by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
When the FA picked Roy Hodgson to be the England manager over Harry Redknapp they were making a definite choice between an exponent of a well-drilled functional team over the more attractive but less tactically adroit teams put out by Redknapp. The difference between the two managers can be illustrated by Redknapp’s alleged comments to Roman Pavlyuchenko to go and “just run around a bit” when he was being introduced as substitute in a Tottenham game. In comparison players who have played under Hodgson talk of practicing tactical drills over and over in training until it comes natural to them.
Hodgson has a long history of thinking deeply about the game, he worked for several years for UEFA’s technical committee, and has presented many lectures on UEFA’s behalf. He has also managed with some success, both in club management and internationally with the Switzerland national team, with who he qualified for the world cup finals in USA 1994, and Euro 96. Under his tenure Switzerland also reached 3rd in the FIFA rankings.
Having had experience of managing a team in a tournament should stand him in good stead, bearing in mind the shambles of the last two world cups when England veered from the laid back exuberance of the camp under Sven Goran Eriksson, with players being distracted by the WAGs and the accompanying media circus, to the harsh boot camp atmosphere of South Africa, where the players complained of excessive boredom, leaving them enough time on their hands to seemingly fall out with one another. He has already moved to stamp out potential discord in the camp through the dropping of Ferdinand and retaining of Terry.
Hodgson has picked the players for Euro 2012 that he thinks will suit his tactics best, leaving no room for the likes of Sturridge, Carrick, Lennon and Johnson. His preferred line up is 4-4-2, or rather 4-4-1-1, playing counter-attacking football with a midfield two shielding the defence, with the wide midfielders expected to provide an outlet. At Fulham he used Zamora to drop to receive the ball and connect with the striking partner, which is precisely what Andy Carroll did against Norway at the weekend, when he supplied Young with the pass for his goal.
Hodgson has emphasised that he hasn’t got long to coach the players before the kick off against France on 11 June, and his long-term focus is on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and the reality is that this limits what Hodgson can expect to achieve in this summer’s tournament. I suspect that in the limited time available to him he will concentrate on making England difficult to beat rather than looking to set the world alight at this stage, and this is certainly within his ability. One only has to look at his West Brom side of the last season to see this. When they played Man City in December a well-organised West Brom side comfortably held Man City to a 0-0 draw. Not only were they the first team to prevent Man City scoring in the past season, but could have won the game when Jerome Thomas struck the post.
Such tactics can bring success at the highest level of the game. Famously a well-drilled Greece team with no star names, and carrying out a similar plan to perfection, won Euro 2004 after starting as 150-1 outsiders to win the title. More recently of course Chelsea in the Champions League demonstrated that a well-drilled defensive performance can be the basis of wins over opposition that is perceived to be superior.
Hodgson’s record with less fancied clubs, like Fulham and West Brom (with no offence intended to the supporters of those teams), speaks for itself. He took both of them from the brink of relegation to mid table security in West Brom’s case and a Europa League final with Fulham. However, the long shadow that hangs over him are his failures at so called bigger clubs, such as Liverpool and Inter Milan and begs the question can he handle super star footballers with big egos? Several Liverpool players complained of the boring repetitive nature of the training sessions under Hodgson, but Fulham and West Brom players have talked highly of him and how they felt his coaching improved their game. If the England players take the realistic view of themselves as the equivalent of a mid-table premiership side in international terms then Hodgson might be able to teach them something and his appointment might work out.