Friday, 4 May 2012

Taking the Press to task over Hodgson

So, unlike the Mounties the Press have failed to get their man.  Despite his coronation by the media in February (and on the front of the last edition of FourFourTwo), Harry Redknapp wasn’t, as it turns out, the choice of the FA.

Having overcome their collective shock some hacks seem to have taken offence at the suggestion they were only ever supporting the Spurs boss because he was their mate.  Darren Lewis wrote on the Mirror website that while he wants Hodgson to succeed “we don’t live in a dictatorship […] and I’m not going to be bullied into cooing over Hodgson because Twitter says so”.  Spot on, Darren, and I’m not going to be bullied into cooing over Redknapp because the Press says so.

The Independent’s James Lawton joined in the fun writing that the Press is “entitled to question the wisdom of a decision that was handed down so imperiously it might have been written on a piece of stone”.  Absolutely, James, and I am entitled to question the wisdom of your support for Redknapp, articulated so imperiously it might have been written on a piece of stone.

The last few years have been uncomfortable ones for football journalists as blogging and social media has meant that anyone can publish shit about the game, not just well-paid hacks.  It’s also meant that, more so than ever before, the opinions of those well-paid hacks have been explicitly called into question (ironically it’s almost like the end of a dictatorship) hence the slightly too defensive ‘it’s-not-cos-Harry’s-my-mate’ opinion pieces.

Lawton continued that “the nub of the matter, despite what you may have heard, is not that a bunch of sports hacks – including yours truly – unsuccessfully picked, or even tried to impose, the wrong horse.”  Frankly, I’m extremely grateful to people like James for helping me to process information and telling me what to think.  Anyway, what is the nub of the matter I wonder?

Thankfully, Lawton’s on hand to tell us that the big issue (and it’s worth quoting at length) is “which Englishman in English football over the last few years has produced the most exhilarating football and suggested most strongly that he has the wit and the imagination and, maybe most vitally of all, the understanding of players, how they think, how they operate, how they work, how they play, to get something of a response from the most chronically underachieving nation in the world game.”

I wonder what the Press make of Roy.  Shame I can't read...
Obviously, Lawton believes it’s Redknapp but there’s more than a few problems with his articulation of “the big issue”.  Firstly, exhilarating football doesn’t guarantee trophies, in fact it’s very rare for the most exciting team to win a tournament.  Just ask Brazil in 1982, or Argentina in 2006 or Greece in 2004.  So why is the ability to produce exhilarating football (with, let’s not forget, a squad which contains more foreigners that English players) considered a key plus point in the search for England’s new manger?  Perhaps, instead, the FA should be looking for a manager with a vast knowledge of the international game.

Secondly you could ask why Lawton has limited the discussion to something as ill-defined as “the last few years”?  Perhaps because the alternative would involve the tiresome process of properly analysing two managerial careers each lasting about 30 years or more (one of which involves significant time abroad which insular English journalists tend to know little about)?  Yeah, Lawton’s right.  Let’s just stick to the recent past (which, for lazy hacks, makes the pro-Redknapp argument seem stronger, at least at face value).

Lawton also doesn’t ever adequately, or even anywhere near adequately, explain why he thinks Redknapp has “the understanding of players, how they think, how they operate, how they work, how they play” but Hodgson doesn’t.  Hodgson has over his career (not just the “last few years”) got a proven track record of taking teams and getting them to overachieve.

We all know what he’s done with Fulham and West Brom “in English football” in “the last few years” but he’s been pulling the same trick for over three decades.  In his very first season in his very first job, he took relegation favourites Halmstad to the Swedish title.  In 1994 he took Switzerland to their first World Cup in 28 years taking four points off the eventually runners-up - Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy – during qualification.  I could go on, but I can’t be arsed.  The bottom line is that, whatever Lawton thinks, Hodgson has demonstrated time and again that he knows how to get players to do what it takes to over achieve.

Ahh, the players.  Lewis is on hand to point out that “The majority of players don’t seem convinced.  Their silence has been deafening.”  Are these the same players that have served us so well over the last decade or so?  The players that failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and were humiliated by Germany two years ago?  While the managers get the blame – they’re either too foreign or too stupid to realise you don’t use an umbrella when it’s raining – the players have largely escaped having to take responsibility but seeing as they’re the constant perhaps it’s them, or their attitudes that’s the problem.  Maybe it’s not up to Hodgson to win them over.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s up to them to earn a place in his squad.

Lewis also argues that “Sir Alex Ferguson led the tranche of managers who all insisted Redknapp was a shoe-in for the job.  Were THEY all wrong too?”  We’ll have to wait and see I guess, but can I ask you a question, Darren?   Are these the same managers who voted Hodgson Manager of the Year just two seasons ago, an honour they have never once bestowed on Redknapp?  Just a thought…

In support of Redknapp, Lawton mentions Tottenham’s “thrilling adventures in the Champions League when the reigning champions Internazionale and Serie A title winners-elect, Milan, were put to the sword” but he fails to mention the fact that Hodgson has (unlike Redknapp) reached two European finals.

