Hodgson Already Under Scrutiny

So far so good: Roy Hodgson’s been in charge of England for a week and he’s not lost a game yet.

Rather than trying to jump onto the various bandwagons that were being dragged around in the wake of last weekend’s appointment, I thought it might be better to wait a week before giving a more considered opinion about the decision. One thing to clarify immediately: I won’t be making fun of the way the new manager talks.

Despite being at the cynical end of England fandom (I grew up in the Home Counties in the 1970s and my Dad was Welsh), I don’t have any problems with Roy Hodgson at all. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that he’s the latest of a long line of England coaches that goes all the way back to Walter Winterbottom (if you’re not sure who he was, try Wikipedia), through Sir Alf Ramsey (if you’re not sure who he was, you have the wrong site) and more recently Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson.

Hodgson’s appointment is something of a return to form for the FA. The key difference is that the new manager combines the old school values with knowledge and experience of managing outside the UK at both national and international level. That’s rare in English football: one of the drawbacks of having such an overinflated and overhyped competition such as the Premier League is that none of our top players go abroad any longer. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any players or coaches in France, Germany, Spain or Italy. Ironically enough – especially as Hodgson’s managerial career began in Sweden – I can think of a couple of reasonably successful British coaches in Scandinavia.

The appointment also seems to be a deliberate reaction against some of the novelty appointments that have been made over the past couple of decades. Capello, Eriksson, Hoddle and McClaren all shared a cosmopolitan profile with Hodgson, although the first two suffered from the apparently fatal malady of not being English, Hoddle was ‘a bit of a nutter’ and McClaren might have made a better England manager in ten years time.

Which brings me round to the last time the FA appointed a ‘fan favourite’. Kevin Keegan was an absolute disaster and there’s absolutely no evidence to show that Harry Redknapp wouldn’t have been the same. Strangely enough, Redknapp’s reliance on his bumpkin image to clear his name in court earlier this year might have affected the perception of him by any prospective employers: his apparent inability to perform simple tasks might have helped Redknapp clear his name and endeared him to aficionados of ‘Carry On’ films or the works of Norman Wisdom (‘Strike a light, lads, we’ve only gorn an’ missed the coach to the stadium!’) , but won’t have given any of the blazers at the FA any confidence in his ability to manage the England team.

In fact, the only manager to have combined fan approval with the type of profile the FA seems to think is important was Terry Venables, who oversaw the most successful tournament campaign in the last two decades  – yes, sixteen years ago. As for some of the arguments that compared Redknapp to Brian Clough in so far as they were both who the ‘fans’ wanted for the job, it needs to be stressed repeatedly that Clough won the old League Championship as a manager when he was 38. If you want to compare Clough with anyone, try Jose Mourinho. Brash, outspoken, successful.

Back to the tournament at hand now: Hodgson has to prepare for a couple of friendlies in the next few weeks before Euro 2012 starts and although he’s guaranteed a place for Wayne Rooney in the squad that’s going to Eastern Europe, it’s the centre of defence that’s the biggest problem. Regardless of the fact that the forthcoming tournament could be the last one that both Rio Ferdinand and John Terry play in, there’s also the issue of Terry’s apparent inability to behave like an adult who is also a professional sportsman. The character defects of the Chelsea captain are both a.) glaringly obvious and b.) have a tendency to get him into trouble both on and off the pitch: basically he thinks he can get away with doing whatever he likes. Hodgson’s first job may have to tell Terry that he won’t be able to do that for England any longer: or possibly ever again.

I’ll be posting some more thoughts as the tournament approaches, but I must admit that I’m really intrigued to see how Roy Hodgson is going to do this summer. Although the ‘defeated in the quarter finals by the eventual winners’ scenario usually happens regardless of who the manager is, the rampant jingoism, crass newspaper headlines and pubs filled with ‘casual’ fans who have to be told which team is which may not be as prevalent as they might have been if Harry Redknapp had got the job. However, the sense of anger and disappointment if England fail badly in Poland and Ukraine might be greater with Hodgson in charge rather than Redknapp: we’ll see.

