When Roy Hodgson’s England side limped out of Euro 2016, following an embarrassing defeat to Scandinavian minnows Iceland, it seemed as though the writing may be on the wall for the career of the veteran manager.
Looking visibly upset as he sat in front of the media reading a hastily scribbled resignation statement, the BBC pundits were quick to stick the boot into Hodgson.
Alan Shearer scowled: “That was the worst performance I’ve ever seen from an England team. Ever. We were out-fought, out-thought, out-battled and totally hopeless for 90 minutes. It looked to me like Roy was making it up as he was going along”
His co-pundit, Jermaine Jenas, piled in: “He didn’t know his best team or system. His loyalty to players has cost him his job. It was a horrible way to go out of the tournament.”
At the age of 69 and having just left the most pressurised job in world football to widespread derision from pundits and media figures, the smart money seemed to be on Hodgson finally calling it a day. Having managed 19 different clubs in Europe and the Middle East over an incredible 37 year career, did he really need to prove anything else? Or would the comfort of retirement prove too much of a lure?
“The smart money seemed to be on Hodgson finally calling it a day.”
A year later we got the answer. Crystal Palace sat bottom of the league with no points or goals from their opening four matches and Frank De Boer paid the price, becoming one of the fastest managerial casualties in Premier League history.
Having unsuccessfually flirted with an exciting, exotic, foreign name, Palace did a u-turn and went for old-fashioned British organisation and appointed Roy Hodgson, who had begun his playing career at the club having been born in Croydon. Fitting then that they would became job number 20.
The turnaround wasn’t immediate. It would be another three games before Palace would score or win, taking their goalless and winless run to seven, the worst start in the history of the division. However, when Hodgson’s men become the first side to inflict defeat on defending champions Chelsea in the eighth game, it seemed as though the tide was finally turning. Palace lost just four of their next 18 matches.
After such a terrible start, it was a huge mountain to climb and they found themselves in the relegation zone as late as March. However, taking an incredible 13 points from their final five matches, they eventually finished 11th. One of the most remarkable escapes in Premier League history was complete and it is one that will give Watford hope yet.
“One of the most remarkable escapes in Premier League history was complete and it is one that will give Watford hope.”
Since then, what Hodgson has achieved is gobsmacking. The following summer, Palace spent under £10 million on transfers, bringing in Cheikhou Kouyate from West Ham as well as Max Meyer and Vicente Guaita on free transfers. Hodgson led them to 12th.
Fast forward to this summer, their outlay was even lower, paying £2.5 million for Jordan Ayew and an undisclosed fee for James McCarthy as well as signing Gary Cahill on a free transfer. Indeed, Palace actually made a net profit having sold their second best player, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, for £50 million. Wan-Bissaka, incidentally, was promoted to the senior side by Hodgson the previous season. He was never replaced.
Palace were widely written off, and tipped for relegation by some, due to their lack of investment. Yet, after a third of the season, they temporarily sit fifth in the table and are above Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal.
One remarkable statistic is that since Hodgson took over, Palace haven’t paid a single transfer fee for a defender. Yet only Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City have kept more clean sheets during that period.
Simply put, what Hodgson is doing is a miracle. In an age where clubs are increasingly turning to young, progressive managers and the supposed football dinosaurs are gradually becoming extinct, the 72-year-old is outfoxing all of them. Indeed, he is just ten years younger than Eddie Howe and Frank Lampard combined. Age seems to be no barrier though and every day he continues at the club, the record for oldest Premier League manager creeps up in tandem.
With huge financial limitations placed on the club, Hodgson keeps polishing stones into diamonds, as shown by the imperious form shown by the much derided Jordan Ayew this seasons and him turning the free signings of Gary Cahill and Vicente Guaita into two of the best bits of business in recent seasons.
A miracle worker though he may be, even Hodgson will only be able to take Palace so far without an increased budget. However, when he finally departs and does succumb to retirement, the job he has done in South London serve as inspiration to all clubs trying to establish themselves in the top flight.
That is, of course, making the assumption that this job will be his last. With Hodgson you just never know.