Roy’s re­turn

Hodg­son keen to look to the fu­ture as he lands at Palace

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Roy Hodg­son was as polite as ever and even of­fered his re­sponse through a chuckle but, as his first me­dia con­fer­ence back in club man­age­ment stretched be­yond the half-hour, it was easy to pin­point the mo­ment his pa­tience snapped. The drip-feed of ref­er­ences to Nice, Iceland and a night he would rather for­get had been in­ces­sant. He had al­ready ad­mit­ted that “ca­reers are de­fined by small mo­ments and noth­ing I can say or do will change that”. He had even con­ceded that he had dared to re-watch the panic grip­ping in the Al­lianz Riviera “but not for about 14 months, and I cer­tainly don’t in­tend to watch it back again now”.

It was only when he was asked what his im­pres­sions had been as he re-viewed that ig­no­min­ious de­par­ture from Euro 2016 un­furl on his tele­vi­sion screen, his au­di­ence push­ing for one last glimpse of colour or lin­ger­ing re­flec­tion, that the shut­ters came down. Enough was enough. “Look, I’m not in­ter­ested in Iceland,” said Hodg­son through a smile that betrayed a hint of un­der­ly­ing ex­as­per­a­tion. “We’re go­ing back down a route which I’ve said, rea­son­ably po­litely, is a past chap­ter. Who cares? You might. There might be peo­ple up in Carlisle who’d like to know that. But at the mo­ment I’m south Lon­don. I’m here in Beck­en­ham. A lot of the Crys­tal Palace fans who will be read­ing this, the ones who in­ter­est me most of all, will want to know what Roy Hodg­son is say­ing about Crys­tal Palace. What is he say­ing about the job? About our team? That Iceland game has gone and has no rel­e­vance to my work now.”

Eng­land’s most well-trav­elled coach re­turns to the dug-out today back at the club where, in his youth, he had peered out as a teenager from the Holmes­dale End ter­race. Where he had mar­velled at Johnny Byrne’s scor­ing ex­ploits in the old Di­vi­sion Four or, un­der flood­lights for the first time, in April 1962, drooled as Al­fredo di Sté­fano, Fran­cisco Gento, Ferenc Puskas and Isidro Díaz González scored for the mighty Real Madrid in a 4-3 friendly vic­tory at Sel­hurst Park. He has re­turned to the club where he once as­pired to make his name as a player only for his ca­reer, still in its in­fancy in the mid-1960s, to lurch in­stead into Ken­tish non-league foot­ball with Ton­bridge An­gels, Gravesend & North­fleet, Maid­stone United and Ash­ford Town.

The son of a Croy­don bus driver re­turns at 70 with his rep­u­ta­tion pre­ced­ing him, a 40-year coach­ing ca­reer that has claimed eight league ti­tles at three clubs in Swe­den and Den­mark and in­cluded the top job at In­ter­nazionale and four na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions. There were 56 games in charge of Eng­land and a fine qual­i­fy­ing record but in­tense frus­tra­tion at three ma­jor tour­na­ments. The mem­ory of Hodg­son in the wake of the Iceland de­feat is of a man greyed by the whole ex­pe­ri­ence, a fig­ure di­min­ished and wea­ried. He had splut­tered through that des­per­ately un­com­fort­able press con­fer­ence back in Chan­tilly on the day af­ter the night be­fore, won­der­ing pub­licly why he was be­ing made to en­dure this last hu­mil­i­a­tion.

“It would have been un­usual if I had not felt [shat­tered] that day,” he said. “My­self, my coach­ing staff and the play­ers cared very deeply. We’d had high hopes be­cause we thought we were a good team ca­pa­ble of go­ing a good way into the com­pe­ti­tion. To lose as we did against a team that, on many oc­ca­sions, we would have beaten … what can one do other than look shat­tered? That was a bad day.

“The press con­fer­ence came af­ter a sleep­less night. But it’s well over a year ago now. I’ve had lots of time to get my mind back on track and it didn’t take me a year to do that. It took a lot less than that.”

The pe­riod since has been taken up with con­sul­tancy work with City Foot­ball Group, spend­ing time at Mel­bourne City “as a men­tor for the young coaches there”. He de­clined the chance to ap­pear on Strictly Come Danc­ing, as well as some ten­ta­tive ap­proaches to re­turn to man­age­ment, but bus­ied him­self in­stead with me­dia com­mit­ments in Qatar or lec­tur­ing on the game. He hit the gym and be­lieves he is four or five kilo­grams off his weight from his play­ing days. He looks leaner, even younger, cer­tainly less world-weary – and re­vi­talised. “I’ve not had many pe­ri­ods away from foot­ball in the last 40 years, so I’m hop­ing this year will have re­ally recharged my bat­ter­ies and recharged the en­thu­si­asm and de­sire to do the job.