Roy Hodgson In The Frame For The Manager’s Job

Calm down, calm down…

Yesterday the news broke that Roy Hodgson had been approached by the FA regarding the England job: the overall reaction appears to be split, ranging from outrage from White Van Man to conditional support from various corners of the media. Hodgson’s interview is taking place this afternoon but it’ll be interesting to see how quickly a decision is made before the Euro 2012 betting begins: the situation may be closer to being resolved than it was last week but I still think there’s some mileage left in this story.

We’ve always tried to follow the ‘best man for the job’ line here: I’m on record as having said that Harry Redknapp is the right man for the England position, but it’s not my decision to make and if Roy Hodgson is appointed then I’m not going to complain as his CV is very impressive. I don’t know either man personally – and let’s face it, how many of us do – so if anyone’s expecting any pro-Redknapp or anti-Hodgson rants here, then you’re probably better off wading through the hilarious stuff posted on various message boards.

That’s not going to stop me from some speculation though. It’s interesting that in recent interviews on Radio 5 that both Graham Taylor and Henry Winter have mentioned the role that the manager would have at the National Football Centre in Burton: the perception seems to be that although Hodgson would relish this role, it might be a bit too far for Redknapp in terms of distance, desire and ability. One more thing that needs to be cleared up: Hodgson is five months older than Redknapp, not ten years.

Another issue is on field performance. Although Spurs beat Blackburn yesterday, Tottenham have had an incredibly disappointing end to their season and although that’s not a reason to write off Harry Redknapp’s ability as a manager per se Spurs’ collapse couldn’t have come at a worse time.

However, it’s important to remember that this time last season Roy Hodgson had been written off by Liverpool fans for pretty much the same reason: following the less than stellar second coming of Kenny Dalglish in the role of Anfield Messiah, it’s now accepted that Hodgson did a decent at a dysfunctional club that’s been relying on past glories as a guarantee for future successes for far too long. Oh wait a minute…that sounds like he’s exactly the right man for the England job.

If there’s a moral to this particular story, it’s probably that there’s no point in wasting your money at the bookies on anything to do with England. ‘Arry was available to back at 1/3 as late as yesterday lunchtime: he’s now out to 4/1 with the firms that haven’t suspended betting on that particular market.

It’s Beginning To Look Like The End Of An Era

Well, it’s two weeks since Fab resigned 19 months later than he should have done and it’s finally time for me to pick up my virtual pen and appraise the current situation.

Personally, I think Capello should have gone after the shambles of the World Cup in South Africa. If you’d said in July 2010 that he wouldn’t have been in charge for Euro 2012, I don’ t think many people would have disagreed with you: arguably the bigger surprise is that he was still in charge less than six months before the tournament started.

The big problem the FA faces with his abrupt departure is whether the process of finding a new manager should be begun immediately or after the European Championships.  Stuart Pearce will be in charge for the friendly against the Netherlands next week but the bookies make the loveable but dysgraphic Cockney dog walker Harry Redknapp the favourite for the job – in fact, if Redknapp’s odds were any shorter it’d be worth betting against him getting the job.

However, despite being the people’s choice there are some issues surrounding Redknapp. He’s only won one major domestic honour (the FA Cup with Portsmouth four years ago – and they beat a Championship side to do it) and – if as seems likely – he has to fulfill his obligations to Spurs before he leaves them, there’s the prospect that he might only have twelve days in which to familiarise himself with the job. Spurs’ last game is scheduled for May 13th: England’s first warm up for the Euros is against Norway on May 25th.

The main issue that seems to have finally exhausted Capello’s patience is the decision by the FA to strip John Terry of the captaincy of the England team. Regardless of what you think of the decision or why it was made, it seems to have been the catalyst for Capello’s resignation – presumably because he thought he was the only authority who could remove the honour from Terry. It looked likely that the former captain would travel to the Euros in some capacity (although probably not in the seat next to Rio Ferdinand), but following today’s news that the Chelsea defender will be out for two months it looks as if Terry might miss what looks increasingly like his international swansong: he’ll be 32 in December.

