‘I don’t think about Iceland – who cares?’
Hodgson defiant as he takes charge at Palace 15 months after England debacle, says Jason Burt
Four hundred and forty four days after Roy Hodgson, rheumy-eyed and exhausted, sat and uttered the words: “I don’t know what I am doing here”, he was back. Then he was exiting as England manager, with a final ignominious press conference, having overseen the most brutal of failures at Euro 2016. Now he is in charge of Crystal Palace and feeling emboldened to declare that the club’s supporters would care little about what happened with England should he keep them in the Premier League.
While accepting that “careers are defined by small moments” and that his four years with England had ended horribly with the crashing defeat by Iceland, Hodgson was defiant.
Despite the scars, he insisted he was not damaged. “First of all, I’m not interested in Iceland,” he stated. “We’re going down a route which I’ve said, reasonably politely, is a past chapter. Who cares? You might. A lot of the Palace fans reading this, the ones who interest me, what does it say about me, my team? There might be people in Carlisle who’d like to know that, but I’m in south London, Beckenham.”
South London and proud, as the Palace slogan goes.
That “who cares?” line might come back to haunt Hodgson and it did sound unnecessarily abrupt, given the magnitude of his failure and the fact that this was his first press conference since England cleared out of their base in Chantilly, near Paris, the afternoon after the Iceland debacle.
Then, Hodgson looked mentally as well as physically broken and although he said he had watched the game again, he has not done so for about 14 months, adding emphatically: “And I don’t want to watch it now. It’s got no relevance to my work”.
Speaking at Palace’s Beckenham training ground, ahead of today’s lunchtime kick-off against Southampton, Hodgson certainly appeared healthier. He is “absolutely” convinced he can keep the club up despite their disastrous start having lost their first four matches, which led to Frank de Boer’s sacking.
“It would have been unusual if I had not felt [shattered] that day,” Hodgson recalled, having endured a sleepless night on the return from Nice. “I and my coaching staff cared very deeply. We had high hopes of going a good way into the competition. To lose in the way we did against a team many thought we should have beaten… that was a bad day. But it’s well over a year ago now.
“Careers are defined by small moments. Nothing I can say or do will change that. I can’t look back with satisfaction with not progressing at tournaments in the way we’d have liked. But it’s a chapter that’s finished, in the past as far as I’m concerned, and now it’s a chapter in the book of life opening for me, and one I’m looking forward to. One I’m hoping brings joy to the fans of Crystal Palace. That would be special because I am a Croydon boy and didn’t leave here until I was 24 years of age.
“I’ve had lots of time to get my mind back on track, and it didn’t take me a year. It took less. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to come along.”
Hodgson has followed a daily regime at a gym near his southwest London home.
Returning to Palace is, maybe, the completion of the circle for Hodgson, who is now 70 and who was born less than a mile from Selhurst Park. After his globetrotting career he is well aware of the moment. “It couldn’t have been a better offer for me really, going back to my roots, the club I’ve supported from afar,” he said. “I suppose when I was a child, my dreams were playing for the club. I would have accepted managing them if I wasn’t good enough to play for them. It’s been interesting, the journey, from south-west London to Beckenham and Selhurst Park, going past some familiar old places.”
That was as relevant for England as Palace with Hodgson saying he did not consider retiring. He wanted to carry on. “It’s a drug that gets in your veins and stays there,” he said. “This is my first full-time employment in football for a year. I’m better for that. I’ve always been waiting and hoping for the offer and opportunity to take on a club at a level I want to work at, and something that will really test me and give me the opportunity to use the experience and hopefully the ability I’ve got as a football coach. This one came along and I had absolutely no hesitation in accepting.”
Palace will hope they are getting the Hodgson of Fulham (2007) and West Bromwich Albion (2011), both of whom he saved from relegation. “Where does it sit in the challenges I’ve faced?” Hodgson said. “Difficult question. Fulham I had 18 games, West Brom 12 games. This
‘I have had lots of time to get my mind back on track. I have been waiting for this chance’
is a 34-game season [now]. We’ve had a bad start, and we’ve handicapped ourselves by not taking any points from the first four games. But I’ve said to the players already that our focus is really on May, not the end of September. I believe the team will stay up. Absolutely. I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t believe it.”
If he does that Hodgson will hope to have restored his reputation – even if he did not want to admit that. With a two-year contract, though, will this be his final job? “At the moment I’m feeling as good as I’ve ever felt,” Hodgson said. “You can’t tear up your birth certificate, but it’s how you feel. Whether it’s my last job, I don’t know. I want to keep Palace up and develop Crystal Palace, along with the chairman and the owners, to try and make us an even better Premier League team.”
Back to his roots: Roy Hodgson is all smiles as he returns to his local club, Crystal Palace