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In my head, son

A couple of months ago, the former Test cricketer Ed Smith wrote a piece for this magazine about English football’s problem with its managers – managers of the England team, that is. For decades, Smith observed, the national game has been locked in a self-destructive dialectic in which successive incumbents of the “impossible job” (s0 called by Graham Taylor, who did it between 1990 and 1993) have been replaced by men whose principal qualification for the post was that they were “the opposite of the last bloke”.

Kevin Keegan, for instance, was a tub-thumper rather than a tactician, who once told Paul Scholes before a European Championship qualifier to “go
out and drop hand grenades all over the pitch”. Scholes was sent off in the first half. When it didn’t work out with Keegan, the FA hired Sven-Göran Eriksson, an apparently cerebral Swede who turned out to be a guileless ingénue fatally in thrall to the cult of Beckham. Then came the unfortunate Yorkshireman Steve McClaren who in turn gave way to the Italian autocrat Fabio Capello.

When Capello resigned in February, it looked as though the pattern would continue. The press presumptively anointed Harry Redknapp as Capello’s successor, largely on account of his being, as Smith put it, a “charming cockney” who “‘understands’ us, the English”.

In the infantilised world of English football, Redknapp’s way with a quotable bon mot counted for more than his tactical acumen. Harry gave the journalists his mobile number and was always ready to wind down the window of his motor for a chat, so they overlooked his slender palmarès – a single FA Cup win in nearly 30 years of management – and the failure of his Spurs team to land a blow on either of the Manchester teams at the summit of the Premier League.

But, to the consternation of the denizens of the Redknapp-media complex, the FA have looked elsewhere, to the West Brom manager Roy Hodgson, “affectionately known,” the Redknapp-supporting Sun told us, “as Woy, due to his speech impediment”.

Hodgson, a polyglot with coaching experience in several European leagues who also took the Swiss national team to the 1994 World Cup, is the
anti-Redknapp – taciturn where “Harry” is loquacious, obsessively attentive to tactics and strategy where Redknapp flaunts his indifference to them (another reason he appeals to English football’s lumpen tendency).

Vive le Roy

Much has been made of Hodgson’s rarefied literary tastes and an unnamed friend’s description of him as an “old-school socialist”. His views on the common ownership of the means of production are not a matter of public record but his theory of team-building is. A Swedish academic study of his coaching style once noted that, for Hodgson, the team is a “series of combinations and compositions” moulded into an “organic totality”. Now, you can’t imagine anyone saying that about good old Harry’s Spurs.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The Science Issue