An interview with Roy Hodgson, by Callum McFadden for WFi.
During your career in football – which we will come to shortly – you have learned to speak five different languages. Have you always had a passion for languages and culture from a young age?
“I would not call it a passion but at school, I was much more on the arts side than the science side.
“I studied French and Latin at school which we were obliged to study in those days.
“I did not have any real mastery of French until I lived in Switzerland if the truth be told because we were not taught in a conversational style.
“The other languages that I have learned have been through necessity because I needed them to be able to communicate properly in the countries that I worked in.
“I learned each language in different ways. Italian was the most difficult for me because I never had any formal lessons. I learned Italian by listening as I went along and it is by far and away the worst grammatically that I speak as a result.
“The languages in which I am truly fluent are English, French and Swedish. With the others, I can converse in terms that are linked to football rather go too far outside of that.”
You have had great success managing in Scandinavian football at club level in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. You won titles with two different clubs in Sweden and with FC Copenhagen in Denmark. What inspired you to move to Scandinavia and how do you reflect on your spells with Halmstads BK and Malmö in particular?
“What got me to Sweden was the offer of a job when I was really young at Halmstads BK in 1976. I had played football in South Africa then had just returned home to the UK and was playing in non-League football while also coaching PE at a school in London.
“Then, suddenly this offer came in from Halmstads BK. It was tough to give up what I was doing but I also wanted to grasp the opportunity to become a full-time coach in the top division of Swedish football.
“The club had narrowly survived relegation the year before I arrived. It could have been seen as a hopeless task because I believe many other Swedish managers turned the job down because they did not think that the job was doable.
“I went in more naively at that stage of my career because I was happy to be offered such an opportunity.
“What happened after that meant a lot to me as we won two titles in five years, the first title was one in our first season which was a Cinderella story in Sweden. Akin to Leicester winning the Premier League if you like.
“Of course, I am not suggesting that it was the same level of achievement as Swedish football is not the Premier League but in terms of how that title win was looked upon, it was similar.
“I had jobs at Bristol City, and Orebro SK back in Sweden after moving on from Halmstads BK before taking the Malmö job in 1985. My time at Malmo was a wonderful time as we won five league titles in a row and win the cup twice.
“It was a golden period and led to me going to manage in Switzerland and then Italy. Malmö was the catalyst for launching my career to a more well-known level so I owe both Halmstads BK and Malmö an awful lot for the success that I had over in Sweden.”
You have managed one of the biggest clubs in European football history at Internazionale on two occasions. What was it like to manage in Serie A during a time of real quality in Italian football at the time?
“Inter Milan was my first opportunity and experience of managing a club where the spotlight is on you every single minute of the day and night.
“Even pre-season friendlies are scrutinised with enormous interest. I had never really had that before in my career although I did have a lot of experience coaching and managing players.
“The political side — mass media and the pressure from anyone who appears to be near the club — was new to me at that time and it was an important experience to get given how the rest of my career would pan out.
“I was lucky that the chairman of the club, Massimo Moratti — and Giacinto Facchetti who was his right-hand man — really took me under their wing and supported me.
“The players were also good because they took to the work that we were doing and helped me through my time at the club.”
What was it like to walk out into the San Siro as Inter Milan manager at each home game?
“Unfortunately, I fear that when you are in a job, a lot of those wonderful experiences which should be indelibly printed on your memory such as walking out at San Siro are not there because you solely focused on the game ahead, the tactics that you have employed and the opposition that you are facing.
“It is a privilege to be in that position but in the heat of the moment, you do not really take in those wonderful moments. It is only now upon reflection that you start to realise what momentous occasions they were.”
You have extensive experience managing at international level with Switzerland, the UAE, Finland and England. How does international football compare with managing at club level?
“Apart from the actual coaching, which is the same as it is at club level albeit with a shorter timeframe due to the international breaks that are spread out across a season, it is very different.
“You actually have more choice of who you want to work with because at club level, you walk into a club and you inherit between 25 and 35 contracted players. All of whom are under contract, which you cannot do much about.
“You can try and move players on that are not going to be in your plans to generate money to reinvest in recruiting your own players but that can be easier said than done.
“At international level, you also do not have to deal with agents to any great extent and you are able to invite the players to the national team that you believe are the right players for you which is not the case at club level.
“The actual job is the same in terms of working with the players and your staff to win football matches albeit without being able to build the same sort of bond that you can at club level due to the time constraints of the international breaks.
“As a result, the job becomes somewhat more ambassadorial because you are representing the nation you are in charge of as a footballing nation in many different capacities.
“You become a figurehead for the nation’s football, which is not the case at club level because no matter how big the club that you are managing is, within the country that you are in there are other high profile clubs.
“The nature of the fans is also different at international level. At a match for one of the Manchester clubs or Merseyside clubs, the fans at the game will still mostly be Mancunian or Liverpudlian.
“Whereas at international level, the fans in the stadium may be majority local to a given area where the game is but the result impacts fans across the full nation.”
