Roy Hodgson, Fulham: The Football Ambassador
In the footballing world of today the talk is much about the foreign managers in British football and their success in managing in the Premier League. French and Spanish managers are hailed for their skills and for bringing in the continental way to play the game to the British Isles.
But there are managers going the other way as well. Exporting the British art of football-playing to the world. Teaching footballers in distant countries how football is played by the founders of the game and at the same time gaining experience about how to develop the sport by taking on new knowledge about how to develop the game from a Britsh base.
Roy Hodgson – the current manager of Wolves next opponent Fulham – is one of these managers. Born in Croydon, South London, he started as a youth player for Crystal Palace in the early 60’s but never made it into their first team. He continued his career as a player in non-league football in the Kentish clubs Tonbridge and Gravesend & Northfleet (Neil Emblen actually started his career at Tonbridge with his brother Paul and Gary Breen has played for the team).
Hodgson then transferred to Maidstone United and after a couple of years became an assistant manager to his lifelong ambassador friend Bobby Houghton. They managed to take Maidstone to the Football League fourth division in their spell there.
Bobby Houghton (midfielder for Fulham 1966-69) then went on to manage Malmoe FF – a Swedish first tier club – in 1974 – leaving Hodgson alone to manage Maidstone, but with some good advise on phone from Sweden.
A couple of years later Hodgson followed Houghton to Sweden, becoming the manager of Halmstads BK – picked for the team on advice from now twice Swedish League Champion manager Bobby Houghton.
Roy Hodgson made success at Halmstad who became Champions in his first year as manager for the club in 1976 – ahead of the Houghton team Malmoe FF. A true achievement, as most pundits in Sweden thought that Halmstad would go down that season. Roy Hodgson about that time to Fulhamweb:
“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. “
Roy Hodgson stayed for five seasons at Halmstad and during that time he and Houghton changed the Swedish way of playing football profoundly. Their influence on the game could be seen – and can still be seen – both on club and national team level.
The Swedes call it the ‘English school’ and it’s mostly notable in the change from man-man defence to a zonal approach and a constant pressure on the ball holder and a push-up by the defence. Former Swedish National Manager Lars Lagerbaeck about the influence of Houghton and Hodgson on Swedish football:
‘They introduced a whole new way of playing football. Before that, Swedish teams had been very influenced by German teams and were playing man-to-man marking. But they came with zonal marking and a new way of starting attacks. It was something unique. And I think Bob was 27 years old when he came here and that is fascinating. A young guy coming over to tell us how to play football.’
Lagerbaeck – a fan of Wolves with Kenny Hibbitt as his favorite player – learned the lessons from Houghton and Hodgson like most of the managers in Swedish football – including a young Sven-Goran Erickson who practised that way of play winning the UEFA Cup – now Europa League – as manager for IFK Gothenburg in the early 80’s making a name for himself in world football.
In the year of 1979 Hodgson won his second league title with Halmstad. The same year Houghton won the cup title with Malmoe and went on being runner ups in the Europa Cup, only defeated by Nottingham Forest in the finals.
In 1980 Hodgson moved back to England with Houghton as assistant manager and manager for Bristol City. But the team was relegated that first year and Houghton took the blame and resigned and went to America. Hodgson took over as manager, but the club had severe financial problems and he was unable to take the team back to glory.
In 1983 he moved back to Sweden, managing the team Oerebro SK in the second tier of Swedish football. But in two seasons he didn’t manage to take them to the first tier.
Two years later he started to manage Malmoe FF, Houghton’s old team, and became a legend by leading them to five consecutive league championships, two Swedish championships (at the time the Swedish championship was decided through play-offs) and two Swedish Cups. Hodgson about the time in Malmoe FF:
“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.“
He made the Italian Champions Inter Milan noticing him by knocking them out of the Champions League, winning 1-0 at home and drawing 1-1 at the San Siro. That came in handy in his resume for future use.
After the successful years in Malmoe the football nomad Roy Hodgson moved to the Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax and after that the Swiss National team. Roy:
“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.“
Hodgson managed to qualify the Swiss team to the World Cup in 1994 and they ended up in the last 16 – defeated only by Spain. He finished the engagement in Switzerland by taking the team to the Euro ’96 before Inter Milan called on him, wanting him to manage one of the best footballing teams in the world.
Inter was in a rebuilding face and Hodgson helped them to a 7th place position in the first year and a third in the second with a final in the UEFA cup as the icing on the cake. The former Wolves player Paul Ince was the star of Inter at the time. Hodgson:
“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.”
In the spring of 1997 Roy Hodgson took over the management of Blackburn Rovers. They were in great trouble that season, but managed to hang on to the Premier League. In the first season with Roy they finished at 6th position and Hodgson spent £20 million in the summer. But the season became a disaster as the new signings did not perform at all and he was sacked in December.
After that he had a brief time as caretaking manager at Inter and manager for the Swiss team Grasshoppers. Then he managed the Danish team Copenhagen to a win in their Superliga in the season 2000-01. Udinese wanted him to manage their side in the 2001-2 season, but Hodgson were sacked after half of the season when telling the media that he wasn’t happy at the club.
In the spring of 2002 he took a job in the United Arab Emirates, managing their Senior and Olympic sides for two seasons. He made no success there, but claims that he learned a lot:
“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.“
No, that’s not at all Roy’s nature. He is often described as an intense and involved manager and coach. He is known to have had many tantrums in the dressing rooms where the players who don’t put a shift in will be verbally punished. Roy:
“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.
After the spell in Arabia Roy Hodgson went back to Scandinavia, managing Viking in Norway for two seasons. They finished in the middle of their league in both seasons. In 2005 he took the job of trying to qualify Finnland for the Euro ’08. Hen narrowly missed his mark and the Finns wanted him to continue to manage the team, but he found another job at home, managing Fulham.
In December of 2007 Fulham surprisingly announced that they had signed Roy Hodgson to manage them. He succeded Sanchez who made Fulham play an attractive attacking football, but the defense was totally negleted, making them lose too many games. Key players McBride and Bullard returned in the January window and Roy went to Norway and Finnland to sign Nevland, Hangeland, Kallio and Litmanen to spine up the side.
The team had a slow start, but had a strong run-in surviving against all odds.Last season they finished on a strong 7th position, earning them a place in the Europa League, where they have been very successful in the current season, with wins against Basel, Shaktar Donetsk, Juventus and Wolfsburg. Next stop in the Europa League is Hamburg.
But before that Roy Hodgson face Wolves on Saturday. With his team already cleared for another season in the Premier League and everybody looking forward to the clash against Hamburg many think that Wolves will have a chance to take points at Craven Cottage.
But don’t count on it. Roy Hodgson never puts a weak team on. His teams are always competitive and strong in defence. The players educated by Roy Hodgson knows what to do and plays a strong, physical British type of football – but with elements of the international flair that Hodgson has picked up during his job as a football nomad and ambassador around the world.
Is he the future manager of England? I really hope so. He has the perfect background – English born and bred with massive international experience from both club and national team management on an international level.