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The man that is Roy Hodgson

last updated Sunday 15th November 2009, 1:26 PM
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
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Roy Hodgson's BlackBerry trills. It's his third call within half an hour. His wife, Sheila, and a Swedish newspaper have rung, and next is a League One club from the north, who want to use Fulham's training ground before a London fixture. "Fine," Hodgson assents. It is a good job he's a gentleman, with time for everybody, because everybody wants his time. Our interview lasts two hours, and he has another to fit in. International weeks are supposed to be quiet for club managers.

Hodgson, though, has always been a man in demand. The longest hiatus in a 33-year, eight-country coaching career was a five-month sabbatical recovering from the pain of his only sacking, by Blackburn. He is feted from Stavanger to Sharjah but has never been as cherished in his homeland as he is now.

Fulham, relegation fighters when he arrived in December 2007, now battle in the Europa League. Last season's finish (seventh in the top flight) was the best in club history, and supermarket signings such as Brede Hangeland, Bobby Zamora and Dickson Etuhu perform like Harrods merchandise.

"My greatest achievement would have to be the water-into-wine job at Halmstads in 1976, but taking Switzerland to the last 16 of a World Cup and reaching the Uefa Cup final with Internazionale were good, and there were the five successive league titles with Malmo. Yet Fulham is something I'm just as proud of," Hodgson reflects.

"When I arrived, the major problem was the size of the squad, the fact so many people had been brought in and not given a chance, so we had political problems to solve. Now all the players have bought into my ethos. I made it clear straight away that the only way to resolve problems is on the field of play. Coaching's not scribbling on a blackboard or talking, but out there," he adds, pointing from his office window at a practice pitch.

The Hodgson method, which has proved so transportable, is so simple - clear principles, good communication, serious effort. "Of course it's nice for people to believe some managers are born with a magical quality that will transform bad into good, but I don't," Hodgson says. "It's about leadership skills, practice, repetition and bloody hard work."

"I'm flavour of the month, that's all," he says, laughing off a newspaper article touting him to manage Britain's 2012 Olympic footballers. "I can think of a more suitable job."

Should Fabio Capello quit England after the World Cup, who better to replace him? Check the CV.

In Hodgson's first year in management, aged 28, he won the first of two Swedish titles with unfancied Halmstads. Five championships with Malmo followed, and a Danish title with FC Copenhagen. In Norway he took Viking Stavanger from the relegation zone into the Uefa Cup and narrowly missed qualification for Euro 2008 with Finland.

"I was recommended to Halmstads by my close friend Bob Houghton [who played alongside Hodgson at Maidstone and coached Malmo to a European Cup final]. On the first day of the season, 20 newspapers said Halmstads would go down. We won the championship in style.

"I'd qualified for my full coaching badge at 23 but that was my first season coaching adults. Halmstads had played a very different type of football to what I wanted, man-to-man across the field, with a libero. From the start it was: 'Okay, you lads know nothing, this is what we're going to do'. I remember the turning point. I was thinking about it reading of the suicide of Robert Enke.

"We had mixed results pre-season, understandably, because we were changing to a back four, attempting to push up and pressure the ball and were getting caught out. For the players, the jury was out, but we beat Hannover 96 - Enke's team - 4-0, and it was unheard of for Swedes to beat Germans. Then, the players believed in me. For years I wore a Hannover 96 pin in my jacket.

"Five successive titles with Malmo were an achievement. It's never easy to do it every year, even if your players are better, because people lose appetite. The Swedes always talk about the self-playing piano, and with that team I definitely got to the stage of the self-playing piano. Not a lot needed to be said or done."

After two years at Neuchatel Xamax, Hodgson led Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup, reaching the second round. He qualified for Euro 96 but left before the tournament.

"We stayed in Sweden until my son Christopher completed his schooling. Malmo offered me a lifetime contract but moving to another place seemed exciting. The decision was also financial. Swedish taxes were so high that even if you were being paid reasonable money, after losing 65% in tax there wasn't a lot left.

