Roy Hodgson announced at the end of the 2020-21 season that he will be parting ways with Crystal Palace after four years of managing his boyhood club. Since his arrival in September 2017, the managerial veteran has guided Palace to their highest tally of recorded points during the 2018-19 Premier League campaign. Meanwhile, he also overtook Sir Bobby Robson as the oldest man to take charge in the English top-flight at the tender age of 71 years and 198 days, consolidating his status as a war horse of the dugout.
An emotional Roy Hodgson finally opened up about the conjecture surrounding his decision to leave the club in an interview with Sky Sports. “It’s been a particularly rewarding period of my football life and career to have been able to spend these last four seasons with Palace. I feel now that at the end of another successful season, in which we have secured our Premier League status, the moment is right for me to step down from my responsibilities of being a full-time manager.”
This statement came just days after it was rumoured that Frank Lampard might be the leading candidate to replace Roy Hodgson at Selhurst Park following his untimely dismissal from Chelsea in late January. Hodgson’s life in the dugout all began 45 years ago when he was assigned as head coach of Halmstads BK. Only a year prior to his arrival, the Swedish side were loitering perilously close to relegation but managed to elude the drop by mere goal difference. It seemed almost inevitable that Halmstads BK were going to fail under the Englishman, given his rather insufficient managerial expertise. However, in a remarkable turn of fortune which was later dubbed ‘the water-into-wine job’, Hodgson won two league championships in 1976 and 1979.
He enjoyed a five-year incumbency at Halmstads BK before departing back to his native England in 1980. There he took over from his dear friend Bob Houghton as manager of Bristol City. With the club in financial tatters, Hodgson was tasked with seeing out the remaining fixtures until he was eventually dismissed after just four months. Though his efforts at Bristol City were unavailing, Hodgson had been handed a poisoned chalice due to the sheer number of players leaving under his command.
In light of the metamorphosis he prompted at Halmstads BK, it seemed only appropriate that Malmö would be Hodgson’s next destination. With a proven repertoire in their domestic league, the Brit was keen to continue from where he had left off. Within the space of five years, Hodgson lifted two Swedish Championships, two Swedish Cups and five league championships, proving beyond all doubt that his first triumph was not merely a fluke.
Besides expanding his trophy cabinet, the most notable achievement of Hodgson’s time in Sweden was the tactical influence he imbued in their football. Formally known for its stubborn application of man-marking, Hodgson revolutionized Swedish football by introducing a 4-4-2 zonal marking system. This stylistic tweak allowed for his teams to counterattack much faster while also keeping a watertight defensive unit. Many other coaches across Europe also adopted this style of play including Sven-Goran Eriksson after recognising its benefits. These days, almost every team in the domestic top-flight use zonal marking. In fact, 15 out of the 16 teams that reached the Champions League knockout stages in 2004 did so by implementing Hodgson’s philosophy.
After a successful jaunt in Sweden, Hodgson departed for the shores of Italy in 1995 when he took over at Inter Milan. Unlike Malmö FF and Halmstads BK, the Englishman had a prodigious transfer budget at his disposal to strengthen his squad. At the time of Hodgson’s arrival, Inter Milan found themselves at the bottom of Serie A. However, true to his reputation for remarkable turnarounds, Hodgson’s side precluded a washout campaign by finishing the season in seventh place – just enough to qualify for European football.
The following year saw the Italian giants progress through to the UEFA Cup Final against Schalke 04. With a stellar line-up of players including Paul Ince and Javier Zanetti, Inter Milan were strong favourites to lift the trophy once again, especially given their extraordinary record in cup finals throughout the years. Yet it was the German underdogs who prevailed over the two-legged affair in what proved to be Hodgson’s final game in charge of the club. Hodgson was subjected to a hailstorm of coins thrown at him following the fulltime whistle from the 80,000 home fans. Although this was not the celebratory farewell Hodgson would have hoped, he is still held in high regard by the club president, Massimo Moratti.
