Roy Hodgson will succeed his old friend Sir Bobby Robson as the Premier League’s oldest manager this month, the latest milestone in a remarkable career spanning 43 years in eight different countries.
His former captain and The Mail on Sunday columnist Danny Murphy caught up with the record-breaking 71-year-old Crystal Palace boss...
MURPHY: It’s a bit strange to be congratulating someone for their age! But the way I look at it, you’ve just overtaken Sir Alex Ferguson and will equal Sir Bobby next week. That’s quite some company to keep. There must be some pride there.
HODGSON: I can’t compare my record with those guys but, yes, I am proud I’ve been able to carry on and most importantly retain the love, passion and enthusiasm for the game. I haven’t survived and stayed in it because I felt it was something I had to do. I still get the same enjoyment and hopefully contribute in a meaningful way. I always get the feeling that the work I do with [assistant] Ray Lewington is appreciated by Palace’s players.
MURPHY: What keeps you going? Has there been a time when you thought enough is enough?
HODGSON: That’s a very good question, I don’t think I’ve had to really. There have been times where I think a break might do me good.
MURPHY: Or is that Sheila [Mrs Hodgson] telling you that!
HODGSON: I sometimes feel a little bit of guilt because when I went to join you at Fulham in January 2008, I was planning a sort of semi-retirement at Inter Milan [as an adviser to president Massimo Moratti].
I am glad I didn’t because I would have missed the coaching and day-to-day work too much. But it’s still a surprise, I guess, that almost 12 years later, it’s still continuing. I never question taking any of the jobs I had, even the ones like Liverpool which didn’t go well. I would have regretted turning down the opportunity.
I’m happy my career has carried on well so far but I’d also like to think I’m not one of those people that couldn’t get up in the morning and live another day if football was taken away from me. I could make a life for myself outside football, but I hope I don’t have to.
MURPHY: Your first 20 years as a manager were all abroad, apart from a relatively brief spell at Bristol City. It wasn’t that common back then, why did it work out like that?
HODGSON: I started at Halmstad [in 1976] but came to Bristol City in 1982 as assistant to Bob Houghton. We were only in the building two weeks before they told us to sell all the players because the club was going into liquidation. It was a doomed period and the reality is it would have been hard for us to find work in England after that. There weren’t many young coaches being hired, particularly if you weren’t a well-known player.
In Sweden it was based on merit, they didn’t care we couldn’t get a job in England. So I was handed these opportunities: Oddevold, Orebro, Malmo and, without blowing our own trumpet, we were good enough. We had a big effect on the way Swedish football was played. We changed what had been a man-to-man system all over the field plus sweeper to a very English system of 4-4-2 and pressing and pushing up from the back.
MURPHY: When I watch Palace now, I see similarities between them and our Fulham team. It seems your success comes from being single-minded and knowing what works. Other managers I’ve had regularly change personnel and formations.
HODGSON: I’d had success in Sweden for 12 years [winning five league titles with Malmo] so I knew by the time I went to Neuchatel in 1990 that players were prepared to be led by the right training sessions and persuasion. Bristol City had seasoned professionals and I saw it could work in England too. It gave us a boost.
It is not systems and formations that matter, it is principles. What you want your players to do, in and out of possession. The third element is how you treat players and establish a bond. You have to make them feel this is a coach worth having. I think I’ve become more flexible over the years.
MURPHY: When you came to Fulham, a few of the lads didn’t really know you and it took us eight games to get our first win. But over time, the way we trained and played, you could see the benefits.
HODGSON: I was confident because I’d done well at my previous job with the Finland national team. We’d come close to qualifying for Euro 2008, which would have been their first major championship. I even got the Finnish equivalent of a knighthood!
MURPHY: Sometimes a manager earns respect because he has played for top clubs but that only has a short window.
HODGSON: I got some advice from Don Howe early in my career. I asked him what the difference between being a household name and someone like myself without a good playing CV. He said ‘10 games’. In other words, they might dodge the sack for an extra 10 games, but ultimately all managers have to do the job properly.
MURPHY: You are similar to Mauricio Pochettino in that you work to improve players rather than go for easy excuses about lack of signings.
HODGSON: At Fulham, Mohamed Al Fayed was in a position to spend some money and we signed the likes of Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora, Mark Schwarzer, Zoltan Gera, Damien Duff. We haven’t had that luxury at Palace because a lot had been spent before I arrived.
People point the blame if a club doesn’t spend money but it has to be more nuanced than that. Buying players is not the be-all and end-all. Of course money is important and you have to invest if you want to compete in the Premier League but I share Pochettino’s philosophy of trying to make the players you have better. Fulham spent a lot of money last summer but come January, they feel they need to sign more because they are not satisfied with the 20 they already have.