Staying on the theme of international football, how did managing your native England compare with managing other nations? Does extra emotional investment come into play at all or did you approach the role as you normally would?
“I tried to approach the England job in a way that I normally would but, of course, it is the greatest honour to be invited to manage the nation’s football team of your native country.
“I was very much aware of that. I was also aware of this honour when I was in Switzerland and Finland but not being Swiss or Finnish, I would admit that I felt it more when I was managing England.
“That being said, I still invested all of my time to succeeding with Switzerland and Finland just as a Swiss or Finnish manager would have done for his country.
“One can’t deny that being offered the job of managing your native country is a different feeling because you grow up dreaming of playing for England which I was not able to do as a player.
“So, when the opportunity arises as a manager, it is an important moment in your life as a whole, not just your footballing life.”
One of your most memorable jobs in football management was at Fulham whom you led from fighting a relegation battle to the Europa League final in just two and a half seasons. What were the key factors to that turnaround and how proud are you of what you achieved at Fulham?
“It was a very big achievement. There is no doubt about that.
“It was down to a management structure that supported me. I worked with two CEOs in David McNally and Alastair McIntosh with whom I had great relationships.
“Mohamed Al Fayed was the owner of the club and he put a lot of responsibility on both CEOs to run the club financially and in an administrative sense.
“That support then filtered down to me and my suggestions were taken on. Fulham was probably the only club that I managed in England — to some extent, also West Bromwich Albion — where I was able to recruit players that I wanted to work with and who I thought would make the team better.
“My time at Crystal Palace was also excellent and the support there was very good too but there was not a lot of money to buy players.
“What we were able to do was okay and I was very much involved in the recruitment process despite us not being able to afford players that could make a vast difference.
“Thankfully, that changed last season under Patrick Vieira. Palace have been able to recruit players to improve the squad and increase the chances of success.”
You have managed many world-class footballers such as Ronaldo Nazario, Javier Zanetti, Steven Gerrard and Roberto Baggio to name just a few. What is it like as a coach when you are working at great teams with world-renowned individuals like those? Do you have to manage them in a particular way at all?
“Looking back, I should have treated them in a different way than I did.
“I only worked with Baggio and Ronaldo for a short time in my second spell at Inter. Around three and half months.
“It was at the end of Baggio’s career when the club was in a little bit of turmoil.
“Unfortunately, Ronaldo was injured while I was at Inter. Of course, I could claim that I worked with the great Ronaldo but we did not have the chance to work together often due to the new injury that he suffered at the time which subsequently ended his career in years to come.
“When working with top players, one should do them the service of recognising that their talents are greater than others within the team.
“Of course, you still treat everyone fairly and with respect equally but you cannot suggest that every player is of equal importance within a football team because we know that if you lose one or two key individuals that it can make a massive difference.
“A team that is challenging for a title can easily fall closer to mid-table if they lose two of their key players.
“Fellow players also recognise that. They know that everyone has to be treated fairly but that there are different levels of leeway granted to players because you have to make sure that your top players are happy and want to be at your club. Otherwise, everyone loses if they leave and your team becomes a weaker group.
“Respect has to be shared equally and professionalism has to be shown by all equally too. Although, you do sometimes need to be more tolerant of behaviour at certain times from your star players because your intolerance can create unnecessary conflict.
“You do not want to create a conversation of who is more important: the star player or the manager, because anyone that has worked in football at a high level knows that football players win football matches. They are the most important pieces in the chess set that is the football club.”
Last but not least, Roy, given your extensive experience as a manager and head coach, I have to ask you about working with a strong backroom staff. How important is it to strike a balance between leading by example as head coach and being able to delegate to your staff? Did your approach to this evolve over the course of your career or remain relatively similar?
“My approach has evolved over the years.
“At Halmstads BK, which was my first club, I did not have a staff. I was then given an assistant manager who was appointed by the club.
“He was from the sports platoon of the local army barracks and although he was a wonderful help and foil for me, he was not hired for his footballing knowledge because football was not his first sport nor did he have any footballing qualifications.
“I rarely had the luxury of building a staff that I wanted until relatively late at Fulham. For example, I inherited staff at Blackburn who I had a strong working relationship with and who were great.
“I was fortunate that the staff at many of the clubs that I worked at were very good and that I inherited them when I got there.
“When it comes to delegation, I paid more attention to it as my career progressed. I realise that I should have delegated much more even at Fulham.
“I would recommend to any manager who is putting their own staff together to delegate especially if you are selecting coaches with particular strengths and talents.
“It is imperative that they are given the room to showcase those talents and that is something that I have been able to do much better in recent years.
“However, as I say, I have not always been able to choose a staff that I particularly want. It has been more of a case of me going into a job that I want to do and inheriting staff whom I then build relationships with in order to allow them to jump on board with me. That has been the case for the bulk of my career.”
As a life long Fulham fan I have the utmost regard for Roy Hodgson, this interview has added to that. What an insightful, intelligent and humble man Hodgson is, well done for bringing those qualities to the fore.