It seems unlikely, but with Capello gone, Terry a possible doubt and Rooney missing the first two games this summer due to that bloody stupid red card he picked up in Macedonia, fan expectations could be more realistic for this tournament than they have been for previous ones. England are currently fourth favourites behind Spain, Germany and Holland which looks about right – until you remember that the previous winners have never successfully defended the trophy and neither ourselves nor the Dutch have ever won it.

So if ‘Arry is as canny as most people seem to think he is, I’d not be surprised if the following scenario occurs:

He stays at Spurs until the end of the season, with a big Cockney farewell knees up at White Hart Lane (the last game of the season is against Fulham). Harry then goes straight into the England job and manages to get through the group stages before the customary knock out by the eventual winners – at which point he’s largely absolved for any blame because he’s hardly had any time in the position. So his first real task will be qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil: Redknapp may be secretly hoping that John Terry may have announced his international retirement at that point.

We’ll see…

England Under 21’s Fail To Inspire Confidence In The Future Of The National Team

Guest contributor Richard Smith takes a look at the recently concluded Under 21 tournament, where at least we drew with the eventual winners…even if we didn’t qualify for the semi finals because we forgot a game lasts at least 90 minutes.

If manager Stuart Pearce achieved one thing at the Euro Under-21 Championships in Denmark, it was to mentally prepare the players for future disappointments for when they represent their country at senior level.

The England Under-21 team’s humiliating exit from a tournament for which they were the second favourites to win was borne out of the usual reasons and excuses more commonly associated with their senior counterparts. Lack of ideas, inability to keep the ball, insistence on playing the long ball and worst of all, their inability to create clear cut scoring opportunities. In 270 minutes of football at the tournament, they managed to score just two goals!

To be fair it has to be said that England was the better team in their final match against the Czech Republic. They were winning 1-0 with just stoppage time left to play…

Had the score remained 1-0, the headlines would have read completely differently of course. Pearce would have received the plaudits, the players would have been branded “battlers” and more importantly, they would have had every chance of making the final.

Instead in those dying seconds, a Czech Republic attack took full advantage of England’s defensive frailties. They scored somewhat fortuitously with a toe poke in the 89th minute before wrapping things up with a second goal in injury time.

Two lacklustre draws and a defeat from their three games meant only third place in their group and ignominy. Admittedly, the England group was the harder of the two, but the side should have had enough talent to qualify to the semi finals, two of which have just completed transfers amassing £38 million!

Was there anything in those three matches for England fans to get excited over for the future?

The truthful answer is no, compared to the technical ability of eventual winners, Spain, England are some way behind achieving success at an international tournament. Performances from the likes  of Mata, Herrera, Montoya and Adrian in the Spanish side raise questions about what on earth Man Utd and Liverpool are getting for their huge investments in the bright young stars of English football? Whether it’s a case of talent or manager in charge, something continues to be sadly amiss with the England national teams.

As far as Pearce is concerned, the poor showing will not be rewarded with the sack. The FA have punished him instead by giving him the onerous task of guiding the team through the 2013 Euro Under-21 qualification, a quest he obviously felt he could not refuse. What it does however, is rule him out of the search for the next England manager when Capello steps down at thhe end of his current contract, be it in the Autumn, should (god forbid) England fail to qualify for Euro 2012 or in 12 months.

Wales Preview

I’ve got to be honest, I’m completely underwhelmed by today’s game. If England don’t win by more than two goals I think Capello should resign immediately. This game looks like a mythical third round FA Cup tie – something like Histon v Liverpool.

To begin, let’s start with some facts. We’ve only lost three times in Wales since World War II, the last time was a 0-1 defeat at The Racecourse Ground in Wrexham in May 1982, a game in the last Home International Tournament.

We’ve won eight of the last ten meetings in Wales, there’s not been a draw since April 1970 and we’ve only failed to score twice in the last 20 games over the bridge.

