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Men's Football 59 years and out for Roy Hodgson, an English football legend

ROY HODGSON has started to look weathered in recent weeks. And not just because his Watford side are stinting in attack and porous in defence. Hodgson will turn 75 in August, and it is a mark of the man that he is only now retiring. He’s been in the professional game for 59 years.

His playing career began as a Crystal Palace academy product. But the Palace senior team was a step too far for Hodgson, so he dropped down the divisions to play non-league. He did his coaching badges at the incredibly young age of 23, and was soon assistant manager at Maidstone United.

His manager, Bob Houghton, eventually became manager of Sweden’s most famous club, Malmo. Houghton recommended that their Swedish first division rivals Halmstads appoint Hodgson as manager. They did — and Hodgson had his first managerial role. In his first season he took the relegation survivors to the top of their table, winning the Swedish Allsvenskan. He still considers it his biggest career achievement.

Hodgson had set himself up perfectly for a successful career in management. But it’s unlikely even he expected it to last until 2022. The journeyman coach took in Bristol City and Swedish sides Oddevold and Orebro before landing the nation’s top club job: as manager of Malmo. There he filled his boots, or, rather, his trophy cabinet. Hodgson won five consecutive league titles with Sweden’s most successful club, gaining the affectionate nickname “English Roy.”

Malmo offered English Roy a lifetime contract, but it didn’t tempt him in the slightest. Monotonous success can get boring after a while.

Hodgson did well at Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax, eventually becoming Switzerland national team manager. They hadn’t reached a major tournament since 1966, but Hodgson guided the Swiss to the 1994 World Cup, losing only one game in a group that contained Italy, Portugal and Scotland. They reached third in the Fifa rankings before reaching Euro 96 too. But Hodgson left before the finals to take the reins at Inter Milan; he’d been juggling both roles since qualification.

Inter yielded no trophies, and nor did Blackburn Rovers in his next job, though he did finish sixth with Rovers, helping them reach the Uefa Cup.

Hodgson took in Inter again as interim coach, then Grasshoppers of Switzerland, then Copenhagen and a short spell at Udinese. Between 2004 and 2006, he was in the Middle East in charge of the United Arab Emirates. In interviews, Hodgson seemed to question the hunger of his players, admitting that he took the role when he didn’t know where his career was going to take him — but that “these experiences enrich you.”

Viking of Norway were next, before the Finland national team. He was unable to guide them to Euro 2008 but brought the nation closer to qualifying than they had been for some years. Five years later he was knighted in Finland for this short stint as manager. In 2007 Hodgson moved to Fulham, the club job he retires best remembered for.

He guided the drop-zone languishers to Premier League survival in his first season at Craven Cottage. Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora, Mark Schwarzer and Zoltan Gera came in during the summer of 2008, all of them becoming modern Fulham greats. Hodgson and Fulham left relegation peril behind them and finished in seventh place in 2008-09.

This brought an exciting Europa League adventure the following season, but it ended up bringing the Fulham faithful a great deal more than mere excitement. Fulham were the shock performers of the campaign, beating Basel in the group stage before knocking out Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg in successive rounds. Atletico Madrid crushed Hodgson’s dream of silverware, nicking the final four minutes before the end of extra time thanks to a Diego Forlan winner — but what a run.

He was named League Managers’ Association manager of the season, and soon he was Liverpool boss. That job proved tough, but at West Brom Hodgson was back in his element: defying odds and hauling a struggling outfit up the table almost by sheer willpower. At the end of his second season at the Hawthorns, Fabio Capello quit the England post after the FA stripped John Terry of captaincy. Harry Redknapp was widely tipped to replace Capello, but Hodgson landed the job.

Despite coming into the role just six weeks before Euro 2012, Hodgson’s England topped their group ahead of France before falling to Andrea Pirlo’s deft chip as Italy prevailed in a quarter-final penalty shootout.

Hodgson oversaw two unbeaten qualification campaigns — for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 — but his team selections and tactics at both tournaments left something to be desired. England started their openers playing expansive football, but in both cases there were premature exits. A group-stage egress in Brazil was viewed leniently as England had landed in the “group of death” alongside Uruguay and Italy; but defeat to Iceland in the Euro 2016 last 16 marked the worst day in the England team’s modern history. Hodgson resigned in his post-match press conference, adding: “I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”

History has perhaps been unkind on Hodgson’s England tenure, his reign predictably reduced all too often to the Iceland collapse. But Gareth Southgate has often jumped to his defence, rightly paying tribute to Hodgson’s trust in young players and the role he played in moulding some of Southgate’s star performers: Raheem Sterling, John Stones and, in his final year as manager, Harry Kane.

Few managers trot straight back into management after the inevitably negative culmination of their England tenure. Hodgson took some time out but was soon back in the Premier League in charge of Crystal Palace — the club who launched his playing career all those years ago. What an impressive job he did with them. Hodgson built a team that complemented a handful of maverick individuals such as Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze.

When Hodgson came in, Frank de Boer had managed to lead Palace to four defeats from four games at the beginning of the season. Hodgson not only became the first manager to lead a side who’d lost their first four games to Premier League survival: he finished 11th, and 49 points marked Palace’s highest top-flight tally in their history. In four seasons, he never finished lower than 14th — a remarkable record.

Many felt when Hodgson left last summer that he was retiring from football. Indeed, Hodgson himself thought so. But football has a certain magnetic pull to football men like him. He made an incredible Premier League return in January: Watford pulled the lever yet again, and into the seat dropped 74-year-old Hodgson.

It’s true that he’s not been able to turn the club’s fortunes around, but, frankly, very few could have done. Watford were looking doomed well before he rocked up: there was a time this season when they’d had five managers since their last Premier League clean sheet.

Hodgson will retire an English football legend, a Finnish football legend, a Swiss football legend, a Swedish football legend… You get the picture. 59 years and out. See you next season, Roy? Perhaps this time we genuinely won’t.


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