Monday 19 March 2018

Football's greatest comedy inevitably turns to farce

England manager Roy Hodgson faces the press after being knocked out of the 2016 European Championships by Iceland. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA
England manager Roy Hodgson faces the press after being knocked out of the 2016 European Championships by Iceland. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

With England disgracing themselves again, we have been reading many critiques of the management of Roy Hodgson. Which have been most enjoyable, except that some of us were in there before they disgraced themselves, which is even better, conferring as it does a certain moral standing - the Greeks had a way of putting this, Plato in particular with eerie prescience writing that "any eejit can tell you the manager is no good after losing to Iceland".

And yet in the case of Hodgson perhaps the main point is that you didn't exactly need to be a great philosopher and visionary to see this one coming, you just needed to have been alive and following the game when he was manager of Liverpool.

Hodgson is not the problem, as such. He was obviously part of the problem in that he wasn't much good of a manager, but Hodgson did not place himself in that position, he did not seize power in a military-backed coup; no, he was appointed by massively-remunerated executives who pondered the matter with their customary care and wisdom, and came to the conclusion that, of all the managers available to them, Roy Hodgson was the best.

Or he was "the right fit", or "Roy emerged as the outstanding candidate", or some such line of corporate bullshit, the force which now governs much of our world and which in the minds of such people has long since replaced a functioning intelligence.

So as we warm down after another England spectacular, and as the call goes up again for our old friend, root-and-branch reform, clearly the first thing they would need to do is to sack everyone who had anything to do with the appointment of Roy Hodgson.

Read more: England remain perennial flops

And, if possible, to sack everyone who appointed the people who appointed Hodgson, and so on until they are satisfied that if they haven't quite got to the root, they've at least lopped off a few of the branches.

Roy had one really big job in English football, at Liverpool, and it was all too much for him, but he found his level again at West Brom, if you ignore the recent comment by Paul Scharner that "I have never worked under a more negative-thinking manager."

And yet the ruling classes of English football managed to tell themselves that what had happened at Liverpool was somehow unreliable, that the reason Roy was despised "up there" was not because he was a terrible manager who seemed determined to bring an aristocratic club down to his level of soul-sucking suburban mediocrity, but because the Scousers are always whingeing anyway.

They were assisted in this by many journalists, who insisted that Roy would be "a safe pair of hands" at Liverpool, and who still thought he would be a safe pair of hands at England, even after he had demonstrated that he couldn't even get Liverpool safely past Northampton in the third round of the Carling Cup.

Virtually all football writers covering England in that strangely self-regarding way of theirs should be mortified by their performances on Hodgson, probably the first England manager whose weakness they seemed to be pretending not to notice, as if this was the "responsible" approach.

They too are monstrously overpaid, certainly by comparison with their superior Irish equivalents, they have spent too long in hushed attendance at the altars of corporate bullshit such as the one erected in Chantilly for the graceless departure of Roy.

The opening statement by the FA chief executive included the words "moving forward", and "looking forward", and "taking it forward". It seems that these people know no other way.

They will take it forward to the St George's Park National Football Centre, a place that is as sacred to the corporate bullshitter as the Golden Temple of Amritsar is to the Sikh.

There they will put forward "challenging" ideas such as the winter break, though Premier League stars Gylfi Sigurdsson, Eden Hazard, Dimitri Payet and, eh, Joe Allen haven't looked overly exhausted by their Boxing Day exertions during this tourney.

And while there may be some merit in Didi Hamann's emotional attack on the decadence and depravity of the Premier League in general, and the unexamined lives of the English players in particular, none of these things would be that much of a problem if you had people in executive positions and in the media who were able to see that Roy Hodgson, having failed utterly at Liverpool, having failed utterly at two major tournaments already, and having the demeanour of a flustered court clerk in a St Trinian's movie, might not be the man to take the Three Lions all the way in Euro 2016.

It is ultimately a comedy, of course, this England business, and in the last scene, after all the talk about "a stronger set-up" and "the DNA of the English footballer", and everything going forward, the first name to emerge as a possible "interim" manager was . . . Gareth Southgate.

In Chantilly, some football writer on 250k a year was forming the thought: "A safe pair of hands".

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