Roy Hodgson: The Premier League’s oldest manager – by those who know him best

Roy Hodgson: The Premier League’s oldest manager – by those who know him best

04/02/2019 - 18:54

According to former England defender Gary Neville, Roy Hodgson deserves to be recognised as “one of the great English coaches”.

But for the first 31 years of his career, the Crystal Palace manager had barely registered on the radar in his home country.

His one job in England had been at Bristol City – an unremarkable four-month spell in 1982 which ended with him sacked before the club’s relegation to the fourth tier.

Fifteen years later, he would pitch up at Blackburn Rovers, and – after another ill-fated stint despite an encouraging first season – would then return to a globetrotting existence.

It was not until his time at Fulham, when he led them from the brink of relegation to the 2010 Europa League final, that he really cemented himself as a regular presence on the British managerial scene. This despite working in Sweden, Switzerland, Italy (where he was twice in charge of Inter Milan), Denmark, the United Arab Emirates and Finland in the intervening years.

He has since gone on to manage Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion, Palace and, of course, England. There have been dizzying highs and painful lows.

On Saturday, Hodgson will overtake Sir Bobby Robson as the oldest man to manage a Premier League game – he will be 71 years and 198 days old when Palace visit Leicester.

Before that game, we speak to some of those closest to him during his time in England – and the man himself – to find out how someone who reads Chekhov and likes opera has sustained himself at the top level for so long.

‘After England, we’d meet for breakfast every Friday’

Hodgson’s four-year England tenure ended with an infamous Euro 2016 last-16 exit to minnows Iceland. He memorably said “I don’t know what I am doing here” when he appeared at a media briefing the next day, because he felt his statement in resigning after the defeat the night before had been “sufficient”. Those events led many to suspect Hodgson was finished in football – either because he would not want to return or because he would be tainted by the end of his Three Lions reign.

Ray Lewington, who worked as Hodgson’s assistant with Fulham, England and now Crystal Palace: When you are England manager, you get battered, absolutely battered.

I always remember we went to the Houses of Parliament to meet some MPs prior to going to the World Cup in 2014 and seeing all these famous faces – household names. They all stopped and turned. Probably after the prime minister, Roy was the most famous face in England. It stops everything.

After England, we used to meet for breakfast on a Friday for a year or so, not far from my house. It was me, Roy and Andy Scoulding, who was one of the analysts.

Some of it was to talk about football but really it was just talking about life. It was a couple of hours between 10 and midday. It became a regular thing.

I was all for not doing anything again, I must admit. But after we were doing this for four or five months, he started just throwing in the occasional: ‘Do you know what Ray? I quite fancy going in again.’ I am saying to him: ‘I am not sure, Roy.’ He said: ‘I don’t know, I might start looking around.’ It was gradual.

Former Football Association technical director Dan Ashworth: I am not surprised he has rebuilt his career after the way it ended with England but I do give him massive credit. The easy thing would have been to disappear off into retirement.

Roy came back into the Premier League and took over Crystal Palace in a really difficult moment when they looked almost certain to go down, kept them up quite comfortably and is doing a good job this season.

It doesn’t surprise me because of his enthusiasm for the game. He lives for football. I remember driving him to watch a game in the Netherlands and being in the car with him for hours and hours on end. He is so passionate about the game. The best I can say is I really hope I am like that when I am his age.

‘He was ahead of his time – others have copied his methods’

Hodgson’s first shot at Premier League management came with Blackburn Rovers in 1997, taking over the team that had won the top-flight title two years earlier. He was a relative unknown in England at the time, even admitting that season that he “knew very little” about some of his players, including striker Chris Sutton, who had joined the club in 1994 for a British record £5m. Under Hodgson, Blackburn finished sixth and qualified for the Uefa Cup, but he was dismissed in November 1998, having earlier that year turned down the chance to discuss becoming Germany manager.

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