As we lurch through our purgatorial existence we encounter people who test our patience with their all-encompassing self-regard. You know the sort well enough -- beguiled by the sound of their own words and convinced of their centrality to everything, these are the sorts of individuals whose egocentricity and narcissism, were they to be harnessed, could probably power a small village.
The only redeeming feature of such tiresome blowhards is that they are easy to spot and therefore easy to avoid. The danger occurs when that same level of pomposity and conceitedness is concealed beneath an outer layer of affability or bonhomie. With his avuncular line in chit-chat and anachronistic speech patterns, Roy Hodgson managed the unique feat of enchanting the entirety of Fleet Street. Hard-bitten jaundiced hacks, their souls no more than shrivelled husks, melted at the sound of Hodgson's outwardly polite warbling.
You see, Roy was different to those pretenders Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson. He read actual books. He used multi-syllable words. He treated them like friends (unless they came from Scandinavia, with cruel taunts about the reality of his time there). Roy told tales of his vast experience in the leagues of Northern Europe, he likened himself to some travelling sage, cruelly cast aside by the unthinking Merseyside masses and how he'd overcome that slight to find himself, finally, sitting in the England manager's seat. It was his right, you see, his due, his entitlement. And his fawning sycophantic friends, the most widely read of Britain's journalists, bought it. In fact, they trumpeted this paragon of English virtue, just as they always had done.
Liverpool fans, myself amongst them, were massively underwhelmed when Roy Hodgson was appointed as manager of our club, and yet many of us afforded him the courtesy of witholding judgement and allowed him time to settle. His recruitment was the first thing to cause alarm but eventually, as results went awry, the genteel Forties throwback exterior began to peel away and a nastier, self-interested and self-regarding Hodgson emerged.
This Roy was only too eager to throw his players under the bus rather than assume even a modicum of blame himself. This Roy criticised fans and chummed it up with Alex Ferguson instead of protecting his employer's interests when the Dark Lord of Mancunia went sniffing around Fernando Torres. This Roy was not the urbane football man of the media construct. This Roy was a survivor who had clung to the periphery of the top tier by having an overarching interest in self-preservation, safe in the knowledge that there were influential media sorts who would perpetuate the narrative of his choosing.
After his wretched and demoralizing tenure at Liverpool, a spell attaining solid mediocrity (that most Hodgsonian of traits) at West Bromwich Albion was enough to rehabilitate the former Fulham boss to such an extent, that that most discerning and erudite of bodies, the English FA, offered him the job of national team manager. Some of us did double-takes only to then smile quietly and realise that it was, in fact, the perfect meeting of minds. Roy Hodgson and the FA were made for each other; no, they deserved each other.
I bear my many English friends no ill will, as they will know all too well, but they'll forgive me for saying that it was a treat to imagine the kind of circus that would ensue as Hodgson took charge of the England team with all its attendant unrealistic expectations. For the likes of Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson, I am pleased that England did not fall at the first hurdle and managed to comfortably qualify for Rio, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that at least some of my pleasure is derived from the fact that I will have a front-row seat for the England at the World Cup under Bloody Roy Hodgson Show in June.
It wasn't enough for Roy to simply bask in his bizarre elevation to the highest rank in the land. It wasn't enough for him to take the occasional mean-spirited and spiteful swipe at Liverpool from his London stronghold. No, the man who notoriously made experience equate to excellence seemed hell-bent on breaking the entire Liverpool first team. In fact, in the case of Daniel Sturridge, he seems to have done it twice. Any remorse Roy? Any regret at having impacted so negatively on the biggest club to have offered you the chance to lead them? Any anxiety that the players you will rely on to be mentally strong in the summer may be damaged by a disappointing club season?
"They are better getting injured now, to be honest."
This is an actual quote from the actual England manager inspired by the plight of Daniel Sturridge and Liverpool. One struggles to comprehend the full self-interested arrogance of it, the utterly dismissive and insulting attitude to the club in question. International managers, by definition, are a rare breed and tend to be forced to exist in an unrealistic realm in which all causes must give way for the greater glory of the country. Yet even the egotistical likes of Giovanni Trapattoni will at least pay lip service to the primacy of the club. Roy Hodgson, undecorated yet unabashed, doesn't play by those rules.
When Daniel Sturridge loyally reported for England duty carrying a knock, Hodgson did not applaud his moxy. Instead, he sniffed an opportunity to push the barriers and indulge in an embarrassingly self-gratifying test of loyalty. The England manager had been irked by the audacity Sturridge had displayed previously by being injured when required by his country. In a display of shocking pridefulness, the Great Tactician decided that he would examine the Liverpool striker's devotion to the three lions, and by extension, to him.
"Dan has pulled out of a few matches with us for injury reasons," Hodgson insisted. "The first game he played, he got injured. It was important for me to, if you like, test his resolve a little bit. I suppose you could argue we did put his resolve a little bit to the test. I might have been guilty of putting that resolve to the test, but I don't apologise for it. And I am delighted he did get out there, even though he maybe himself didn't feel 100 per cent because that means in future I will know I can trust him as an England player and he is not going to be playing when he feels like it -- he is going to be playing when he's fit to play."
Stunning. Simply remarkable. Witness, dear reader, the words of a man who has finally shown his true colours. Roy Hodgson, it seems is the final arbiter of a man's character. It is he who will decide upon the veracity of Sturridge's words and the earnestness of his intentions. These things cannot be left to the mere mortal himself. Only Roy's divine intervention can ensure an honest outcome. You see, Hodgsonian curiosity must be sated. He must not feel even the merest slight. Should he perceive any wavering in the loyalty of one of his
subjects players, he will smite him, to hell with the collateral damage.
I've rewritten this piece a few times, each time hewing the sharp edges off the vitriol of my words. Like many Liverpool fans, I cannot abide Hodgson and the media myth behind which he cozily resides. Finally, as the wee small hours ticked past, I decided to eschew rage and adopt a weary tone. The whole situation is darkly comical and yet I cannot shake a deep resentment of this charlatan and his most recent offence against my club.