Premier League managers looking to further their career rarely leave their clubs with the full backing and support of the chairman they leave behind. They are unlikely to be wished ‘all the best’ for the future followed by a warm embrace and a hearty handshake, regardless of their achievements. Some managers are sacked, some resign, while others bring such success to a club they become targets for bigger clubs. Whichever way a manager departs it’s usually a messy affair, where a previously healthy relationship between manager and chairman can turn sour exceedingly quickly.
It was thought Roy Hodgson’s departure from Craven Cottage would be one of the few exceptions to the rule. This was until outspoken chairman Mohamed Al Fayed used a press conference unveiling Mark Hughes as the club’s new manager as an opportunity to take a vicious swipe at his former employee. Al Fayed claims that after giving Hodgson another crack at English football, following a nine year exodus, the experienced coach simply ‘took advantage and left’. The astonishing attack continued, with the former Harrods owner going on to take credit for the revival of Hodgson’s career claiming, ‘we put him where he is now’.
With over 30 years of experience managing at clubs across Europe, including Italian giants Inter Milan, as well as stints with Switzerland and Finland, it is unlikely that Al Fayed’s influence on his career was the reason Liverpool chose to appoint him as their new manager. Al Fayed can certainly take credit for identifying that Hodgson was still good enough to cut it in the Premier League; however the Fulham chairman did not re-ignite a faltering career. Finland were desperate to renew his contract when it had expired in November 2007, yet Hodgson had his heart set on a return to Inter Milan in an ambassadorial role before Fulham made their move. Hodgson was also an outside contender to replace Steve McClaren as England boss.
Al Fayed has every right to be angered and bitterly disappointed after losing his manager to a Premier League rival. His comments have not come in the heat of the moment and the Egyptian clearly feels let down by someone he held a great mutual respect for. Just two weeks before Hodgson’s departure, Al Fayed revealed the pair’s close relationship, before stating he could not see his manager departing for the gates of Anfield. Their close relationship now looks a distant one and Hodgson’s achievements at the club forgotten following Al Fayed’s bitter remarks.
Al Fayed clearly has no problem criticising his former ally in public, yet on this occasion a dignified silence may have been the better option. Fulham fans could argue Hodgson showed a distinct lack of loyalty in leaving southwest London this summer, after the club took a gamble on him following the dire end to his spell at Blackburn Rovers in 1998. In reality, The Cottagers were desperately fighting an anxious relegation battle when Hodgson was appointed and he worked miracles to keep them in the league. He followed this up the following season by leading his side to seventh in the league, the club’s highest ever finish.
Most amazingly of all of course was Fulham’s run to the Europa League final in May after a marathon 63 game season. This was achieved on a minimal budget, playing a patient and attractive passing game along the way. After turning Fulham from relegation contenders to Europa League finalists and bringing them to unprecedented Premier League heights, many fans view the last two seasons under Hodgson as the most illustrious in the club’s history. Al Fayed may not be thankful now, but after dragging the club out of the bottom three and into their first ever European final; Hodgson has left a legacy at the club which can be enjoyed by Fulham fans for years to come. After such an achievement, surely Al Fayed could not begrudge Hodgson his dream to manage one of the biggest clubs in world football before he finally calls it a day and retires.
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