From the reaction that greeted news of the English Football Association's approach for him, you could be forgiven for concluding that Roy Hodgson was merely a gardener or a cleaner, elevated "King Ralph" style to the England job by inexplicable circumstance. "Oh why, oh why, oh Woy?" howled the
Far from being surprising however, the move to recruit the 64-year-old West Bromwich Albion manager was the only logical decision the FA could make, given the restrictions they had set themselves. Adrian Bevington, the managing director of Team England, didn't want a foreign manager and he didn't want someone who would simply pick the best team on the day. On the contrary, he made it quite clear that he favored a coaching overlord, someone who would oversee all levels of the national team, who would champion the national coaching headquarters in Burton and who would be responsible for, "a longer-term playing philosophy." Given the worrying lack of proven, top-class English managers, Hodgson's appointment was rather inevitable.
That's not how some sections of the press saw it though. Harry Redknapp was the favored candidate of many, and with good reason. Firstly, because of the way he converted Tottenham Hotspur from a team with "only two points from eight games" to a side capable of staring the likes of Internazionale in the eye and blowing a raspberry, but also because he makes their lives much, much easier.
My first Redknapp news conference was in the aftermath of Tottenham's extraordinary 4-4 draw with Arsenal in 2008. It was only his second match in charge, a game they were actually losing 4-2 in the 89th minute. It took approximately 20 seconds to see why he was so popular with the media. Redknapp entered the room like a man striding into the pub on darts night. There were smiles, there were winks, there were first name greetings. Given that some managers, Sam Allardyce to name but one, have as much enthusiasm for journalists as 12 year old boys have for algebra, his warmth was a rare treat. One reporter asked if there were any plans to alter Tottenham's training ground menu, given that predecessor Juande Ramos had caused such consternation by doing things like banning tomato ketchup. Redknapp shrugged.
"I dunno, Tony." he said. "I could fill you full of pasta every day, but it ain't gonna make you a better player, is it?!" And everyone fell about laughing.
Redknapp gives good quote. Publicly, he provides helpful sound bites for everyone, privately he and those close to him will leak tidbits to a favored few. Having him as the England manager would be like having Bruce Springsteen as your music teacher for a semester. What was once arduous would suddenly become an awful lot of fun. And it has been arduous of late. Fabio Capello's halting English was a grievous handicap for an industry that works under tight deadlines and relies on snappy quotes.
But Redknapp has baggage and he is not quite "the people's choice," that some have dubbed him. Across the country, he divides opinion. Some fans welcome his chirpiness, others despise it. One member of the four-man FA panel, Sir Trevor Brooking, was rumored to harbor resentment over the way Redknapp replaced his friend Billy Bonds at West Ham in 1994. There may have been fears that his methodology was too short-term, that there would be no transfer market to help him at this level. Those who say Redknapp is 'tactically inept' are very wrong, he actually has a very natural, intuitive grasp of tactics, but he is not exactly a scholar of the game. Rafael van der Vaart's revelation that, "there are no long, boring speeches about tactics ... there is a clipboard, but Harry doesn't write anything on it," spoke volumes. Added to all of this was the suspicion that he was simply 'the wrong sort' for the blazered FA hierarchy.
Hodgson, on the other hand, is very much "the right sort" for these corridors of power. He's not controversial, he goes to all the right conferences, he speaks lots of languages and, if he does fraternize with journalists, they're generally the ones who write for newspapers that have to be folded three times before they can be comfortably read on a train. The only problem is what happened at Liverpool in 2010.
Before you can recap Hodgson's brief Anfield career, it is important to note that the club was circling the drain at the time, hemorrhaging money and tearing itself apart in a brutal civil war. Underinvestment had led to stagnation and the playing staff were disenchanted and confused. But even with that in mind, Hodgson had a stinker. He bought bad players, the likes of Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen, he made bad tactical decisions, like treating every away game as if it were a trip to the Nou Camp, and he made bad political decisions, like refusing to fight back when Sir Alex Ferguson criticized Fernando Torres. Privately, he will claim that he was undermined from the start, and on that he may well have a point, but with the best will in the world it's hard to find something positive to say about his short reign.
That shouldn't detract from his other achievements. He will be greatly missed at The Hawthorns where he stabilized a spiraling side and brought much needed security to the club. He is still loved at Fulham, where he brought a rare top-10 finish and a glorious run to the Europa League Final. He took Switzerland to third in the FIFA rankings, he managed Internazionale well enough that they invited him back as caretaker two years later. He has worked competently all over the world at all levels and if he was a fraud, someone would have realized it by now.
Hodgson is unlikely to lead England to glory this summer, but given that this is a tarnished team of perpetual failures, many still laboring under the delusion that they represent some kind of "golden generation," it's hard to say who would. Even Jose Mourinho would have his work cut out with this lot. Hodgson has his strengths. He'll keep the tactics simple, but sturdy. He'll bring cohesion and discipline to a difficult dressing room. He'll bring a more cosmopolitan level of experience to the wider issues of English soccer. For all the fury directed at the FA this week, Hodgson actually might be the best that England can hope for. And he deserves to be given a chance.