Hodgson for England?

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson...one of the most astute thinkers of the game in England today.-AP

Roy Hodgson is emphatically the real thing, not just a figure head of a manager but, as his Fulham players attest, a supreme coach. Over to Brian Glanville.

At the age of 62, after Fulham's remarkable progress in the Europa Cup, their manager Roy Hodgson is being canvassed as a possible manager of England. Not to mention the endorsement of none other than Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson as manager of the year. I am fully in agreement with such eulogies, with one proviso. I thought Roy, whom I have known for many years, should have been made the England manager as long ago as 1994 when, against all the odds, he steered the Switzerland team all the way to the World Cup finals in the USA, having given mighty Italy a fearful fright in the qualifying group.

The Europa competition itself has justly been derided as an ill conceived, over populated, absurdly long drawn out mess. You might even call it Platini's folly as it was the distorted brainchild of the former French international star. Grotesquely overpopulated with minor teams — which seems to be Platini's confused idea of democracy — it has obliged Fulham, the resilient little West London Club, to keep playing and travelling since last July. Often to remote Eastern European places. And, more recently, all the way across Europe to Hamburg by land, because of the withdrawal of air traffic, thanks to the Icelandic ash.

In the course of their progress to the final, in Hamburg as it happens, against Atletico Madrid, Fulham have had to knock out the likes of Hamburg themselves, mighty Juventus and Roma. By ludicrous contrast, Atletico Madrid are in the final, having been knocked out of the senior competition, the European so called Champions Cup. A farcical indulgence, a carry over from the now dead UEFA Cup. Had Liverpool managed to squeeze past Atletico in the semi-finals they, too, would have been a club previously eliminated from the UEFA Cup.

Roy Hodgson is emphatically the real thing, not just a figure head of a manager but, as his Fulham players attest, a supreme coach. This I was able to see and admire when he was managing Internazionale of Milan, back in 1997, while Giacinto Facchetti, then an assistant director, previously the formidable attacking left back for Inter and Italy, watched in admiration. Giacinto, as we watched, marvelled at the enthusiasm and intensity with which Hodgson trained his troops. Time, said Giacinto, simply stood still for Roy, so passionately did he become involved in his coaching.

Yet the beginning could scarcely have been less promising. Bringing to mind the words of little Arrigo Sacchi, once manager of Milan and Italy and no kind of player, that you didn't have to have been a horse to be a jockey.

The son of a Groydon — a township on the edge of South London — bus driver, Roy played for a number of local, senior amateur clubs, and had a spell playing in South Africa. He quotes Don Howe, former Arsenal and England full back and manager; coach to England's team as saying that having been a successful player gives you your first ten matches.

Roy won the esteem of Facchetti when he was managing Sweden's Malmo. In successive seasons, they encountered Inter in the European Cup, narrowly losing to them, the first time, but knocking them out, the second time. It was an other English coach, Bob Houghton, who took Hodgson to South Africa and then to Sweden where he managed Halmstad for several years, before taking charge of Malmo, having in 1982 won the Swedish 2 {+n} {+d} Division championship with Orebro.

At Malmo, he won the Swedish Championship five years in a row, and revelled in the tolerant, placid atmosphere of the Swedish game. Though there had been an uneasy interlude, when he followed Houghton back to England and Bristol City and found himself in charge and severely out of pocket, when the club went bust.

Things were so different from Sweden when he moved to Switzerland, to manage Neuchatel, under a volatile Italian owner, whose demands could make life difficult.

But he did well enough there to be appointed the manager of the Swiss national team, where he had more success. In the World Cup finals of 1994 in the USA they thrashed the talented Romanian team, but lost to Colombia. Then he piloted the side to the finals of the European Championship in England in 1996.

Inter came in for him and for a while the Swiss Federation allowed him to manage both the national and the Italian team together, only, to his bitter disappointment, to replace him with Portugal's Artur Jorge. After which a radical change of tactics saw the Switzerland team decline.

At Inter, all was not sweetness and light. How could it be, in the maelstrom of Italian football?

Roy began very well, restructuring the tactics of his side, but just before the following season opened, he was already at odds with the local Press, somewhat strangely incensed by the fact that Inter were being canvassed as favourites for the Scudetto, which, he felt, put them under excessive pressure.

Not long afterwards, he furiously upbraided the Milanese journalists for what they'd provocatively written about him, saying that, in future, he would conduct his interviews in English not in Italian. But although in due course he would depart for one of his few unsuccessful spells at Blackburn Rovers, he was always held in high esteem by Massimo Moratti, the Inter patron, who would call him back on occasion to supervise the club.

More recently, he had an impressive spell as manager of Finland, with whom he all but qualified for international finals. At Fulham, last season, he saved the club from relegation by a whisker, winning the very last game at Portsmouth.

This season, despite a five-game losing sequence, he has forged a remarkable team, reactivating the careers of players like the now prolific striker Bobby Zamora, and the shrewd, former Liverpool midfielder, Danny Murphy, spending but a fraction of what the richer clubs do on shrewdly acquired players.

Not the least of them the blond, elegant Irish international winger, Damien Duff.

He has managed to establish a good relationship with the hugely controversial Fulham patron, Mohammed Fayed, the owner of the famous Harrods store, who still cannot get a British passport. So to Hamburg and Atletico.