Although I am certainly not one to avoid eating humble pie when needed (and it definitely does happen!) I am pleased to say I have no worries in that regard concerning Roy Hodgson.
I have always maintained that he was the right manager for us even during the dark days between September and December when we did not win a single league match. Now that we seem to be hitting form in a similar vein to last season it is worth reflecting on Roy’s achievements and, briefly, what happens next.
Before moving to the future, it would be criminal not to acknowledge how lucky we are to have Roy Hodgson as our manager. All the justified fuss about becoming the oldest Premier League manager has created a focus on his long and successful career but his time with us has demonstrated he has lost none of his magic in this regard. I remember very clearly Danny Murphy’s initial comments about Roy’s appointment on Match of the Day. He said two things: we would be fine under Roy (when we had zero points and goals after seven matches) but that it would take time for Roy’s methods to start to work. Danny clearly knew what he was talking about.
With hindsight, it was only during the latter part of last season when Roy’s methods really started to bear fruit. Yes, we had some good results in December and January last season (the Manchester City home draw, the Burnley home and Southampton away wins) but it was not until the last eight weeks or so of the season that our form and playing style really sparkled. The return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek from injury was part of the catalyst for the upturn but it was also the almost telepathic way the ball was moved between players at speed that really caught the eye. The credit has to go the players of course for executing Roy’s strategy so well but Roy’s tried and tested method of endless work on shape and movement on the training pitch is at the heart of our success.
I was certainly one of the people putting our early season woes this year down to the loss of Yohan Cabaye and RLC and the lack of adequate replacements. I would now say that whilst the loss of those two talented players had an impact, the bigger loss was the lack of time their replacements had on the training ground and in matches. As Danny Murphy observed, it takes a while for players to fit into Roy’s fluid jigsaw. The loss of players in midfield positions in that jigsaw was particularly significant. It has simply taken a number of months for the new players to adapt and learn their roles. Like world class tennis players who hit the same shot thousands of times until it becomes unthinking, Roy’s work on the training pitch ensures that the midfield and forward players effortlessly know exactly where the ball and teammates should be.
Of course, no one is perfect and Roy has made mistakes in terms of team selection, tactics and substitutions but there is no manager in history that cannot be criticised on these grounds at some point.
All of this leads me to next season and I am sorry to say Roy’s age. Of course, age is just a number, as has been said, but given the demands of the job we cannot assume Roy will be here for years to come. It must be possible that at the end of this season Roy will reflect on a job well done and decide to go out on a high. Alternatively, he may want a season or two more but I do not think it will be realistic to assume much more than that.
Given that theoretically we are not going to be sacking Roy anytime soon, we could take our time in finding a suitable replacement. There are two recent examples both involving the Manchester clubs. David Moyes recruitment at United shows the perils of this method and Pep Guardiola’s at City shows how it could work. Unfortunately, we do not have the money to do anything like that and even if we did the disastrous succession of managers at Manchester United shows that money is no guarantee of success. In practice I suspect we will have to do our usual rushed job of finding a new manager and then hope for the best! In any event our one “considered” managerial appointment was Frank de Boer and we all know how that ended up!
Looking at the fondness with which Roy is still regarded by Fulham and West Bromwich Albion supporters and their respective chequered histories since he left, one can understand a little trepidation about what a post Roy future will hold. Nevertheless, I am going to concentrate on enjoying what we have now and worry about the future when we need to.
All hail Sir Roy of Croydon- we should all be thankful for what we have!