Wales have won 9 of their last 20 internationals at home but only four of their last ten – and those were against those well known powerhouses Liechtenstein, Estonia, Scotland (stiffles giggle) and Luxembourg. They haven’t won a Euro qualifier at home since beating San Marino four years ago.

Fifteen of the 24 players in the Welsh squad for the game – that’s 62% of them – play outside the Premier League. If Wales could play like Swansea then this game would be a lot closer, but there are only three Swansea players in the squad. 

(BTW if Swansea get promoted from the Championship, they’re worth watching: a budget Barcelona until they get to the opposition penalty box where they turn into a poor man’s Arsenal and try to pass the ball into the net)

As for all the nonsense about giving John Terry back the captaincy, all I’m going to say is that I really hope that Spurs either beat Real Madrid in the quarter finals of the Champions League or put up such a fantastic performance that appointing Harry Redknapp as next England manager is obvious even to the dunderheads at the FA.

Capello’s ‘decision’ to reappoint John Terry as captain just shows what a busted flush he is as a manager and even though I expect us to qualify for next year’s tournament, I think it’ll be the same old story when we get to Poland/Ukraine I’m afraid.

Verdict: Wales will be fired up for about ten minutes after the crowd at the Millennium Stadium have finished singing ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’, Craig Bellamy will attempt to decapitate Wayne Rooney if he can get anywhere near him…and then England will score and the game will be over.

Postscript: I think we might have a tougher game against Ghana next week.

Does England Beckon For Redknapp?

Spurs’ performance in the Champions League so far has been impressive, adding further evidence to the argument that Harry Redknapp should be the next England manager. Guest blogger Thomas Rooney takes a closer look at the situation.

The England job has reared its head again in Harry Redknapp’s world this week after the FA’s general secretary Alex Horne revealed that the Spurs boss was on their list of potential managers to succeed Fabio Capello, albeit a “long list”. The Italian boss is due to step down from his position as England boss when his contract comes to an end in 18 months time and there have been plenty of football bets placed on Redknapp replacing him.

Since Capello announced his plans to leave the position, Redknapp has been the name that gets keeps getting brought up and the next year and a half that will only increase. Redknapp himself has admitted that he would be up to the job despite his age not being on his side.

Harry will be 65 by the time Capello steps down but he is convinced his age wouldn’t be an issue when asked about the job.

“It’s not an easy job, but in football now the more experienced managers are still in big positions,” he said.

Peter Crouch has this week made his feelings on the matter quite clear, insisting the Spurs manager would one day become the national boss.

The England striker said: “It’s inevitable. He’s been fantastic at Tottenham ever since he came in. It’s only a matter of time, with him being English as well, that England come knocking on the door.”

Everything points to Redknapp being the odds on favourite for the job but he has been clear that he has never been contacted by the FA regarding the job. The main decision makers have long been conscious of Harry’s reported shady financial past and that may have been a reason for them to have overlooked him in the past. They can’t avoid him now though.

Despite what some say about the England job the fact remains that it is a part-time gig. Rather that Harry being too old for the England job, he is probably the perfect age for international management and the rumour mill suggests he’ll be on his way to FA headquarters sooner or later.

The biggest factor on Harry’s side though, is his ability to motivate a squad better than most. With the talent at England’s disposal the biggest job is to get them in the right frame of mind to start competing in the major tournaments.

2010: Annus Mediocris

After the World Cup we had, it’s not too difficult to feel at least a twinge of sympathy with our near neighbours, although on the other hand it’s also quite difficult to suppress any giggling.

In some respects the French campaign in South Africa was so wonderfully dysfunctional that it’s hard to imagine any other team self destructing with such panache; at least Italy nearly made it to the second round although at least they have some previous when it comes to underperfoming in Africa.

The sanctions the French FA imposed on their squad in the aftermath of both the performance on the pitch and the histrionics off it look like a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted.

Tonight’s friendly can be seen from two contradictory angles. On the optimistic side, it’s an opportunity for both sides to field players with minimal international experience who wouldn’t normally make a contribution in the hope that a couple of them will make a breakthrough. From a negative point of view, the game will feature ‘experimental’  (ie under strength) sides and concludes a year that arguably could and should have been more successful for both sides. That’s certainly the way French manager Laurent Blanc seems to see it (some knowledge of French required).

