"I've been doing this job for almost 36 years and you learn an awful lot of things," said Roy Hodgson when he was officially unveiled as manager of West Bromwich Albion yesterday and held his inaugural press conference. And for a moment, as he spoke, it felt unpleasantly as though he might never have left Liverpool. Still, it's hard not to laugh, at least a little bit, when you discover he's already added his time at Anfield to those original thirty-five years at Malmo and Grasshopper and with the Swiss national side as though it's some massive achievement tacked onto the resumé. Now there's an extra six months--mostly spent dragging Liverpool down the table and being loathed by the supporters, sure, but still six more months of experience--that he can point to should anybody dare question his managerial quality.
When asked about the way things ended with Liverpool, he continued: "It hasn't dented my belief or confidence but I can't lie and say it didn't hurt me or I didn't care. I've had an awful amount of praise and when you get the opposite it's not something you necessarily embrace."
I'm not sure "awful" is the best word he could have picked there, but away from the spotlight that is Liverpool he may be able to get away with the odd foot-in-mouth moment without quite so many waiting to pick his ramblings apart. Still, I'm sure everybody will be pleased to hear that those nasty Liverpool fans couldn't dent an ego stoked by sycophants in London and the praise of wonderful British managers like Big Sam and his good friend Mister Alex. Oh, and that LMA award he got, since it's not like they don't usually hand them out to some middling member of the old boys' club who has ever so slightly over-achieved that year.
My condolences to any West Brom fans who might be out there reading this, then. At least the ones who have grown attached to a club that tried to play attacking, attractive football under Mowbray and Di Matteo. Normally the worst you might expect to pick up on Valentine's Day is chlamydia:
Whenever a club changes manager mid-season, there's always an element of risk involved because the new man inherits a group of players who have worked with a different manager in a different way.
It takes time. There is no magic wand or gold dust you can sprinkle on the players and make them better.
You become a better team by working on the training field and hopefully taking that into the match-day arena.
For all that he now includes his time with Liverpool as part of his grand experience, it seems he didn't learn an awful lot from his recent mistakes, as he's already spouting the same deflective lines many will remember well: they aren't my players; it takes time; there's no magic wand. And all before he's even managed a match with the Baggies. Add in reliance on a tightly drilled unit of joyless defensive robots, a punt here and a hoof there, stir, and wait for rumours that the club is eyeing some immobile target-man for the summer window. When the news first broke, The Offside's resident West Brom blogger was, needless to say, less than impressed:
While he may succeed in moving the team up the table, and thus keeping them in the prem, is it really worth it to sacrifice what has taken so long to build? I enjoy watching West Brom football because of our attacking flair. I don’t want our club to turn into another Stoke, there are already enough of them out there.
When you haven't managed your first match and the fans are already sarcastically calling you Uncle Roy, it's fair to say the luster has worn off the Europa League runners' up medal.
And it's hard not to feel at least a little bad for them, as in their own way along with clubs like Bolton and Blackpool they'd built a reputation for trying to play football the right way, and by and large their supporters didn't harbour any grand delusions. They knew it would be a struggle; knew they might end the year back in the Championship. But they'd made it this far playing the right kind of football, it was about building a side that over the longer term might work their way up the table playing an attractive brand of football, and for many that was worth the possibility of setback when compared to the unpalatable option of reaching for the dull drudgery of Roy Hodgson's thirty-five years experience. Particularly when those years of experience don't suggest their new manager's ways are especially compatible with the club's current players.
Then again, there are surely some who believe that even if Hodgson improves their chances of survival by ten percent at the cost of what had been their long term attempt to build a solid Premier League side that played up-tempo, ball on the floor football, then so be it. Forever Stoke, and who cares if it's no fun to watch. Presumably the owners fall in this category, though whether or not they're wise to believe Hodgson actually boosts their odds of survival is another question entirely.
For most reading the Liverpool Offside, though, it's a chance to put one last nail in the coffin that was Roy Hodgson's regrettable six months at the helm. In a lot of ways, many had largely written him out of their mental histories already. Now, having been officially unveiled somewhere else to a somewhat less fawning press and another fairly skeptical group of supporters, he's off the market, no longer "former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson," and officially somebody else's problem.