Not many outside of England were surprised when Roy Hodgson managed to turn around Fulham’s slide to the Championship, and then managed to achieve a Europa League place finish last season. The fact that Hodgson had one fateful spell at Blackburn Rovers is all that many in this country have really cared to know about the 62 year old Englishman until he was appointed at Craven Cottage. Despite that relatively unsuccessful period at Ewood Park, in which he had a successful first season in charge before dropping to near bottom of the table in his second, Hodgson’s reputation on the continent had never diminished, but why you ask was he so highly regarded everywhere else other than England before his current spell at Fulham?
Hodgson could be described as a student of the game. His playing career was undistinguished to say the least as he failed to break through into the first team at Crystal Palace and found himself in non-league football. Unlike many managers who were experienced at the top level of the game as players, Hodgson had studied and learned coaching techniques and became assistant coach at Maidstone United at a very young age. At just 28 years old, Hodgson was given the job as Head Coach of Halmstads in Sweden after fellow Englishman, Bob Houghton, who was manager of Malmo at the time, persuaded Halmstads to appoint the unknown Englishman. It was a tremendous risk considering Halmstads had risked being relegated in 1975 but the gamble paid off when in one of most famous seasons in Swedish football, Hodgson led Halmstads to the Swedish league title in his first full season in charge in 1976.
The title in itself was a remarkable achievement, but what Hodgson and his friend Houghton had also done had changed the style of play in Sweden forever. Swedish teams up until the arrival of Houghton and Hodgson had played a Germanic style, accustomed to the Germany national team and the Bayern Munich side at the time. Generally free flowing, attacking football, man marking and a 4-3-3 formation, it suited German sides very well, but the revolution in Swedish football led by the young 28 year old Hodgson and the equally young Houghton changed all that. They introduced the ‘English-style,’ where by they stuck to a rigid 4-4-2, with long balls, high pressing and zonal defending. It was a very defensive mindset which was at first opposed by many in Sweden, a camp led by Lars Arnesen. Results however quickly changed people’s minds as Houghton-Hodgson style football brought championship after championship in Swedish football.
Hodgson won two league titles with Halmstads and 5 with Malmo, while Houghton had led Malmo from the amateur leagues to the European Cup final in 1979. Another Swedish coach who adopted the style of Houghton and Hodgson was one Sven-Goran Eriksson who led IFK Gothenburg from an average first division side in 1979 to the UEFA Cup in 1982. The English style has been used in Sweden ever since, and has got its rewards on the international stage too when they finished third at the 1994 World Cup. The English-style revolution still reverberates today as previous Sweden coach Lars Lagerback was a student of Bob Houghton.
Hodgson went on to get Switzerland to their first World Cup since 1966 when they qualified for USA 94 and he also achieved qualification for Euro 96. He is a learned scholar of the game, who emphasizes deep preparation and uses revolutionary training techniques. He also speaks a variety of different languages and has learned extra elements to his coaching style in every country he has worked in, taking the best from each culture. When out of work, Hodgson has worked for both the FIFA and UEFA technical study teams, studying tactics and team organization for the governing bodies at both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. Hodgson’s talents in the game can be summed up in his own words:
I would say a successful coach needs leadership skills, a talent for reading the game, a gift for communication, a capacity for detailed preparation, a likable personality, a strong character, a sense of perspective, and humility. Books could be written on each of these aspects of management – some already have. And when we talk about these qualities, I remember reading a quote from the American John Wooden, who said: “Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful and conceit is self-given; be careful.”
His attention to detail in training, his leadership skills the player who’s boss, his player management skills to know what each player needs, and his exceptional tactical knowledge have all played a part in his success at Fulham. He may not have been the most talented footballer in the world as a player, but he is certainly the most knowledgeable and well read man in the game.