The “desperation” was the Football Association’s binge on overseas expertise:
first Sven-Goran Eriksson then Capello, neither of whom could cure English
football’s congenital flaws. I was about to say the FA’s mandarins faced a
choice between the raconteur Redknapp and the worldly son of a Croydon bus
driver. But in reality it was Hodgson all along. Tottenham’s guiding force
was never seriously considered.
beat Brazil on Wednesday night you would have been hard pressed to find
anyone to dispute the FA’s choice. The wisdom that underpinned it has seemed
more and more solid, despite the team’s struggles in World Cup qualifying
Group H, where they now sit second to Montenegro. Hodgson’s self-assurance
grows with every fixture and the old England circus has been packed away.
Charitably, you might say that dialling international rescue twice was an
admission by the FA that England required a radical intervention. Looking
back through the lens of Hodgson’s first 10 months in charge, it seems clear
that England needed neither the expensive attentions of foreign coaches nor
the verbal elasticity of Redknapp, however good a manager he might be.
What they needed was Hodgson, calm and cerebral, to persuade the older players
that it was still worth hanging around the place and to encourage the
younger ones to believe they could progress in a stable environment. In an
interview with Esquire magazine published on Thursday, Hodgson says:
“I would wish to avoid cynicism and weariness at all costs. I’m not a lover
No England manager has delivered a more concise statement in favour of
positivity. He also said he would like to be like “Maggie Smith in Downton
Abbey, and say exactly what you think at any time”. But to wear the
radioactive tracksuit is to walk through all sorts of diplomatic thorns. As
an experienced club and international manager already, Hodgson knew exactly
how to deal with the dugout heavyweights of the Premier League.
The 90-minute shifts put in by Wayne Rooney and Chris Smalling, of Manchester
United, against Brazil partly reflected their club’s desire to see them use
an exhibition match to attain full fitness. It also expressed the trust
between Hodgson and the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Liverpool’s Brendan
Rodgers. This kind of harmony is rare. It stems from Hodgson’s complete
credibility as an English football man who understands the culture in which
he is working.
With his impressive gallery, Capello was held up as a renaissance man walking
among charlatans. After its endless disappointments English football
succumbed to a kind of shame, or self-loathing, which it thought only £5
million salaries for top Europeans could correct. The failed experiment with
Steve McClaren exacerbated this thinking. And if Brazil’s Luiz Felipe
Scolari had not said no to the FA before the 2006 World Cup, McClaren would
never have been given that brief opportunity.
Hodgson likes paintings, too, and books. The first gig he attended was Roy
Orbison in Tooting. In the Esquire interview he cites a fondness for
Chagall. He also dispenses wonderful advice: “As you get older, your good
qualities – whatever they were – get whittled away and your bad qualities
get honed. One should become wiser, more understanding and more generous in
the way you see things, but quite often you don’t. In fact the risk is, of
course, that you become grumpier.”
This is one of the best summaries you could read of the dangers of middle age.
In this thoughtful new environment errors are assimilated before they turn
into crises. Many felt Rio Ferdinand got the wrong end of the John Terry
selection dilemma at Euro 2012. In retrospect it was also a bad idea to let
Rooney skip off to Las Vegas before the tournament. Under Hodgson, though,
these issues are talked about without the old England hysteric lurching out
of his cupboard with a bottle of gin.
The chances of England winning the next World Cup are remote. The chances of
Jack Wilshere’s international career being handled properly are now
extremely high. When people talked about ‘emotional investment’ in the
England job it was nothing to do with flags or passports. It was stupid to
expect Capello to have the same empathy with young England players when he
knew nothing of their histories and had a limited interest in their futures
beyond his own contract.
In a notable birthday year the FA can congratulate itself on one of its best
decisions. At 150 years old, you ought to be grown up.