False Nine editor James Dutton assesses England manager Roy Hodgson’s credentials and the onset of the Football Association’s National Football Centre…
“If ‘keeping the ball better’ means playing it back to the goalkeeper all the time I am not sure I do want to keep it more.”
“Basically, I like my teams to go forward and score goals. I like my midfield players to be positive with their passing and no-one has yet succeeded in convincing me that you win games by what people perceive to be ‘possession.'”
“I don’t even know how these possession counts are worked out because when I watch matches, I have my opinion of how the two teams have played and afterwards I see that one team had a lot more possession. But actually, frankly, I haven’t seen that, so these things are of no interest to me. My interest is getting a team that plays well, can score goals and stop them going in.”
“I don’t understand it. I am not prepared to have the wool pulled completely over my eyes at the age of 65. I think I will keep a bit of sanity around my football thinking.”
“First they have to let me down, and when they let me down, maybe, I will go along and say, ‘Ah, people were right.’ But they haven’t done that yet. Quite the reverse. I would suggest Terry and Gerrard were two of the most important people at the Euros. So will they let me down? Let’s see.”
Roy Hodgson – September, 2012
The above set of quotations are taken from an interview between Roy Hodgson and the Sunday Times journalist, Jonathan Northcroft. Within these few lines lies the key to the methods of England’s nomadic manager, tasked with navigating the national team to the World Cup in Brazil in 2 years time and, beyond that, a root and branch upheaval of English football.
It is not going to be easy, and from this interview it is hard to accept that the man from Croydon is the man for the job.
Hodgson was scarcely criticised for England’s listless displays in Ukraine this summer, rather they were attributed to a new manager seeking to implement his ideas upon a makeshift squad in a short space of time. Rather than pillory Hodgson for lacking ambition or invention the press took up a universal mantra, hoping that the Englishman would use the tournament as a learning curve and look to instil some panache into England’s football during the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
This is fair enough, but it reckons against the sheer insularity of Roy Hodgson’s archaic coaching methods and footballing ideals. Hodgson’s methods of tactical regimentation and positional discipline work wonders for sides like Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, whose ambitions only ever go as far as surviving a relegation dogfight and achieving mid-table mediocrity. When such methods are transposed to clubs with ambitions that far extend this, say Blackburn Rovers in 1998 and Liverpool in 2010, the results are precisely the same.
Calls for England to adopt a more progressive playing style during these qualifiers will go unheeded, as will the demands that they drop the anachronistic 4-4-2 formation. Modern systems such as 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 are anathema to someone as rudimentary as the current England manager.
History has proven that Hodgson achieves average results, using average tactics whilst playing distinctly average football – he has never won a trophy outside of Scandinavia. When asked back in October 2010 whether he was having trouble translating his methods from Fulham to Liverpool, Hodgson’s tactless riposte was stark:
“Unbelievable. What do you mean by that? In 35 years, how many clubs have I had? What do you mean do my methods translate? They have translated from Halmstads to Malmo, to Orebo to Neuchatel Xamax, to the Swiss national team, so I find the question insulting. To suggest that because I have moved from one club to another, that the methods which have stood me in good stead for 35 years and made me one of the most respected coaches in Europe don’t suddenly work is very hard to believe.”
Such a vehement response allows for an inspection into his man-management, or lack of. At Liverpool, Hodgson ostracised Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger, for failing to adhere to his footballing principles which centred around moving the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible, rather than playing from the back. As evidenced by his performances during the Euros, Wayne Rooney, will be similarly shackled by Hodgson’s limited style during the qualifying process.
What Hodgson alludes to in his Sunday Times interview is a lack of culpability, and a determination to provide scapegoats rather than face up to his own shortcomings. This notion that he fears being ‘let-down’ by his senior players is simply staggering. At Liverpool Hodgson sought to blame the players, even the fans, but never himself for dragging the side toward a relegation battle.
It testifies to his ludicrously contradictory assertion that he wants to win by ‘playing well, scoring goals and stopping them going in.’ This is all well and good, not to mention blindingly obvious, but juxtaposes with his argument that he ‘does not want to keep the ball more.’ It is as if the 65 year-old does not realise that surrendering possession so regularly increases the likelihood of conceding.
It is an attitude that resembles many of those within the English press who incredulously regarded Spain’s style during Euro 2012 as ‘negative.’ Possession based football is very much an age-old English taboo and an attitude that, in the wake of Spain’s unprecedented domination of world football at all ages, must change for the benefit of the national game.
With the St. George’s Park National Football Centre the FA is, rather belatedly, seeking a consistency within an English footballing philosophy, married with legacy and longevity. The FA recently overturned an outdated regulation that under-11 football teams must play on full-sized football pitches; at last they are taking seriously their role as the guardians of the English game. This reversal is fundamental to the progression of English football; whereas before the pitch sizes would promote pace and power, now it will favour touch and technique.
With this in mind, the legacy that St. George’s surely seeks to implement is a positive, possession oriented one. Yet at the top of the English game there sits a man, who in a Sunday broadsheet, has expressed his misgivings over such a system and philosophy. Something has to give.
Follow James Dutton on Twitter: @jrgdutton