Last Sunday marked the return of Roy Hodgson, swinging his leg over the saddle at The Hawthorns and taking the reins at West Bromich Albion, as they bid to avoid relegation. He returns to Premier League management just over a month after being relieved of his duties at Liverpool. Hodgson now faces the dual task of ensuring the Baggies remain in the league, whilst also attempting to repair his damaged reputation, following his turbulent time as the Reds’ boss.
Following last year’s league campaign with Fulham it seemed Hodgson could do no wrong and was voted the LMA Manager of the Year for his achievements. However, during the intervening eight months he has undergone a media metamorphosis from Kindly Uncle Woy, to a bumbling Mr. Bean character. It has been a cruel deconstruction of a solid coaching career.
Hodgson’s appointment as Liverpool manager was met mostly by indifference at the time. It was considered a sensible, if uninspiring, choice at a time when the typhoon of Hicks and Gillett threatened to rip the roof off the club. Wild threats buffeted the club on an almost daily basis, ranging from point deductions to complete liquidation. Hiring someone who might be able to batten down the hatches was a reasonable solution.
For Hodgson, it was a chance to test his long-standing coaching methods at one of the biggest clubs in the country. With hindsight, it was perhaps naïve at best to force such rigorous training methods on some of the top players in the game. We can only guess at Fernando Torres’ face after completing his 500 shuttle runs each morning.
By October the storm had passed and fans’ attentions were focused once more on the pitch where performances were poor. At a club famed for managerial longevity, Hodgson became a lightning quick casualty. Considered part of the ‘old regime’ (despite being appointed by the chairman who brought down that legacy, Martin Broughton), overshadowed and undermined by Kenny Dalglish’s presence, Hodgson’s reign was always destined to be short-lived. Only instant and absolute success could have saved him, which has rarely been his calling card.
With West Brom, there is a feeling that Hodgson has returned to his level, in terms of club size and expectations. He was successful at achieving an unlikely Premier League survival with Fulham in 2007/08, before consolidating and reaching a Europa League final, and has enjoyed unexpected success at other smaller clubs (such as Malmö and Copenhagen). However, Hodgson is again tasked with performing an immediate reversal of fortunes, in order to keep the Baggies in the league.
He does not come across as the kind of coach to hurl teacups at half-time, or play Henry V at full volume. Nor is he quick to attempt an early substitution, or radically different game plans. Instead his is a steady approach, borne out of meticulous routines during the week. This technique may be a hard pill for a sulky Spaniard to swallow, but can elevate average players to greater performance. The renaissance of Danny Murphy, Aaron Hughes and Damien Duff speak to this at Fulham.
In his press conference ahead of the Wolves game, Hodgson admitted feeling “wounded” by the manner of his dismissal at Liverpool. Although he insists he “has nothing to prove”, it would be impossible for him not to aim for retribution by guiding his new charges to safety. Whilst Liverpool may feel justified, given results since his departure, sacking Hodgson may work out better for him in the long run. An opportunity to take time to establish a new regime, based upon tried and tested coaching methods, at a club that welcomes his experience.
Finally, he may even get to enjoy a last laugh of sorts on April 2nd when Liverpool visit The Hawthorns. No doubt he will publicly shy away from making that fixture about himself, but the chance for such immediate revenge would surely be supremely satisfying. Especially if it leads to a reassessment of his competency, so he can ride off into the sunset, reputation restored.