Lawton also fails to mention that Hodgson’s Fulham side did quite a passable impression of putting Juventus “to the sword” when they beat them 4-1 on their way to the Europa League final in 2010 and predictably, dare I say tiresomely, Lawton also fails to mention the fact that Europa League holders Shakhtar and reigning German champions VfL Wolsburg were also dispatched by the Cottagers in the same competition.

Because Lawton has restricted himself to “the last few years” there is no room in his in-depth and highly detailed analysis of both managers’ attributes to mention Hodgson guiding Malmo to a 1-0 win over Ajax in the 1986/87 Cup Winners Cup (the only game the Dutch side would lose on their way to winning the trophy) or securing a two-leg victory over Italian champions Inter Milan in the European Cup three season later.  Nor does Lawton mention Hodgson’s Neuchatel Xamax side defeating Real Madrid 1-0 in the Uefa Cup in 1991.

In all these positives, it’s easy to forget the negatives so thankfully Lewis is on hand to remind us that Hodgson was sacked from Blackburn with the club bottom of the Premier League.  Phew! Thanks Darren.  Now, can I remind you that both Bournemouth and Southampton were relegated with Redknapp in the hot seat and he was also sacked from West Ham?  This ‘remembering’ thing works both ways, you know.

Lewis also writes that “Tottenham’s season has been destabilised by this calamitous search for an England manager”.  Again, however, he fails to justify his claim.  Calamitous how exactly?  Because your man didn’t get the job?  Apart from one FA board member (Phil Gartside) suggesting Redknapp was an outstanding candidate (but significantly not the only candidate) the FA never mentioned his name.

Tell your mates to go easy, Harry...
The Harry bandwagon was built purely by the media and here’s a thing, what if that did have some effect on Spurs?  Where was Redknapp’s famous man-management then?  If the Tottenham boss can’t get his team to perform while speculation surrounds his future is he really the right man to take the England team into the hot-house environment of an international tournament?  Lewis didn’t ask the question or provide an answer instead he dusted off the tabloids’ tired, old ‘blame-it-on-the-bunglers-at-the-FA’ line, as did Lawton, asking: “When did the triumphalist, all-seeing Football Association last pick a winner?”  Yeah, eat that you bloody fools.  (Although, given just 10 teams have shared the 22 World and European titles England could have won since 1966 you could say the same about a few countries.)

In fact Lawton goes even further suggesting the reason Redknapp was overlooked was that like “the most brilliant of English football managers” Brian Clough he was “not a proper fit for the England blazer”.  While comparing Redknapp to Clough is laughable (although, hey, Redknapp’s won the FA Cup and Cloughie never did…) so is the idea that Hodgson is a safe choice.  Let’s be honest - Redknapp would have been the safe choice.  As Sir Alex said back in March in his backing for Redknapp: “The FA don't want the Press against them, they would be panicking then.”  A ringing endorsement for the radical choice.

As we all know, despite their protestations to the contrary, Redknapp was the man the Press wanted and he would have had a far easier ride from the get go.  While the hacks welcomed Hodgson to the England job with awkward questions about his 191-day stint at Liverpool and his time playing in South Africa as a young professional (with no mention of the fact that several of the 1966 World Cup winners also played in South Africa) you have to wonder whether Redknapp would have received an equally testing first Press conference.

Would he have been quizzed about those relegation campaigns on the South coast or his dismissal from Upton Park (or the circumstances under which he got the Hammers job in the first place)?  Would the Press have asked Redknapp about the allegations against him and his assistant Kevin Bond in the 2006 Panorama expose on football corruption, or the suggestion in the 1990s from Bournemouth’s accountant Roy Pack that club’s financial problems were due to “a degree of irresponsibility” on Redknapp’s part?  While Hodgson gets mocked for his speech impediment, you have to wonder whether Harry would get mocked for his self-professed illiteracy or chronic disorganisation.

I think we all (Lawton and Lewis included) know the answer and I think we all know that failure at Euro 2012 on Redknapp’s watch would have been the fault of a foreign referee of the FA for leaving his appointment so late while failure on Hodgson’s watch will be down to the facts he’s not up to the job and the man who is, is back home playing MarioKart with Jamie and Louise.

In truth you can make a reasonable case for either man to take the England job, but even if that case were slightly stronger for Redknapp (which I personally don’t think it is) it’s not worthy of the Press’ grotesque eulogising of the Spurs boss nor the muted response to Hodgson’s appointment.

But then this whole debate isn’t really about managerial attributes, it’s about personalities.  Hodgson, unlike Redknapp, doesn’t ‘give good copy’, he doesn’t fit the template of what the tabloids think the England manager should be like, a template that Redknapp fits perfectly.  Writing in the Telegraph on Monday, Henry Winter hit the nail on the head when he described the new England manager as a “broadsheet man in a tabloid world”.  I mean, Hodgson speaks five languages; he’s virtually a foreigner and we all know how useless they are (100% success in five qualifying campaigns under Fabio Capello and Sven-Goran Eriksson, compared to 60% success in the last five with an Englishman in charge).

This is why the Press pack hasn’t and probably never will take to Hodgson.  It’s because like Capello and Eriksson he’s the one thing they and English football in general hates more than anything.  He’s an outsider.

Follow Who Ate All The Goals? on Facebook here and Twitter here or add us to Kindle here.

No comments: