, Harry Redknapp, was the consensus choice of the press and, by extension, the people. It’s been a week since he stopped being, “Roy Hodgson, football manager” and forever became “Roy Hodgson, England manager”.
The dust has settled on his high-wattage appointment, and the outlines of his new reality are stark. If this is the most coveted job in England, it is nevertheless hard to say what, aside from a buxom paycheck, makes it worthwhile.
Hodgson is no longer a man privately employed by a professional soccer club, he’s now public property of the country of England. That has many acute repercussions. His record has become a matter of nationwide discussion, his inability to pronounce Rs the centerpiece of a renewed national discourse on speech impediments and the bullies – like The Sun newspaper – that mock them. Everything he does will be scrutinized and pored over, again and again, from his selections to his formations to how he handles the Rio Ferdinand And John Terry Situation, the Wayne Rooney Situation, the Captaincy Situation.
“It’s going to be a tough job,” said Sir Trevor Brooking, who served on the panel that appointed a coach, during the press conference.
“Everybody knows it won’t be an easy [task],” Hodgson added on the subject of this summer’s European Championships.
They understand the crux of the matter. As England manager, you can’t really win. Actually lift the trophy against all odds and you’ll have merely done what was expected by a country that forever chases its own tail, getting worked up into a frenzy over the upcoming tournament, wildly overestimates its national team, inevitably is left disappointed and then seeks out a scapegoat. It’s a predictable pattern. Again and again it unfolds. Like clockwork.
Follow LEANDER on
But realism isn’t tolerated from those in charge of England. “It’s a difficult question to say what is success,” attempted Hodgson. “One is tempted to say, because it’s England, that success is only reaching the latter stages.”
Prospects were couched with qualifiers, past failures referenced. But then Hodgson declared what all England managers must: “I’m even tempted to say the only success is winning.…You’ve always got to go into tournaments to win because we’re a major football nation.” That’s the thing though. No, England, you’re not. There are eight countries with more top-four finishes at the World Cup. A dozen countries that have made the finals of the Euro, something you’ve never done. In world soccer England is an upper middle-class team at best.
But England refuses to see it that way, in spite of endless empirical evidence to support the notion that the Three Lions are really nothing special. As England manager, you are expected to deliver world-class results, even if your team is not that.
And so, Hodgson, looking slightly uncomfortable as photographers rattled off hundreds of frames per minute, has accepted a job at which he can only fail. No England manager has left the job as anything but a failure. Even Sir Alf Ramsey, the only England manager to lift a Euro or World Cup, was fired in ignominy after he failed to qualify for Euro ’72 and the 1974 World Cup.
All England managers fail.
Hodgson will too. He may be the most qualified man out there in the eyes of the Football Association, but that will count for little. His tactics will be deciphered, his methods deconstructed, and, ultimately, he’ll be demeaned. Redknapp’s name will come up. A lot.
And, ultimately, he’ll become “Roy Hodgson, former England manager.”