Monday 18 December 2017

Miracle worker Hodgson finally taking centre stage at Fulham

Mitch Phillips

It was surely one of the all-time great moments of footballing irony when, moments after Fulham secured their place in the Europa Cup final, Roy Hodgson said: "I'm a little bit drained of emotion".

Having just seen his team come from a goal down to beat Hamburg 2-1 and send Craven Cottage crazy, Hodgson exchanged a few handshakes and disappeared down the tunnel.

He was never going to sprint to the centre circle Jose Mourinho-style but Hodgson's quiet dignity in victory summed up the cerebral approach that has brought him so much success during a peripatetic 34-year coaching career.

As a player Hodgson was never able to crack Crystal Palace's first team and spent most of his career at minor league clubs. Perhaps that was why, when he took to coaching, he quickly developed a talent for turning minnows into big fish.

He led unfashionable Halmstads to the Swedish championship in his first year in charge in 1976, later describing the "water into wine job" as his greatest achievement.

Five consecutive league titles for Malmo earned him a shot at international management and again he got his players punching above their weight as Switzerland made it to the second round of the 1994 World Cup and into Euro 96.

He joined Inter Milan in 1995 where the parallels with what he has done at Fulham are remarkable, overseeing recovery from a dire start that ended with them finishing seventh in Serie A.

The following year they were third and reached the UEFA Cup final and though they lost to Schalke O4 on penalties, the next year the team Hodgson built won the trophy.

By then though he had been tempted to England where he did a similar job with Blackburn when he took them to sixth and into the familiar territory of the UEFA Cup.

However, the halo then began to slip as, for the first time in his career, Hodgson had big money to spend. He did not spend it wisely, or at least the big-name arrivals were not able to work within his framework, and with Blackburn bottom of the league four months into the season he was sacked.

He flitted around the world for the next nine years before being taken on by Fulham in December 2007. Relegation looked a certainty before a late charge culminated in a last-day escape.

Hodgson was back doing what he does best. Like Brian Clough, he somehow makes ordinary players reach new peaks and, as he had in his early successes, he developed real confidence and self-belief within his team.

stewardship

Zoltan Gera, the scorer of Thursday's winner, Bobby Zamora, Danny Murphy, Paul Konchesky, Damien Duff and Mark Schwarzer have all been given a new lease of life under his stewardship and repaid his faith with consistently high-level performances.

In his first full season in charge Hodgson steered Fulham to a seventh-place finish in the Premier League -- the best performance in their history -- and into the Europa League.

Victories over holders Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, German champions Wolfsburg and Hamburg will live long in the memory not least because so many of them came when Fulham looked dead and buried.

"The manager said at half-time to keep on going and playing football and we will get our reward and we did," said Simon Davies, scorer of the brilliantly-taken equaliser on Thursday. "We have played some great teams and come from behind a few times and it has been amazing."

In the running for manager of the year and, at least in the bars of west London on Thursday, discussed as a possible future England coach, Hodgson is having the time of his life at 62.

Although success always helps, Hodgson seems to have mastered the difficult task of being liked and respected by his players, chairman and the club's fans. "He has been fantastic since day one when I arrived at the club," said Schwarzer. "And every player can vouch for that."

Alex Ferguson believes Hodgson is a certainty to be named Manager of the Year and feels Fulham's "miraculous" march to the Europa League final is one of the best achievements by a British club in Europe.

Ferguson has won four European titles himself, one at Aberdeen and three with Manchester United. But he feels even those epics have been matched by Fulham's astonishing performance, topped off last night when they came from behind to beat Hamburg in the semi-final at Craven Cottage.

"Roy should be manager of the year, there is absolutely no doubt about it," said Ferguson. "It is a miracle. Hopefully he does win it now but it is one of the best British performances of all time."

Ferguson revealed he sent Hodgson a good luck message prior to kick-off and that former Cottagers goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was not the only player in the Old Trafford dressing-room hoping the Londoners would come through and claim a place in the final.

He was also taken aback by a morning discussion about Fulham's perceived below-par performance in their 59th game of the season, which began in Lithuania in mid-July.

"I sent Roy a text message and everyone at the club was wishing them all the best," he said. "When you go 1-0 down to a German team you say to yourself it is going to be hard but the comeback was fantastic.

"I heard people on the radio this morning saying that they didn't play well. It was their 59th game of the season and people were talking about their performance!

He added: "He was doing well to get those players onto the pitch because he can only have about 16 players in his squad. They still have another four games to play yet. That will be 63. They started in that tournament in July. July! Crikey. I was on the beach."

Irish Independent

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