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Roy of the Roses

A fair bit has already been written about Roy’s appointment as England manager, but I felt that I might as well get my thoughts out there.  I’ll be the first to admit that I was not impressed with Roy’s tenure at Liverpool, but I do not think that he should be judged by his performance at Liverpool alone.  I hope that my post remains as impartial as possible, as I weigh up Roy’s chances as England manager.

I like to think of myself as a sensible football fan.  Yes I will have biases towards Liverpool, and similarly for Malta and England.  If those teams are playing I will support them no matter what, but I like to think that I do not do so with rose tinted glasses.  When Roy took over as Liverpool manager, I did not like the appointment, but I tried to get behind the man and hoped he would be a good signing.  The problem when he was signed was that Liverpool were still in limbo.  Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum were still in charge, nobody knew what would happen with the ownership, and there was clearly no chance of any major finances coming the manager’s way.  Whoever took the job would have to do so with the knowledge that they had to sell before they bought, and that they may well be replaced by the new owner, should there be one.  That did not leave a lot of choice.

Roy Hodgson has a phenomenal football management CV.  Sure he is not a decorated manager, but in most cases than not where he has gone he has done very well.  As manager of Switzerland, he took them to a rating (top 3) very few England managers have been able to get England.  He’s also brought about “success” to a number of “lesser” teams.  He has done well at those clubs with limited finances, and that would seem to mean that he is a decent man manager.  However, by and large, the teams he has managed, the expectations of the fans has always been manageable.  The fans have by and large not expected too high an achievement and that has given Roy time to do his thing, sort out his tactics, bring in players that he likes, and get a chance to know the players and bring out the best in them.

Unfortunately, at Liverpool expectations are always high.  I, for one, do not think there is anything wrong with that.  However, one also has to realise that when Roy came in, it was one of the darkest moments in Liverpool’s recent history.  The owners wanted out, but they wanted to be paid handsomely for running a team into the ground; the players were disillusioned; and the media was in full attack mode.  The fans expected Kenny to get the job, and he would have been free.  Yet another manager was brought in, and as good as his CV was, here was a guy who hadn’t won much coming in instead of a man who has been one of the most successful people at Liverpool (as a player and manager).  Fans fail to take into account that, without Champions League football and/or huge finances it was always going to be tricky to bring in world class players.  Roy Hodgson was technically in no better a bargaining position than he was at other clubs, but expectations wise he was being asked to perform miracles; and to do so right away. Looking back, it makes it easy to see why the likes of Poulsen were our only hope.  Much as the fans, including myself, may have hated it, there was not much of a choice.

What irked me about Roy Hodgson, was his tactical failures under pressure.  As soon as he took on the job he was under pressure, and when results started to go against him he found himself under even more pressure.  Here was a man who by and large had done well enough at many other clubs, and had been given time and space to get on with it; suddenly finding himself being hounded out.  In my opinion he failed to cope well with that pressure.  It seemed to get into his mentality, as he started games against lower opposition way too defensively, and then looked out of his depth when we went behind.  That famous face rubbing incident was the perfect symbol of a man lost at sea.

So what does this all mean to the England team.  First of all, the timing is not great.  The season is yet to end, and once it does, Roy has a short time to decide his squad, then only two friendlies to start to implement is tactics and styles on the team before the Euros start.  Of course taking on a new team is never an easy task but to do so with such a short space before a major tournament is that little bit harder.

There is also the slight issue of so much publicity being made about Harry Redknapp being the likely man.  No matter what people think of Harry, he too has a reasonable managerial CV.  He has done relatively well with the Spurs squad, and people had by and large accepted him as the next manager and it did not seem like a bad choice at all.  Already, there is a start to the similarities at Liverpool, Roy will be coming in a difficult time, with so many fans, and parts of the media, already thinking he was not the best man for the job.  Those fans, and more importantly the media, will now be looking for any excuse to slate him.

That brings us to the next point.  The English media.  The Sun has in its own typically classless way led from the forefront with that headline “Bwing on the Euwos”, and many have already slated Roy to fail.  The man has not even actually taken a single training session, nor has he picked his squad and he’s already being set up to fail.  This is what the English media does best.  It tells us to get behind our national team, it tells the national team to bring some pride to the nation, and then it sets about trying to destroy that in any way possible.  They do this with a number of under hand tactics, like setting up sting operations, enticing players to parties, or simply just by phone hacking.  Nothing gets in the way of a good story, and the public lap it up.  The papers do not actually care if we win, they win or lose either way.  Should we do well, they can come out and say we were behind you all the way, and the public won’t care.  If England do fail, well they already have their man lined up for the gallows, just in case none of the players are caught drinking, or saying something they were led into saying.

That in turn leads to fan expectations.  The media’s reporting will influence what the average man thinks of the England team performance.  If Roy cannot win the media over, he will struggle to win the public opinion.  Those fans already have high expectations. Too many fans seem to believe that England will win every tournament and when that doesn’t happen they turn to the media to provide them assistance in who to blame.  Just like at Liverpool, Roy will therefore have to manage the pressure of being in the limelight, and the high expectations of the fans, many of who would have preferred to see Harry in charge.

Now, with this being an international job, finances do not come into it, unless of course we can somehow pay somebody large amounts of money to “become” Messi’s biological grandmother.  It comes down to Roy’s man management skills, and this is really going to be the deciding factor.  On the one hand he clearly has the ability to bring the best out of some players, as can be seen by his managerial stints with, amongst others, Switzerland, Fulham, and West Brom.  Even at Inter, Roy did not have a number of household names, he had a number of good players that he moulded into a team, and took them up to 3rd.

However, he also failed to do so with the bigger stars at Liverpool.  Of course blinkered fans from other teams will say Liverpool were just an average team with no stars, but Roy managed to fail to get the best out of the likes of Torres and Gerrard.  This to me is the crucial part.  How will Roy manage the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, etc.?  However, there is the rest of the squad to think about. If Roy can make England play like a team, and not as a group of individuals, then he may well succeed.  Rooney is out for the first two games.  Roy’s first job will be to figure out who to replace him with, and when he does come back he’s going to need to bring out the best of him, and whoever partners him.  Then there’s the dilemma of playing Lampard and Gerrard in the team.  He also has to name somebody as captain.

The first key area for Roy to negotiate, once he has actually left the West Brom post, will be picking the squad.  That in itself will be telling, and will also be the first chance for the media to slate or praise him.  It certainly is no easy task, but pick that one wrong player over another and the media will hang him out to dry, whilst picking the “right” squad will hardly push him into stardom status.  I just hope that Roy copes with the pressure a lot better than he did at Liverpool, because those same people that hounded him out of a job at Liverpool will be there waiting for him to fail again, and no doubt this time it will multiply with it being the national job.

I personally feel that if Roy was given a chance to fully take control, then he will be a decent England manager.  The fans have to realise that whilst we do have some world class players, they constantly fail to perform in the big tournaments, and that has happened regardless of who has been in charge.  If Roy is unable to get England to say the semis in the Euros, he should not be judged on that alone.  He should at the very least be given a chance to take us through qualifying, and ideally to the next world cup, so that he can be given a fair chance.  He has the potential to bring out the best in the players, but the players have to believe in him, and do what is good for the team.

All that can be said is, fair play Roy for taking on the job, and good luck in your career as the England manager.  I would love nothing better than for you to stick two fingers up at us Liverpool fans and say “I told you I was a great manager” as you walk away with the trophy.

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