KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— A sinister pantomime is unfolding: the greatest danger lying in wait for Roy Hodgson is not represented by England’s first round opposition at Euro 2012 but by the wounded outrage of a London media which has seen its campaign for Harry Redknapp defied by the Football Association.
The Tottenham boss, if the papers are to be believed, was “the people’s choice”. Certainly the media had created powerful momentum behind a will for Redknapp’s excellent work at White Hart Lane to be acknowledged – ‘rewarded’ would be an inappropriate word in the context of the England managership – by the seal of the three lions on his tracksuit.
But maybe the FA has done Redknapp a favour by not even bothering to lock compensation horns with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy. He can continue to be the media’s darling.
Indeed, if Tottenham’s awful slump in form since events following Fabio Capello’s grumpy exit ends in a failure to qualify for the Champions League, then the blame will be dumped not at the door of Redknapp but at the glass-plated entrance to the FA office suite at Wembley.
A significant proportion of the journos following England to and fro between their Krakow base and various venues across Ukraine will be detailed to pick holes in any and every decision and statement Hodgson makes.
Just as Bobby Robson – later knighted and history entirely rewritten – was pilloried mercilessly by the red-tops for just about every decision he took on the way to his ironic and perverse redemption in defeat in the 1990 World Cup semi-finals.
Robson’s words came flying back to this writer as soon as Capello threw his Italian toys out of the Wembley pram and Redknapp was annointed as media heir-apparent.
Early in his England tenure, I interviewed Robson about the dramatic change in attitude necessitated by swapping high-intensity club management for national service.
He said the adjustment was massive: “At Ipswich I was a the ground every day, with the players in the morning, watching a youth game in the afternoon, maybe watching a player somewhere in the evening, just about everything down to rolling the white lines around the pitch on matchday. All of sudden you almost never see your players and, when you do, you have time only to run through a few set-piece routines, play a match and they’re gone again.
“Also, when you’re a club manager and lose a game you always leave the ground telling yourself that you can put it all right the next Tuesday or Wednesday or Saturday.
“When you’re England manager, if you’ve lost a game and feel you’ve let the nation down, then it hangs over you for one or two or even three months. Sometimes the whole of the summer.”
Redknapp, for all his eager following of the international game, has always struck me as a Robson-type 24/7 club manager. Certainly, at 64 he may be pondering a gentler life without that daily trek up to North London from Sandbanks, but England would not be gentle. As every England manager has found, once the honeymoon is over, it’s downhill all the way to a white head of hair and the relief of ultimate despatch.
Remember Kevin Keegan? He was the media darling hailed as the people’s choice. He was English; he was a motivator not a fancy-dan coach and tactician.
What happened to Keegan? An ignominious exit in the dressing rooms within minutes of that ‘farewell to Wembley’ defeat by Germany. Nationality wasn’t enough; motivational qualities weren’t enough.
The national manager of a major footballing nation needs more, far more.
I first came across Hodgson when he was manager of Switzerland heading for the 1994 World Cup. Clearly, the pressures are very different. Unlike the expectation which weighs down England, the Swiss were amazed to have qualified. I have never seen a national manager so clearly enjoying the job. Yes, enjoying it: a sensation Hodgson will not relive in the next one or two or four years.
If the media allows him to last that long.
Hodgson is the first England appointee with previous national team experience. The significance can hardly be overstated.
Almost exactly two years ago I interviewed Capello about his plans for England’s World Cup campaign in South Africa. Just him and me and his FA ‘minder’ in an otherwise empty suite in Wembley. Capello was polite, pleasant, expansive, confident.
I asked him: “You’re won almost everything as a player and manager but the one thing you’ve never done is take a national team to the finals of a World Cup or European Championship. How do you approach that?”
Capello shrugged off the insinuation: He had been to the World Cup as a player, he had attended every World Cup as an observer, everyone at the FA was working hard in the run-up to South Africa.
That said it all: Capello apparently had no concept of the chasm of difference in managing at a tournament finals. It was a jaw-dropping moment of over-confidence if not quite arrogance, particularly after I had listened to the totally contrary perception of the challenge from Holland’s Bert Van Marwijk a few weeks earlier.
Holland went to the World Cup Final. England went . . . nowhere.
Not only that but Capello’s national team inexperience meant he had under-planned even his team selection: hence the last-minute chase for players untested in the warm-up friendlies and mixed luck in trying to persuade Jamie Carragher and Paul Scholes to end their national team retirements.
For better or worse, only six weeks remain until the start of Euro 2012. For better or worse, England could not afford to go with a novice manager still learning the ropes of the job itself, never mind competing technically and tactically with coaches who know their players and team through and through courtesy of at least an 18-month qualifying fire-test.
Of course, the FA could have appointed Hodgson only as a caretaker for Euro 2012. But he would have lacked respect from players confident that they would still be around the England scene when he had been long gone.
Hodgson brings no guarantees. But at least he knows the stage. Just as long as he heeds the danger.
In the best pantomime tradition: Roy, it’s behind you.
# # # #