False contexts & sulky hysteria: Why Roy Hodgson deserves to keep his job 0

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When something goes wrong with a football team, the default response is for the supporters and the media to demand the manager’s sacking.

Why?

Because it’s so easy.  If you’re not really sure of what the problem actually is, then removing a coach and and his backroom staff is a fail-safe blanket response.  It’s far simpler than looking at production channels, player attitudes, or domestic infrastructure.

And that’s really why there are people clamouring for Roy Hodgson’s job.

The press is a different matter; we’ve already seen the Neil Ashtons and Martin Samuels of that world publicly demand Hodgson’s dismissal, and part of that attitude has to be attributed to generic media sulking.  Neither of those journalists were really in a position to fully explain England’s failure at the World Cup, but it’s post-tournament tradition: if the national team fail to exceed expectation, certain writers will always feel compelled to take that position.

Is it sincere?  No, probably not, but I understand it - newspapers need headlines and definitive statements, and if you work for The Mail that is what you are seemingly obliged to provide.

There are two ways of looking at England’s elimination.  The first is simply to declare that falling in the group stage - irrespective of the opposition - is a catastrophe, and to judge performance purely on tournament progression.  The second, however, is more healthy and involves accepting that the side probably underperformed but that the standard of opposition mitigates the failure.

No, Uruguay are not a special side, but they beat England because of two fantastic goals scored and created by two very special players in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.  Similarly, although Italy maybe aren’t what they were in 2006, they are one of the most streetwise sides in the international arena and, as such, a loss to them is never really unexpected.

Think back to when the draw for this World Cup was made: what was your initial reaction to that group?  If you expected England to progress through it, then you were probably letting your heart rule your head - at best, England might have squeaked through in second-place, but the consensus was very much that our players would be touching-down at Heathrow before the knockout stages began.

So at what point between now and then has such defeat become so wholly unacceptable?

I like Roy Hodgson, I like him as a man and as a manager.  Over the course of these last two years - and remember that he has only been in charge for two years - he’s done an efficient job in guiding England to a series of objectives.  Euro 2012 was very much managerial par for him, the World Cup qualifying campaign was ultimately successful, and while early elimination in Brazil is clearly disappointing for all of us, it does not represent clear under-performance.

Maybe there’s a case for saying that the side’s exhilarating-yet-doomed display against Italy harmed Hodgson by why of creating artificial expectations.  A cynical public saw their side play with a novel fluidity and that unleashed all the old demons of anticipation - England really tried to play, and that caught us all unaware and created a false context for the Uruguay defeat to be judged.

It’s all subjective of course, because I can’t possibly speak for the expectations of an entire nation, but that does seem to be in-play here.  We were very negative before this tournament, we assumed we were going out early, and then because we got a flash of potential we feel aggrieved at an outcome which was very predictable.

Roy Hodgson isn’t really in the same category as recent England managers who have been dismissed.  He hasn’t been indulged for as long as Sven Goran Eriksson, he hasn’t become the PR nightmare that Glenn Hoddle was, and he hasn’t seen his relationship with the press deteriorate a la Fabio Capello.  He’s done a solid coaching job on a limited squad, he’s introduced the next generation of players - and trusted them to start - at a refreshingly early stage, and his leadership has provided no opportunity for press shenanigans.  He is, to use a clumsy metaphor, a capable chef working with ASDA-standard ingredients - he’s not going to win any Michelin stars, but he can be trusted not to poison you.

Sacking him would be an absurd overreaction to what, in Brazil, was essentially an unfortunate series of events.  Three of the four goals conceded by England at this tournament have been the result of one or more individual results, and that’s not something you can pin on a manager.  Maybe if this was a Premier League team and those errors persisted over the course of a six-month period you would be justified in asking questions of the coaching staff, but not in this instance - if Leighton Baines doesn’t get hopelessly knotted-up by Candreva in Manaus and if Steven Gerrard doesn’t have one of the most error-prone games of his career in Sao Paulo, then maybe England would have got through this group?  These are very fine margins and England just fell on the wrong side of the ledger this time around.

Losing is always be difficult to take, but let’s react to it sensibly and with cool heads - and not with this bawling, context-ignoring, toy-chucking hysteria that we’ve become so adept at.

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