What a couple of weeks for the disenfranchised manager! Okay, it’s a relatively small clique, but the point still stands, baby! Sacked as manager of Liverpool and singled out as a fraud a year ago, Roy Hodgson has just taken on the highest paid poison chalice in world football! (Manager of Team England, duh.) Roberto Di Matteo, sacked to make way for Hodgson at West Bromwich Albion, has reached the Champions League final with Chelsea and already captured an FA Cup winners’ medal! Football: Bloody hell!
It’s quite the turnaround (though I may still come to regret all those exclamation marks when I read this back.) Fifteen months ago, Hodgson was not only dismissed as Liverpool manager, he was dismissed as a manager who couldn’t do it in the big time. Di Matteo, likewise, was widely tagged a naive lightweight who couldn’t cope with the serious Premier League game. And yet here we are. And it’s no fluke either. Hodgson has been gifted the biggest chance of his career quite simply because his time in charge at West Brom made him the only sensible option for Team England. Similarly, Di Matteo’s time at Chelsea has exemplified the pragmatism some reckoned he lacked, dealing brilliantly with the treacherous Neanderthals in his dressing room despite witnessing their various betrayals. Both have twisted their career narratives well beyond what you’d have put any money on a few months before it actually went and happened.
In doing so, they’ve also made interesting cases for second chances; for the realisation that managing a football team and failing once probably shouldn’t have you counted out for good. According to the Hodgson and Di Matteo formula, sometimes the circumstances are right for success and sometimes they’re ripe for failure. Who knew, eh? This might be worth looking into further. By me? Why, yes—hence the article.
The gloomy periods from which Di Matteo and Hodgson have now emerged are easier to read than they were at the time. Looking back to his Unfortunate Incident at Liverpool, Hodgson was stuck in perpetual competition with the belligerent shadow of Kenny Dalglish: a difficult tangle in which Dalglish was always going to emerge the winner, despite what has gone on since at ‘Pool. At West Brom, Di Matteo was dealing with a board already tainted by at least (by my count) twenty relegations in the five seasons preceding his arrival: he was sacked a bit quickly as a result. It’s arguable the timing was off, and that was all there was to it.
Failure in one job didn’t make for a manager incapable of performing well elsewhere, then. Is someone high-up noting all this down? For Hodgson and Di Matteo, initial failure only really exposed a poor combination of circumstances. Given new conditions in which to operate it’s difficult to say who’ll succeed and who’ll blunder into an informal but carefully adhered to relegation-pact with Blackburn Rovers and Steve Kean, but to say two men who clearly carry around more intelligence than most of their peers put together are destined to fail based on just one sample has been exposed as rather bad science, rather quickly.
So this is what progress feels like? Probably not, actually, because one of the best antidotes to that bad science is trust, and there’s not much of that going around in football. (Or anywhere else, in fact: another publisher turned down my memoirs this week. They’re mad. ‘Ethan Dean-Richards: Sexual Icon and All
Round Good Guy’, written entirely in free verse, would be a tremendous success, I’m almost certain.)
Trust hasn’t suddenly begun to spread like a bout of innovative thieving in a student house. Hodgson and Di Matteo’s success only really speaks about their own very particular career-paths and not a football world really ready to see past simple equations about what makes for good and bad managers. Hodgson, after all, was required to re-prove himself at West Brom before being given his big England chance and Di Matteo has found himself in the manager’s seat at Chelsea rather than being actively put there (there was no coronation; no specially commissioned yacht; no nothing.)
Perhaps, and we can but hope this is the case, these two are the vanguard, establishing the way for more managers whose potential has been obscured by past failures. It’s far more likely, however, that they will be one-offs, because football doesn’t seem to learn anything very well. Some people with power, still, for instance, choose to employ Sven Goran Eriksson despite his repeated and increasingly bizarre failures. David O’Leary will probably be linked with big jobs long after his death. And some people even continue to listen and ask for Alan Shearer’s opinion on a range of football-y subjects. These things don’t suggest a great aptitude for learning, do they?
Nah, Hodgson and Di Matteo are far more likely to be the exceptions than the new rule. Nevertheless, good luck to them, as with anyone else who gives football’s unwise-wisdom the kicking it deserves. It’s been a good few weeks for two good guys. Now I’m off to push the ol’ memoirs! And to try and drop the exclamation mark habit! I’m down to ten a day!