Cooney and Black

The lily-livered FA insist on their managers being “yes” men. They stepped back from sacking Roy Hodgson after Brazil when it was obvious he was way out of his depth

Hodgson art

IT’S pointless English football wallowing in self pity about failing to win World Cups or European Championships. My country will never rule the game again until it discovers a manager who can best make use of the limited resources available.

Roy Hodgson does not appear to be that man. As England prepare to face Norway in a friendly on September 3, before confronting Switzerland five days later in a Euro 2016 qualifier, confidence in the team is at an all-time low.

Hodgson’s time in charge should have been ended after the disastrous World Cup campaign, but once again the lily-livered Football Association stepped back from sacking him, when results – two losses and a draw – indicated that the manager was out of his depth.

Some people say he’s a nice man who did his best. That much is true, but it’s also totally irrelevant. At the highest level, Hodgson has been found wanting.

He managed Fulham well, because he fitted snugly into a club where survival was the vital ingredient of any season. They were gentle folk at Craven Cottage, the kind of people who never really demanded too much, So the pressure was never really on. He felt comfortable there.

At Liverpool, Hodgson failed. It was too big for him, the players had high profile personalities that seemed to overwhelm him. A speech impediment – Hodgson has difficulty with his R’s – was quickly picked on. Players called him Woy behind his back.

With England, it was even more cruel. Once players sense a weakness, they are ruthless at exploiting it. Previous manager Fabio Capello was nicknamed Postman Pat, Hodgson’s sobriquet became Mrs Doubtfire.

When respect is strained to breaking point, a manager’s job is always more difficult. And Hodgson never seemed to have the intuitive mind of a man who could plan ahead.

He was wrong to leave Ashley Cole of Chelsea behind when England travelled to Brazil. Cole is a fine footballer who could attack down the left and give England an extra dimension. He could also defend, the first priority of any full back. Hodgson chose to take Leighton Baines (Everton) to Brazil, and saw his selection choice quickly exposed.

Having been at Anfield, Hodgson might have noted that Steven Gerrard was not the force he once was at Liverpool. He did not have a good season for the club, but nonetheless was made England captain with the side built around him.

He had a disappointing World Cup, and it was no surprise that on his return he immediately announced his retirement from international football. Could he see clearly the direction in which England were going? After all, at Liverpool, it’s alleged he was one of Hodgson’s critics.

The manager also made a major mistake in leaving John Terry out of his squad. Last season, Terry was the best centre back in the country, but perhaps Hodgson was influenced by the siren voices from within the FA, regarding the early-season racist allegations against a player who would have spilled blood for his country.

Now Hodgson shouldn’t be surprised that Frank Lampard, Terry’s Chelsea team mate and pal, has decided he no longer wants to be part of the England set-up and has backed away from the international scene.

Lampard is perhaps the most savvy of the England party. He would have seen at first hand what the man was all about, and it clearly it wasn’t for him.

Putting it into perspective, England would have to play particularly badly not to qualify for France and the Euros in two years. So Hodgson will soldier on, sloping arms, and saying the things the FA are desperate to hear.

This disparate collection of councillors and officials is an embarrassment to the country. These men are accountable for all that is wrong in international football.

Most England players wanted Harry Redknapp to take the manager’s job. He was a football man, but had a colourful past. He was favourite for a long time, but when the FA had to make a decision, they lifted up their skirts and sprinted for cover.

Redknapp would not have toed the party line. And that, sadly, is a prerequisite on the job description. Anyone departing from that line is viewed with alarm and suspicion.

For example, just months after Sir Alf Ramsey won the World Cup in 1966, FA councillors were plotting to remove him. Why ? Because Ramsey was staunchly against sponsorship and logos emblazoned on shirts and thus he was cutting off a potentially valuable revenue stream. He was never forgiven.

As if he cared. Ramsey, a man of limited education, loathed the Lancaster Gate lobby and all they stood for. Later in life, when he was sent tickets to watch his beloved England at Wembley, he would pointedly move his seat if he found himself close to councillors.

So, the scenario is this: give the FA the choice of picking two men for any appointment, and they will go for the safer option. Thus Hodgson was chosen over Redknapp.

At one stage, the controversial but successful Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were approached. Having agreed to do the job, they were rewarded with the England youth appointment instead.

Looking back, England’s most impressive football was played under Terry Venables, who took the country to the Euro finals of 1996. But he fell foul of Noel White, a councillor who chose to ignore the improvement the team made and concentrate on his distaste at the type of person Venables was alleged to be and criticised him constantly.

Venables wasn’t a yes man and, being a clever Cockney, he always gave the kind of answers that put the Lancaster Gate men immediately on the defensive.

He was scolded for bringing into his back room team Dave Sexton, an extremely talented coach who was approaching 60 years of age. An FA man said: “Why appoint him? He’s too old! ” Snapped back Venables: “I want him to coach the team, not play in it!”

What was so disgraceful about the FA’s conduct in this period is that England had outplayed the mighty Dutch in 1996, beating them 4-1.

Into that fine side, Venables could have introduced David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen Nicky Butt and Sol Campbell. He believed with those players added to squad that played so well against Holland, England were equipped to win the World Cup. He was never given the chance.

So we return to Hodgson. He soldiers on, not quite getting the response he would like from the country, but safe in the knowledge the job is his. And England wait and wait to discover the glory days that are so far off they might belong to another world.

Will there ever be a discovery? Not until the FA itself makes dramatic changes in personnel. The ruling body needs to be purged, cleansed, remodelled and revived.

Indeed, until there is a change at Soho Square, we might wait an inordinately long time to be champions again. And that won’t come with Roy Hodgson in charge.

PICTURE COURTESY OF: Alexandra Savicheva

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