“Words like re­demp­tion mean noth­ing to me. I’m just re­ally pleased that [the Palace own­ers] Steve Par­ish, Josh Har­ris and David Bl­itzer de­cided I can be the man that Crys­tal Palace need. When the call came [from Par­ish] my thoughts were what a great op­por­tu­nity, what a great chance, back in Croy­don, back in the Pre­mier League.

“There couldn’t have been a bet­ter of­fer for me re­ally: go­ing back to my roots, at a club I’ve sup­ported from afar, al­though I’ve sup­ported other clubs when I’ve been work­ing for them. What I’ve found in the last cou­ple of days is how much I’ve missed the day-to-day con­tact with the play­ers. I al­ways felt I could do a good job, can still con­trib­ute, so if a po­si­tion came along at the right level, I wanted to take it. This is it.”

He re­turns to a Pre­mier League even more money-flushed than when he had flour­ished with Ful­ham, floun­dered at Liver­pool and ex­celled with West Bromwich Al­bion be­fore his four-year ten­ure with the na­tional side. The implications of tum­bling out of the top-flight are even more dis­as­trous, the en­vi­ron­ment even more bru­tal than it ever was. Palace had un­der­taken a month-long re­cruit­ment process over the sum­mer as they sought a suc­ces­sor for Sam Al­lardyce, sift­ing through 37 ap­pli­cants – Hodg­son was one, and the man­ager of today’s op­po­nent, Mauri­cio Pel­le­grino of Southamp­ton, an­other – be­fore set­tling on Frank de Boer. And still the Dutch­man lasted 77 days and four top-flight games in charge be­fore Par­ish and the Amer­i­can ma­jor share­hold­ers felt com­pelled to wield the axe.

The team are point­less and goal­less at the foot of the di­vi­sion, yet there has been wide­spread out­rage at the brevity of De Boer’s reign – those who had wit­nessed the plod of his two home games in charge

‘When the call came my thoughts were what a great chance, back in Croy­don, back in the Pre­mier League’

might be slightly less sym­pa­thetic – cit­ing it as ev­i­dence as much as the lu­nacy of the Pre­mier League as the board’s flawed due dili­gence. “I tend to see it as some­thing which re­flects the pres­sures on own­ers to keep sat­is­fy­ing the fans and to keep their teams in the league,” said Hodg­son. “It’s some­thing which is, quite sim­ply, a fact of life.

“Noth­ing has changed in the sense that foot­ball is a re­sults-based busi­ness. That was the case many years ago. But with the amount of money in the Pre­mier League, that side of it is ex­ac­er­bated. My job is to come here, do a good job every day on that train­ing field and make cer­tain this team re­cov­ers the con­fi­dence it’s lost af­ter four straight de­feats. To get them­selves back on the track they were on at the end of last year and the year be­fore that.

“It’s the same group of play­ers. It might even be a slightly im­proved group given cer­tain sign­ings. So I’m con­fi­dent they won’t let the fans down and I’m also con­fi­dent, strangely enough, al­beit I have no right to say this, that the fans will stay with us, back the team, suf­fer and share our plight. But they won’t aban­don us.”

Hodg­son’s own first four games are daunt­ing. Manch­ester City, Manch­ester United and Chelsea await af­ter the visit of Southamp­ton. The club’s most po­tent at­tack­ing player, Wil­fried Zaha, re­mains in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion from a knee in­jury while the ma­jor sum­mer sign­ing, Ma­madou Sakho, still lacks match fit­ness and is un­likely to fea­ture.

Hodg­son and his coaches, Ray Lew­ing­ton and Steven Reid, have had two full train­ing ses­sions to stamp some early ideas on the set-up but, af­ter the at­tempt at rev­o­lu­tion in­sti­gated by De Boer, at least the team will be sent out com­fort­able with ev­ery­thing be­ing asked of them.

As Hodg­son sug­gested – “It’s very dif­fi­cult to im­pose a style if you don’t have the play­ers who are com­fort­able with that style” – a level of com­mon sense has re­turned. “We’ve only be­gun our work here. But I be­lieve the team will stay up. Ab­so­lutely.

“I’m feel­ing as good as I’ve ever felt. You can’t tear up your birth cer­tifi­cate but it’s how you feel. There were times in my 40s when I felt a lot less phys­i­cally and men­tally adept do­ing this job than I do today.

“I’ve signed a two-year con­tract. I want to keep Palace up and de­velop them, along with the chair­man and the own­ers, to make us an even bet­ter Pre­mier League team go­ing for­ward. It’s Crys­tal Palace, Crys­tal Palace, Crys­tal Palace from now on in.”

And, he might have added, it would be nice to leave Nice be­hind.

‘What I’ve found in the last cou­ple of days is how I’ve missed the day-to-day con­tact with the play­ers’

New man on a mis­sion Roy Hodg­son has had two full train­ing ses­sions to bring his ideas to a Crys­tal Palace side that have lost all four of their Pre­mier League games Crys­tal Palace FC

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