"The most difficult thing was the different culture. Sweden was sensible, logical - and then I was in the more crazy, unpredictable world of European football, where a president with his entourage runs it all from his expansive villa.

"Neuchatel's president was an Italian and everything revolved round his villa. We had our pre-match meals there and meetings there, where what his wife and his daughter and his dog thought about things was vitally important. We had some great results in Europe, beating Celtic and Real Madrid. Taking the national job was ambition-based. If I got to the World Cup, I knew it could lead to a job in a bigger league. I sold the FA and league on the idea of regular internal training camps where players would play for their clubs at the weekend, then join me for Mondays and Tuesdays. Through that we developed a club ethos.

"At our peak, I got a mysterious phone call from Fifa House in Zurich: 'We'd rather not tell you why, but Sepp Blatter would like you here'. I arrived and met Berti Vogts. He didn't know why he'd been summoned either. We found they were announcing the new Fifa world ranking system, and it was Brazil 1, Germany 2, Switzerland 3. We were no more third in the world than I was a Chinaman. Even today when I look at those rankings I see teams - you know, Mexico fifth in the world or whatever - that I'd much rather play than the side ranked 62nd."

Arriving in 1995, Hodgson saw Internazionale through a rebuilding phase, finished third in Serie A and reached the Uefa Cup final before leaving to manage Blackburn. He returned as Inter caretaker in 1999. A 2001 spell with Udinese was unhappy.

"I didn't speak Italian and the idea originally was, when coaching, my exhortations would be in English and detailed explanations in French. A director would translate but it didn't work: he was shy and liked to formulate what he said exactly. Of course I'm the opposite, words spilling out left, right and centre.

"Then a player with an English girlfriend translated, but that was also problematic. The president persuaded me to try in pidgin Italian. He said it's better you speak and make loads of mistakes than not try at all. He was right.

"The Italians - like Swedes - were very professional. Players would be happy to stop training for a tactical discussion. I'd been afraid, for example, Beppe Bergomi wouldn't take to my coaching. He'd won the World Cup and all his life been a man-to-man marker. I wanted him to mark zonally - and play at right-back. But he was very receptive.

"We lacked stars, apart from Paul Ince. It wasn't the Inter we see today of household names. They weren't the best technically but physically they were like machines. The Premier League is like that now, but back then Italy was far ahead."

Hodgson's furthest posting was as manager of the UAE senior and Olympic sides from 2002-4.

"That was a period where I didn't know where my career was going. But all these experiences enrich you and it was good to know I could get my message to players who many say are uncoachable. It's hard work; they're basically lazy. But I had them drilled and pressuring opponents almost like an English team. Most coaches who go there are just fannying around, but it's not my nature."

How to motivate players at home and abroad

'I think the English dressing room and the dressing room abroad is getting closer and closer,' says Roy Hodgson. 'There was a time I'd have said foreign dressing rooms were more tense, with people more worried about their performance, but the English dressing room is every bit as dedicated now because people are playing for big money, in front of big crowds, under a big microscope and the fear, the tension, the anxiety that always existed in, for example, an Italian dressing room, we've got it now.

'And however much money players are earning, I still think it's the desire to succeed at their job that is the major motivation.

'I don't think it's, "if I do well I'll get an extra £100,000 a month". It's more like, "if I play badly, I'm going to have to watch myself make a mistake on television, and read the newspapers who say I'm finished".

'We're dealing with young men. Because they're multi-millionaires, they go out with supermodels and drive Ferraris, we suddenly think they haven't got any problems, when actually they're young men thrown into a situation where we ask a lot of them.

'Yes it's nice to have a supermodel, a big house, a Ferrari and plenty of money, but at the end of the day, when that referee blows his whistle, you could have 15 Ferraris and none of it helps, not if you're missing goal chances and being vilified.'

Source Jonathan Northcroft at The Sunday Times
Since 1998
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