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23 September 2017

Roy Hodgson is back in the Premier League at 70 – how will he fare?

We won’t mention England.

By Hunter Davies

I do like it when young men get a chance, when their career appears to be over then bingo, they are back at the top. I often look back at my own incredibly long and wonderful career and think: who would have thought it, wow, at this age still playing for England. Metaphorically. Still turning out loads of books and national newspaper columns, even at the great age of 81.

So well done Roy Hodgson, a mere stripling of 70, back in the Premiership with Crystal Palace. I felt sorry for him when at his first press conference all the hacks went on about his age, being the oldest manager ever to be appointed to a Prem club. “You can’t tear up your birth certificate,” he said, sagely, “but it’s how you feel.” So wise. Since he got the push from England, he had “missed the day-to-day contact with players”.

I remember a stage in my career when I suddenly missed journalism – the smell of the grease paint, I mean the ink. The roar of the crowd, sorry, the copy-takers, yelling: “Is there much more of this?” So I went back and did some jobbing journalism.

Roy is probably the most-travelled English manager, having worked in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Italy, and managed some top clubs, such as Inter Milan and Liverpool.

We won’t mention England. (Or Blackburn, who sacked him.) He certainly doesn’t, refusing to talk about it at his press conferences. He lasted four years, until that appalling performance against Iceland, which knocked England out of  Euro 2016.

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Yet I have always liked him, admired his standards. No scandals, dodgy deals, back handers, like many managers.He is not money mad, like Mourinho, doing advertising for those nasty flash watches.He is not an egotist, preening and posing like Mourinho, or a big head like Brian Clough. He does seem humble, self aware.He has a cultured interior, likes films and theatre, reads good novels (Updike and Philip Roth are favourites), speaks several languages.

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His experience will help him. Much stupid technical stuff has come in since he first managed – regiments of video analysts assembling masses of stats that prove what any decent manager can see with his own eyes.

Handling players is still much the same. They have always been spoilt and indulged. We, the fans, can’t tell their true individual personalities, but we know that in every squad there  will be a moaner, a slacker, a malingerer, a cocky bastard, a nervous wreck, a scallywag who is having a bad influence on younger players…

Despite all the modern diets and disciplines, psychiatrists and life coaches, there are still gamblers, sex maniacs, the half- witted and the easily tempted, who drink while driving, fight, get caught in the small hours with women not their wives.

There were more of them in the past, but they still exist, though mostly these days they are Brits. Hence there are not quite as many. Foreign players tend to be more sensible.

The scallywags are tolerated because often they are talented, vital to the team, score goals, make killer passes, are leaders and inspirers on the field. Roy will have seen them all, will detect signs early doors, being so experienced, so mature.

So is he going to do well at Palace? No chance. I fear he could be gone by Christmas.

Since his last appearance in the Prem, with West Brom in 2012, we have seen a slightly new breed of manager-shouters and screamers. Klopp at Liverpool and Conte at Chelsea, standing on the touchline working themselves into a rage. Does it do any good? Players can rarely hear a word, but the sight of one’s manager frothing at the mouth does galvanise.

Roy doesn’t do that. He slumps on the bench with his frog-like face and Chicken Licken neck, fingers stroking his lips. That was the worst part of the Iceland humiliation. Roy did nothing, just sat there.

He’ll be out, mainly because Palace are a rubbish team. Experience won’t help him. Shame. Good old men still in work are hard to find…