The problem we’ve got – again – is goals. Montenegro’s clean sheet was the first time that we’ve failed to score at home since February 2007, when a goal from Andres Iniesta was enough for a Spanish win at Old Trafford. Fab’s hands have been tied with the usual crop of withdrawals and injuries, which is why the (ahem) ‘troubled but talented’ Andy Carroll of Newcastle will probably start up front; presumably he got the nod before Cardiff City’s Jay Bothroyd because Cardiff aren’t in the Premiership…yet.

The only other confirmed starters are Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs – when there’s some kind of news about what the team actually is, we’ll have it here.

With just under two weeks to go before the announcement of the host nation for the 2018 World Cup, it’s fair to say that – for whatever reason – our chances of winning the bid are slightly worse than they were at the beginning of the year.

The incident concerning Lord Triesman was regrettable even if there may have been something to it; the perception of the Sunday Times enquiry into vote buying may have damaged the bid even though it seems public perception refuses to blame the journalists, who were right to investigate what was happening.

So the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia will be made by a discredited body that won’t even have enough time to investigate itself before announcing where the next two competitions will be held.

Don’t hold your breath and be prepared for more disappointment. However, if by some miracle we actually win the bid, then mine’s several pints of Bombardier.

Update: starting line up against France:

Foster, Jagielka, Ferdinand, Lescott, Gibbs, Walcott, Henderson, Barry, Milner, Gerrard, Carroll.

Didn’t Ferdinand Lescott-Gibbs discover the Zambezi?

Redknapp Needs To Be Careful Not To Make An Enemy At Home

Written before the sensational result at Stamford Bridge yesterday and Spurs’ win over Blackburn on Saturday, guest blogger Thomas Rooney casts an eye over one of the contenders for the England job after Fabio Capello leaves the post. We’re not completely convinced Harry Redknapp is the right man for the job either…

Harry Redknapp is a man who appears to polarise opinion among football fans. Some can’t imagine a better candidate to replace Fabio Capello as England manager, while others simply can’t stand the sight of him. This probably wouldn’t be a massive problem for the Spurs boss if the Tottenham faithful were entirely won over by him. However, that seems not to be the case.

On Tuesday Spurs slipped to a 1-1 draw against Sunderland at White Hart Lane. In the latter stages of the game, Spurs played the sort of desperate hit it and hope football usually reserved for lower league teams chasing the game in the 90th minute. With Redknapp for some reason seeming reluctant to make any intelligent tactical moves, with many question marks still hanging over the long-term presence of David Bentley for example, Spurs fans were left feeling bewildered at how their team had managed to let another league game pass by without a win in matches the Betfair Football odds suggested they should win.

Tottenham, for all their Champions League glory over the past couple of weeks, have failed to win a domestic league game in four tries now and, after a dismal showing against Bolton at the weekend, can rightly expect to be judged harshly by their fans.

Redknapp, however, wasn’t having any of that, lambasting the Spurs faithful after the game for what sounded like a few boos ringing out around the ground after the final whistle. The Spurs boss did his usual job of painting his side up to be world, simultaneously mounting the pressure on his players and distancing himself from the club’s fans in the process. Digs at the referee, again, didn’t help matters and neither did Redknapp’s sarcastic retort that the supporters are used to watching their side win the league every year.

With Redknapp having ambitions to manage the England side one day, he needs to be wary of who he makes an enemy of in English football. Football fans are a powerful bunch, even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, and turning on a club’s faithful when they dare to voice an opinion doesn’t go down too well in any quarter. The football rumourshave linked Redknapp to the England job, but it doesn’t mean he’ll get it.

Steve McClaren felt all too keenly the effects of an English manager of the national side not being embraced by the fans across the country due to a perceived character flaw and we all know how that turned out. A similar fate could befall Redknapp if he fails to take a more modest attitude when it is needed.