The wedemption of Woy

JANUARY 13 ― Roy Hodgson, it cannot be denied, has enjoyed an excellent managerial career.

Since taking his first job at the age of 29 with Halmstad in Sweden, he has worked more or less continually for more than 40 years in a dazzling variety of environments.

Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Finland and the UAE have all been home for this walking coaching manual, earning Hodgson multiple honours and endorsements for his work with international teams, major clubs such as Inter Milan and Liverpool, and lesser-known minnows like Orebro (Sweden) and Viking (Norway).

However, it seemed that Hodgson was condemned to be best remembered in a highly negative light after a distinctly unsuccessful stint in charge of the English national team, which resulted with him being mercilessly criticised after the “Three Lions” were knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland.

That was his third tournament, following on from a penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in Euro 2012 and a group stage exit from the 2014 World Cup Finals.

But it was the Iceland game that really sealed his fate. It’s hard to express just how bad England were, just how embarrassing it was for such a proud footballing nation to lose to a country of only 300,000 people, and just how out of touch Hodgson looked on the sidelines as he failed to effect any kind of improvement upon his team’s dismal display.

Losing against a team like Iceland in a major tournament is a difficult scenario to bounce back from for an England manager, and for a while it appeared that Hodgson never would, bringing his illustrious coaching career to an unfittingly negative conclusion.

By the time he left the England job 18 months ago, Hodgson looked like a beaten old man, widely mocked for his supposed tactical ignorance and rudely mimicked for his slight speech impediment which makes his Rs sounds like Ws. Poor old Woy. What a howwible way to go.

So plenty of eyebrows were raised in September, when Crystal Palace reacted to their woeful start to the Premier League campaign by firing manager Frank de Boer and appointing none other than the man who had spent the last 12 months being little more than a national joke, Hodgson.

At that time, Palace had become the first top flight team in nearly a century to lose their first four games of the season without scoring a single goal, and many observers savagely joked that with Hodgson at the helm, things were about to get even worse.

But oh, how he has proved them wrong.

It didn’t happen immediately, with his first three games in charge resulting in three more losses without scoring, leaving the South London club ― located in the Croydon borough where Hodgson grew up ― rock bottom of the table with no points and no goals after seven games. They looked doomed.

But then reigning champions Chelsea visited Stamford Bridge and, against all expectations, Hodgson’s team gained a 2-1 win to pick up their first points of the season, and since then the only way has been up.

From mid-November, Palace enjoyed a seven-match unbeaten run including victories over Stoke, Watford and Leicester, climbing out of the relegation zone and earning Hodgson a nomination for the manager of the month award.

Although they then suffered a frantic 3-2 defeat to Arsenal, Hodgson’s men bounced back by becoming the first team to take points off Manchester City all season with a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park, and then winning 2-1 at Southampton to climb into 14th place, with the top half of the table firmly in their sights.

There’s still a long way to go, and the bottom half is so congested that Palace are only two points clear of the relegation zone. But at least Hodgson has given them hope and I, for one, am delighted.

Hodgson is a good man, and a vastly experienced coach who knows football inside-out. It’s true that his England reign was little short of disastrous, especially that concluding match against Iceland but, really, every England manager has failed since Alf Ramsey 50 years ago, with perhaps only Bobby Robson and Terry Venables able to emerge from the job with their dignity intact (and they had hairy moments, too).

Throughout the hammering he took during his time in charge of England, Hodgson never lost his cool or stooped to the low level of his critics. He resisted the temptation to defend his reputation and make a bundle of cash by selling his secrets to the media, and appeared ready to slide into retirement accepting his fate.

How nice, then, that he has been given another chance. And how even nicer that he is taking it.

Palace may not play the prettiest football in the world, and Hodgson may not be the most charismatic coach you’ll come across.

But he has given an awful lot to football and enjoyed plenty of success without shouting his mouth off about it. He deserves to be remembered for much more than failing with England, and his stint with Palace is giving him the opportunity to sign off on a positive note.

Long may their upturn continue.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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