“Roy Hodgson was an important person in the development of Inter Milan,” he stated. “He saved us at the right time. He didn’t panic, he was calm and made us calm. Disaster was averted at the most important time. Everyone at Inter will remember him for that and his contribution.”
There is much to be admired about Hodgson’s longevity at the touchline, but even more impressive was his ability to maintain that same level of avidity throughout his career. Where many other coaches grow weary after just a few seasons of intense duty, the Croydon-born tactician knows nothing but to persevere. Over the course of four decades, Hodgson was appointed by fifteen different clubs across the globe – everywhere from the San Siro to the Stadio Friuli.
No manager ever goes through their career without experiencing their fair share of adversity – least of all someone who has been around for as long as Roy Hodgson. Despite retained five consecutive league crowns with Malmö FF from 1985 to 1990, where he is still lauded by their fans as a managerial icon, the same unfortunately cannot be said for his time at Liverpool.
His appointment in July 2010 was greeted with ambivalence from the Anfield faithful, especially considering that Kenny Dalglish was initially favoured to take over the manager’s chair after Rafael Benítez’s withdrawal. Following a spate of poor results which also saw them crash out of the League Cup against League Two side Northampton Town, Liverpool found themselves in the midst of an early relegation battle. With the pressure mounting to deliver better results, Hodgson eventually lost the dressing room as told by Daniel Agger in 2016. “I completely lost my desire to come to work because his training sessions were really hard to get through – not physically but mentally.” It wasn’t long before Hodgson decided to step down by “mutual consent”.
But like any great manager, Hodgson did not let his tempestuous spell in Merseyside discourage him from continuing at the highest level. Barely a month had elapsed since his departure from Liverpool and Hodgson was already embarking on his next managerial crusade with West Bromwich Albion. After recognising his talent for getting clubs with frugal resources to perform above expectation, the Baggies were desperate to win his signature. When Hodgson first joined their ranks in February 2011, West Brom were careening toward disaster having lost 13 of their previous 18 games under Roberto Di Matteo. However, thanks to an impressive upswing in form, the Baggies finished the season in 11th place – their highest league finish in over thirty years.
This achievement was enough to catch the attention of the FA over the vacant England job. Having already managed Finland and Switzerland national teams, it made sense that Hodgson was the prime aspirant to replace Fabio Capello. However, his time with England was anything but a fairy-tale. What should have been a molehill of a campaign in Euro 2016 turned into an absolute catastrophe. Though England progressed through the group stages, albeit only second after drawing with Slovakia, they were knocked out by Iceland in the round of 16. This was arguably the nadir of Hodgson’s otherwise copybook managerial career – losing to a nation which had more active volcanoes than it did professional football players.
In keeping with his nomadic nature, Hodgson handled this shame in the only way he knew best: moving to another club. If he was to leave behind his days of management, he was certainly going out on his shield. His appointment at Crystal Palace in September 2017 was ultimately the last roll of the dice to negate his humiliating woes with England.
Despite getting off to a shaky start – losing his first three games in charge – Hodgson inspired yet another upturn in form with a 2-1 victory over London neighbours Chelsea. That same season, Palace netted five goals against Leicester City’s defence to finish 11 points clear of the relegation zone.
It was never going to be easy keeping the South London side from relegation, especially with their limited transfer budget and depleted squad depth. However, the homegrown hero has managed to secure their safety for four consecutive seasons now. This was all achieved with the lowest net spend of any club in the Premier League over the last four years.
In an era where football clubs are turning in favour of younger upcoming coaches over seniority, Hodgson has demonstrated that a man of his age still has what it takes to compete against his younger counterparts. Although his teams have not always played the most attractive football, Hodgson’s ability for getting clubs to thrive without the need of prodigal spending cannot be ignored.
If there is anything to be learnt from Roy Hodgson’s immense career, it’s that perseverance brings great reward. Following his tough stints with both Liverpool and England, many would have expected Hodgson to bow out of the dugout earlier. However, Hodgson has made a career of steadying ships in the worst of storms.