MURPHY: I don’t adhere to the idea that the modern players are more egotistical and don’t want to learn.
HODGSON: I think players are more professional now. Rather than be wary of sports science, nutrition, psychological help, they are open to it and that’s made them better. Every year the league gets that little bit harder because the players are more skilful, dedicated and athletic.
Games are harder to win now than ever. We don’t seem to come across teams without a clear plan or players who understand the game.
You should never fall into the trap of thinking everything was better before. You have to embrace new things, not dismiss them. I don’t feel my age. Like players, I work harder now to make sure I am at the level I need to be.
MURPHY: Communication and man-management were always your strengths. It’s not about age or the music you like. You’d be out training every day. Do you still do that?
HODGSON: Absolutely. In all weathers. You’re right about players. It would be a mistake for coaches to reach out about their social lives, I don’t think players want that. What they may want is a word to help with their situation in the team.
MURPHY: Have you seen a progression from last season at Palace?
HODGSON: We are about the same points-wise but I do think we are a better team. It’s just everyone else is too! Last year we were more heavily reliant on Wilf Zaha to turn games.
MURPHY: In 2009, in this news-paper, you told Sir Bobby Robson you hoped to continue as a manager for five more years! Are we going to be interviewing you as a manager five years from now?
HODGSON: There is no need for time limits, but I am pragmatic, I wouldn’t want to be clinging on to a job unless a club really wanted me and I still had an effect on players. I delegate a bit more these days, I’m lucky to have Ray Lewington, Dave Reddington and Dean Kiely with me.
I am quite critical of myself, I analyse whether I have put on the right training sessions. But I’m not like the old communist regimes — I don’t think in five-year plans!
MURPHY: It must have been tough when you were sacked by Liverpool at the start of 2011. Yet 34 days later, you were back for more, at West Brom.
HODGSON: I was fortunate. West Brom came twice, the first time I said I didn’t think I was ready. But they persisted, I met this very enthusiastic technical director Dan Ashworth who sold the club to me and then I met owner Jeremy Peace. It would have been a mistake not to take it. It’s like Fulham, I was on my way somewhere else when they came in. Suddenly you have a choice. It was lucky for me.
MURPHY: It was lucky for us! You saved us from relegation and two years later we were playing Atletico in the Europa League final.
HODGSON: It was a wonderful time. I spent my 60th birthday in Finland just before a 0-0 draw against Portugal. Who would have thought I’d still be managing in 2019!
MURPHY: Atletico beat us in extra-time. If we’d have got to penalties, we’d have won because of Mark Schwarzer, even though David de Gea played for them!
HODGSON: I reached the UEFA Cup final with Inter in 1997 but our run with Fulham was much tougher. We played Shakhtar, Juventus, Wolfsburg and then Atletico.
MURPHY: And you had the biggest honour, managing England.
HODGSON: It was hard to find a job afterwards that felt right after four years with England. It’s a lot to live up to. But Crystal Palace was the right club at the right moment for me. With me coming from south London, it had this feeling of going full circle.
MURPHY: Palace hadn’t picked up a point when you arrived last season but I always thought you would keep them up. I’ve always taken an interest in Luka Milivojevic because we played in a similar position.
HODGSON: The comparison with yourself is apt because he’s good on the ball and also works hard. Your midfield partner at Fulham, Jimmy Bullard, was a very talented boy but lacked a bit of discipline! Luka is a bit luckier in that respect.
He’s underrated outside the club, but not by us. We have been able to add a couple of players in the last couple of transfer windows who will make a difference. You can’t stay in the middle of the Premier League, where we want to be, without investment.
You have to be careful with loans and understand why clubs are prepared to let you have their players. It did work last season when we got a talented young player in Ruben Loftus-Cheek who played games for us and went back to Chelsea last season as an England international because he was that good.
MURPHY: We started this chat by mentioning Bobby Robson and Fergie. What was your relationship like with them?
HODGSON: Very good. Bobby took me on my first FA coaching exam would you believe, funnily enough just up the hill here in Crystal Palace. He was a young player-manager at Fulham and we had this close affinity over the years.
With Alex, I stood behind the goal in the rain in Gothenburg when his Aberdeen team beat Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup-Winners’ Cup final. So I can say I was there!
It’s nice to be mentioned in the same bracket but I don’t compare myself with them. I’ve spent time in countries where the standard of football is nothing like here. All I can boast is that I’m about to manage in the Premier League at an older age!