When we speak about British football managers who have excelled in continental Europe, the name of Roy Hodgson comes first and foremost. He has managed 16 club sides in 6 different countries, and 4 different national teams in the last 45 years.
Hodgson is a highly respected figure due to his cool and calm demeanour, impeccable game-reading and his simple, direct brand of football built upon a rock-solid defence. Along with his tactics, Hodgson brings forth immediate upliftment in team spirit and dressing room camaraderie, which are the prime reasons behind his teams exceeding expectations time and time again.
Born in 1947 in Croydon, South London, Hodgson spent a rather unceremonious playing career before taking up his first managerial role at Swedish club Halmstads BK in 1976. Back then, a 3 or 5-man defence with a libero was the norm in Sweden.
Hodgson bucked the norm to introduce the 4-4-2 system with 2 centre-backs and zonal marking (instead of man-marking). While he was extensively criticised initially, relegation candidate Halmstad went on to win the league in his first season itself.
Hodgson and his friend Bob Houghton (who had taken charge of Malmö FF in 1974, and used similar tactics) together won 5 league titles in 6 years (1974-79), and thus completely revolutionised Swedish football.
Houghton even took Malmö to the 1979 European Cup final. Eriksson’s treble-winning (league, cup and UEFA Cup) Göteborg of 1982 was also a product of this revolution. After Halmstad, Roy coached Bristol City and a few Swedish lower division clubs before joining Malmö in 1985.
There he won 5 consecutive league titles, 2 league championships and 2 cups, thereby becoming their greatest manager ever arguably.
While Roy regards his first-ever league title as his greatest ever achievement, his later exploits are astonishing nevertheless. Under him, Malmö fared decently in European competitions, notching up a European Cup first-round win against Internazionale over two legs in 1989.
As the coach of Swiss club Neuchâtel Xamax too, Hodgson took European football equally seriously. Along with respectable performances in domestic competitions, Xamax reached the 1991-92 UEFA Cup third round, losing to Real Madrid despite a home win.
During his first stint at Inter (1995-97), marked improvement was observed in the team’s results. In his second season, Hodgson guided his team to the UEFA Cup final, and a 3rd-place finish in the league, after which he left for Blackburn Rovers.
Except for a few minor tweaks in a while, Hodgson has stuck to the tried, tested and trusted 4-4-2 formation. In his system, the back four generally try to maintain a high back-line. The wide midfielders double up as wingers, and the side-backs are free to overlap if the situation permits.
One of the central midfielders holds his ground, while the other tries to win the ball higher up. Similarly, one of the forwards is an out-and-out striker, and the other contributes to the link-up play. The onus of pressing the opposition defence remains on the forwards.
When any midfielder or defender recovers the ball, he tries to play a quick through ball or lofted pass towards the front-line or the wing. For build-up, the players are expected to play short passes.
At Blackburn, Roy implemented the same strategy, and the first season was promising. Relegation-threatened Blackburn qualified for UEFA Cup (1998). But the next season was disastrous, and he was sacked. After brief stints at Inter and Swiss club Grasshoppers, Hodgson moved to FC København of Denmark and steered the struggling team to the league title in his first season itself (2000-01).
Although his magic did not work at Italian club Udinese, at Norwegian side Viking, Roy was back to his elements, taking the mid-table club to the UEFA Cup group stage.
Hodgson’s current and all 3 previous clubs are from the English Premier League, starting with Fulham FC. When he took over in December 2007, Fulham were reeling at 18th position, and yet Roy managed to evade relegation by season-end.
In the next season, Fulham came 7th to qualify for UEFA Europa League. Well, now our readers might be bored to know that yet again Hodgson worked wonders in Europe with a so-called small team, as Fulham played Atlético Madrid for the trophy, coming from the 3rd qualifying round beating Basel, Wolfsburg, Juventus, Hamburg among others.
Unfortunately, his Liverpool job lasted only half-a-season, before he joined West Bromwich Albion. With West Brom, he achieved back-to-back highest finishes in three decades. In 2017, he took charge of Crystal Palace, who had already lost their first 4 games. Hodgson lost another 3, before inexplicably recovering to take the 11th spot. Crystal Palace have cemented their spot in the mid-table in the last 2 seasons.
Hodgson is known for his tactical rigidity and detailed rigorous training sessions. Yet, more often than not he has proven himself to be a player-friendly manager, who prefers to take the dressing room along within the decision-making process over unilateral imposition.
He emphasises on hard-work, physicality and collectivism, and never shies away from making necessary changes to achieve the desired outcomes. While at Inter, he offloaded Roberto Carlos for this very reason, even when he got along well with Zanetti and Ince.
At Fulham, he made important signings like Gera and Smalling, which paid dividends. At Liverpool too, he boldly sold many carried-forward players in favour of new arrivals. He repeated this at West Brom and Palace. No player is bigger than the team and his philosophy in Roy Hodgson’s eyes.
Roy has also coached 4 national teams – Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Finland and England. Under Hodgson, Switzerland qualified for the 1994 World Cup, their first since 1966, and reached the round of 16. They also qualified for the 1996 Euro as group toppers but faltered in the finals as Hodgson left for Inter.
As coach of UAE, he oversaw their qualification 2004 Asian Cup but left soon after. At Finland, he built an astute defence but attacking frailties narrowly denied them an entry into the 2008 Euro.
Hodgson took over the reins of England before the 2012 Euro and took them to the quarters before losing to Italy in penalties. England aced the 2014 WC qualifiers barring a 2-4 reverse at Sweden, but could not reach the knock-outs, losing to Italy and Uruguay.
Despite this historic disaster, the FA reposed their faith on him. But another drab Euro campaign finished with a round of 16 defeat to Iceland, bringing the curtains down on Hodgson’s tenure at England.
Nevertheless, he brought forth and nurtured several young prospects like Barkley, Sterling, Kane, Vardy, Dier, Lallana and Alli, which would surely help England a lot for the next two cycles.
Barring a few setbacks few and far between, Hodgson’s sides were constant over-achievers. As we look back at his coaching career, as we put his achievements in perspective, we cannot say that he was very far off when he compared himself to Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Blackburn botch-up hit his legacy hard, still, nothing but reverence comes to mind when we hear the name of Roy Hodgson.