Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Hobson's Choice

                                                  By Carlos Zimmermann

Many of the hardcore premier league fans might have woken up last weekend with a fuzzy head -a hangover of sorts- not from drinking, but from arguably the most intoxicating season in living memory. For those of us who find the break-up hard, there is a more than adequate rebound, so the people of this good nation cast their eyes across the seas, to the continent and the beauty that is the UEFA EURO 2012.

I hear the cries of “Englishman! We need an Englishman! Who is brave enough to tame these lions?!” With this in mind Hobson's Choice  becomes law of the land, and the only candidate therefore was Roy Hodgson. He may not be the most fashionable choice to some, but like the eighties, he's “in”, and we should stand united as no one man can conquer on his own.

Before we talk about the man of the moment it's important to explore the English mentality and the myth of England being underachievers. In this country, we seem to have a hero and villain mentality- a pantomime you may say. If we take a look at the competitions in recent memory we have either been unlucky on the dreaded lottery of the penalty shoot-out or blamed individuals, be it referee or player. For example, in '98 David Beckham's child-like reaction to Diego Simeone's tackle left us with an uphill struggle. In 2002, we had the cheek to say that Ronaldinho never meant to score that free kick; although he had scored an identical free kick while playing for one of the Brazilian youth teams prior to the tournament; and, as we all know, he conquered the world after that. Then In 2006, we made Ronaldo the villain and focused all of our attention on the wink, forgetting the fact that no matter what Ronaldo said, the referee's a professional and Rooney had lost his head stamping on Carvalho's groin. Furthermore, in 2010 we deluded ourselves to the fact that if Lampard's goal that wasn't given had been allowed, we could have beaten an exceptional Germany side that was clearly head and shoulders above us.

We deliberately pick these incidents to focus on as the thought of the nation won't entertain the idea that we could ever lose fairly. But if you look at the evidence, the “great underachievers” actually slightly over achieve. If you take into account the size of the nation compared to the other top nations our national pool is a lot smaller. But we do boast arguably the strongest league in the world, which has a whopping 38 percent of English players playing at the top level. You might not think of this as a lot, but compared to other nations it sits quite handsomely. 

Since the injection of international players in the league from around 1996, our win percentage has actually gone up by 5 percent on the international level. My belief is, English or not, if you're good enough you will play, and the inclusion of foreign players has only helped to develop our own. Imagine the Premier League without the flair of Henry and the iconic image of him curling the ball into the far corner time and time again. It's a shame that this “invasion” came so late but it is understandable as England, being an island, were disconnected from mainland Europe, wherein there is freedom for ideas to sweep fluidly across the lands and infuse different cultures of football together, leaving England caught adrift while world football sailed by. For the intrigued amongst you, I would highly recommend this fantastic read Why England Lose: Phenomena Explained for a highly detailed philosophy of English mentality.

One couldn't write about the England Manager job without mentioning “Arry” so let's compare his credentials to those of Hodgson. Harry Redknapp has not been fortunate enough to manage outside of England, and furthermore, does not have the experience of taking up a national role. While he has nigh on thirty years experience, it's the quality of this experience that counts. Getting Portsmouth promoted '03 and winning the FA Cup '08 were respectable successes, however his only other achievements are winning the old division three title, the football league trophy and the Intertoto Cup (1999), in which there were two winners entering into the old version of the Europa League. His club career has been built on wheeling and dealing: Harry has brought in an enormous amount of players, spending around 220 million, not including the massive wages and sign-on fees. This had lasting ramifications for every club he managed. Bournemouth ended up in administration, West Ham were relegated, Southampton were relegated and went into administration, and Portsmouth suffered the same fate. He has never worked with what he had at his disposal and in the international game, if you do not have a prolific goal-scorer or creative midfielder, you cannot simply buy them in- instead you need a Plan B. His very open, attacking style is great to watch at league level but does not translate into the international game as it is more of a tactical battle. In the League, if you go all-out attacking, it tends to make for a very exciting season, but on the international level, every game is crucial. This is because you would find it hard to retain enough possession of the ball in Harry's version of 4-4-2. This would leave us too open, and any tactician will drag the team around, creating holes for scoring opportunities, as Harry found out when his Tottenham side went up against Jose Mourinho's Madrid.

Roy Hodgson, surprisingly is the first manager to take charge of England with previous international experience. Let's take a quick look at the managers of England, and compare the two foreign managers (Fabio Capello and Sven-Goran Eriksson) to our two most beloved England managers after sir Alf Ramsey (Bobby Robson and Terry Venables)
Here is a Table of how these managers compared in Competitive Matches:
Fabio Capello
Sven-Goran Eriksson
Terry Venables
Bobby Robson

Note: Games we lost on Penalty Shoot-outs are classed as a draw on this table.

The chart shows that we actually perform slightly better under a foreign manager, so with Roy Hodgson it becomes clear that we are getting the best of both worlds. His first stint was with Switzerland '92, where he led them to dizzy heights, gaining qualification to the '94 World Cup where he was defeated by a strong Spain side in the knock-out stages. He then helped them qualify for the '96 EURO but departed before the competition started. His next international role was at the United Arab Emirates in 2002. He was sacked in 2004. Speaking of his time as manager of the United Arab Emirates, Hodgson said: "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, 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." Hodgson's last international role before England was with Finland, in which they only missed out of qualifying for EURO 2008 by three points. Hodgson was praised for his organisational skills in drilling the defence which helped them keep many clean sheets in that campaign.

Hodgson also had an impressive club career. He started managing at the age of 28 in Sweden with a club called Halmstads, where he won the league in '76 and '79, made more significant by the fact that they were not recognised as a strong team. He left Sweden for a few years but on his return he became manager of Malmo FF in '84, leading them to finish top of the league in five consecutive seasons, as well as picking up the Svenska Cupen in '86 an '89. He has been runner up in the UEFA Cup/ Europa League with Inter Milan and Fulham respectively, as well as winning the double with Copenhagen (Denmark). Hodgson is a very intelligent man who speaks multiple languages and has experienced many cultures. He can walk on to any UEFA training ground and command respect amongst his peers. I believe this experience makes him Hobson's choice whilst being appointed to the England job at such a late stage.

Everything taken into consideration, England will never be a Samba-style team. We always look our best when we sit deep, stay compact, and use the lightning pace we have down the wings to hit teams on the break (as we showed against Spain). England appear to be taking a leaf out of Germany and Spain's philosophies by bleeding through the younger talents, to gain valuable experience and Hodgson's connection to the new training facility in the Midlands will only help us develop as a footballing nation, as the French equivalent to our new training facility has produced such talents as Benzema, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa. Our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. Our passion tends to leave the England players losing their heads and finding themselves out of position. But Hodgson is the perfect man to tame our lions.

In the wilderness of the UEFA EURO 2012 the biggest prize can only be achieved as one. Just like a pride of lions hunting an elephant, they work as one: everyone is a captain, working for each other and covering for any fallen team members, knowing their role to bring home the prize. Once the struggle is over, we can take a step back and look at our development, and only then can we roar into the future.

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