A Swedish football journalist visited Roy Hodgson in his office at West Brom earlier this season, and was surprised that the calendar on his desk was yellow and blue. The Swedish FA had sent it to him, and Hodgson had not just taken it out for effect: he used it every day.
This was just one detail in the coverage of Hodgson’s appointment as England coach from one of the countries where Hodgson had previously coached. He began his career in Sweden, speaks Swedish, and went to Sweden last summer to see their 5-0 Euro 2012 qualifying win over Finland, another of his former sides. “I follow the Swedish players on a regular basis through various contacts,” he told Aftonbladet, who wondered if Harry Redknapp had done the same.
Hodgson may know his Jonas (Olsson) from his (Olof) Mellberg, but his appointment has not been universally praised in Sweden, who are England’s second opponents in Group D this summer. Robert Börjesson, a columnist for Expressen, said that Hodgson was a good choice from a Swedish point of view.
“Hodgson’s expertise is organising teams but that has never been England’s problem,” he wrote. “Their Achilles heel has been dealing with nerves, media pressure, and the under-performance of star players at big tournaments. Harry Redknapp would be best at inspiring tired and whining English divas. I can already hear John Terry complaining about boring training sessions.”
It was a different view from Peter Wennman in Aftonbladet. He suggested that Hodgson would have taken the job for free (and it is interesting that his salary has not been mentioned at all, unlike Capello’s and, you might imagine, Redknapp’s). “The expectations on England won’t be high this summer and ‘Underdog’ is Roy’s middle name,” he wrote.
From Sweden, Hodgson moved to Switzerland, where he coached Neuchatel Xamax and the national team, reaching the 1994 World Cup from a group containing Portugal and Italy, and Euro 96, achievements he still rates among his best in the game. “He may present himself to the outside world as a bon vivant, who likes nice suits and says he is too old to drink bad wine, but in his work but he has lost none of his irascible side,” warned Thomas Schifferle in Tages Anzeiger.
Hodgson’s appointment has been big news over there, where he is remembered fondly. Just a few weeks ago, he gave an interview to Radio Television Suisse looking back at his time coaching the national team. “I don’t think there are any Englishmen with such broad experience of how football works outside of their island. That cannot be such a bad thing,” said RTS’s David Lemos. “Can England [afford to] snub a man like Hodgson? What have they achieved with bigger names?”
Inter Milan was his next stop in 1995, during a period of upheaval in the club’s history. It says something that, nearly 20 years after he took that job, club president Massimo Moratti publicly congratulated Hodgson on his latest achievement. “Being chosen by the FA is the highest honour for an English coach, but in the case of Hodgson it is also just reward for a sincere and generous man who can be considered a true friend of Inter,” said Moratti in a statement released by the club.
Gazzetta dello Sport were not quite so generous, pointing out that Hodgson, who was Moratti’s first appointment as coach, “sacrificed Roberto Carlos and lost an easy Uefa Cup final” [to Schalke in 1997].
After a return to Switzerland at Grasshoppers, Hodgson moved to Danish side FC Copenhagen, where he won the league with Thomas Myhre in goal. “I have nothing but good things to say about him. His philosophy, structure and leadership impressed me greatly,” said Myhre. “I don’t think Copenhagen would have won the league without him.”
He spent two years coaching the United Arab Emirates, helping them qualify for the 2004 Asian Cup in China where they finished fifth out of eight teams. “Football at the national team level is all about good results and he couldn’t achieve them,” Khaled Awadh, former FA general manager, told The National newspaper.
He then moved to Viking Stavanger, where his team-talks had players in hysterics. “Hodgson is by far the funniest coach I’ve ever had,” Frode Olsen told Sporten 2. “In addition to being a brilliant football coach, he has a unique approach to the group. He captivates and motivates the players before every session with a long stand-up show.”
Before returning to England, Hodgson coached Finland and, with an ageing side in Euro 2008 qualifying, came the closest they have ever been to making an international tournament. Drawing 0-0 in four of their last five qualifiers (they also drew 0-0 with Spain during the same run) ruined their chances, but his former players had no doubt he would succeed in England.
“It didn’t take more than a few weeks in Finland for the players to understand what he wanted,” said defender Hannu Tihinen, while Jari Litmanen added: “Hopefully this will lead to England’s long-awaited breakthrough to the very top becoming reality now. At least Roy Hodgson has a clear vision of how success is achieved.”
One player who may have mixed emotions at the appointment is West Brom centre-back Jonas Olsson, the Swede who is expected to start against England in Kiev in six weeks’ time. “He’s so good at organising teams and getting everyone to pull in the same direction,” Olsson told TT, “and he’s amazing at inspiring players.”