A journeyman in football management, Roy Hodgson encompasses all that is right with the gaffer on the touchline. Well-versed in five languages -- Italian, German, Norwegian, Swedish and of course, English -- the 66-year-old is likeable, knowledgeable and seemingly meek. He faces a thorough examination by Mike Carson is his book The Manager - inside the minds of football's greatest leaders.
Hodgson's chapter, titled 'A Piece of the Action' appears just after the preface and captures the manager's successes, failures and moods without hyperbole. Since his initiation into coaching in his 20s, Hodgson recognized the global scale of football. In a career spreading four decades, Hodgson began in earnest in Sweden where he is widely credited with revolutionizing the game after stints at Halmstads BK, Orebro SK and most memorably, Malmo.
Hodgson famously took Malmo to a European Cup triumph over giants Inter Milan. At this point, the English manager was more respected on the continent that in his own country. His greatest achievement in club football, however, came at Fulham, where he saved the side relegation from the English Premier League and guided them to a Europa League final two years later. Finally, he was recognized by his peers, when he was named the League Managers Association Manager of the Year.
It is extremely clear that Hodgson has his priorities in place - a coach's job is to coach the team. With this philosophy comes a simplicity and the fact that he still considers football a working man's sport. Players, managers and owners work towards the club, which in the turn represents the fans who pay good amounts of money to watch their team on a Saturday afternoon.
There have been many occasions when a club's philosophy has been determined by the man in charge - Johan Cryuff at Barcelona, Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United or more recently Roberto Martinez at Wigan and Everton. Hodgson has never been one to exert such an influence over any of his clubs. He did try to implement his free-flowing style of football from Fulham to Liverpool, but failed. The Englishman concentrates more on relationships, between himself and players, fans and stakeholders. Hogdson aims to build teams as opposed to individual talents, which is probably why he has never succeeded at 'bigger' clubs (Inter Milan and Liverpool).Â Â
Despite his demure demeanor, it is clear Hodgson is not one to be pushed around. In any club, the manager is the focal point, a figure of authority, the man whose head is on the chopping block more often than not. And Hodgson clearly shines and relishes this role. In the book, he terms being a central figure as 'reward for success in the profession'. It is evident that Hodgson loves the limelight that comes with being a professional football manager.
Like many old-school managers, Hodgson is not content being just the face of the club. He wants, or rather, demands a say in its functioning, much like practices followed by Ferguson and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. Every detail of the club's functioning from youth teams to funds trickles through the manager, which makes Hodgson one of the calmest 'dictators' in world football. Purely as a tactician, Hodgson is one of the shrewdest in the business. It has come after years of experience and studying cultures in England and abroad. Unlike any of his more popular contemporaries, there has never been a case of player dissatisfaction under his regime. Yet the secret to maintaining calm between highly-paid professional footballers is never revealed by him. Like most of Hodgson's career, this too slips under the radar.
Well into his 60s, Hodgson now has the most demanding public job in the world - managing England. Each move of his is anticipated, each tactic dissected and every selection analyzed. Yet Hodgson seems to have handled the pressure much better than his predecessor, Fabio Capello. The hot-headed Italian packed his bags and left in the wake of the Football Association allegedly undermining his authority. Hodgson though is not new to the unique nature of international football. He transformed Switzerland into a genuine force of European football, leading them to World Cup qualification after 28 years, a spot in Euro 1996 and third place in the FIFA rankings.
International management brings with it its own set of problems. While not as rigorous, managers do not have access to their players for months on end and there is a much larger pool of players to select from. The English media is notoriously hard-nosed and while a local manager may be given a bit of leeway, failure at this year's World Cup could cause major strife. The next six months are the biggest test of Hodgson's long career. Whether it winds down in success or shame remains to be seen.
Hodgson is not a natural-born leader. He has learnt the art of leadership with astute study and practice. As opposed to someone who takes the lead, he follows the 'inspiration' mantra, without the shenanigans that are seen, fairly regularly, in great managers. He is a simplistic coach, one who respects the tried and trusted leadership techniques and is the last person to attempt anything radical. Hodgson approaches his job with a pragmatic approach, sustains the pressure through communication, and is rather level-headed in success and during failure.