GRAMDespite Roy Hodgson’s longstanding love of literature, he no doubt wished the final chapter of his managerial career would have a happy ending. Unfortunately, it is not to be. After a nomadic and eventful existence that spanned four decades, with 17 clubs and four international teams, the 74-year-old will retire this summer as the man who oversaw Watford’s second Premier League relegation in three seasons. It has been a tough ending and for Hodgson there is the prospect of a brutal twist.
Watford sit 19th, 12 points from safety with four games to go, and will be down if they fail to beat Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday afternoon. Given that they have only won two of their previous 23 games and are up against a team that is vastly superior even though they have stagnated a bit since last month. FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea, the odds of them emerging victorious are slim, to say the least. So this is likely to be it for Watford and when the final whistle blows and the home crowd sings for the demise of a rival, their manager may well reflect on how much has changed so quickly. After all, 12 months ago he was receiving adulation from Palace supporters for having announced his departure from the club after four years as manager. Taking over his childhood team had been a “fairy tale” and back then he couldn’t have imagined that his return would be under such terrifying circumstances.
“I’m really looking forward to coming back,” Hodgson said on the eve of the game. “The reception I get could be different because I don’t think watford he has always been one of Palace’s favorite opponents. I don’t expect them to run out and hug me with open arms. But I’d like to think Palace fans know Ray’s job. [Lewington, Hodgson’s assistant coach] and I did it for them.”
It was undoubtedly a good job, with Hodgson steering Palace to 11th, 12th, 14th and 14th places having taken over when the club found themselves goalless, meaningless and directionless. after the Frank de Boer fiasco. Likewise, the time was right for both sides to go their separate ways and for Hodgson that was supposed to mean calling it quits. Instead, he responded to Watford’s SOS in late January, or as he put it, “the siren’s song of the siren when the sailor passes by in his ship” – after they found themselves in 19th place having burned two other managers in Xisco Muñoz and Claudio Ranieri since his return to the top flight. Hodgson was confident he could keep them but, if anything, things have gotten worse, with Watford losing a record 11 successive home games and generally displaying a lack of leadership, defensive sense and attacking courage.
All of which begs the question; Does Hodgson regret taking off his slippers and returning to the managerial fray? “My only regret is that it didn’t work out the way I dreamed,” he replied. “But I don’t regret taking the job and I don’t regret that the farewell wasn’t like Crystal Palace. I have been in this profession for 46 years and I have come to see if your illusion and ambition is that every time you leave a job you are lifted off the ground on your shoulders, then you are very naive and stupid.
“At times the team has been quite tough and I think there has been a change in the way we play. The biggest regret is that it hasn’t delivered the number of points we needed to stay up: we put a lot of hopes into our forward players, but they haven’t been able to produce their best performances.”
Hodgson announced this week, shortly after receiving a CBE for services to football, that he hopes the end of the season will truly mean the end of his time as manager. His contract with Watford will end and there is no desire to look elsewhere. It’s time to put his family and his well-being first, something that was highlighted Thursday when Hodgson revealed that he had shingles, which is why he wore sunglasses during last week’s loss to Burnley.
Yet for the man who started training in Halmstad in 1976 and has gone as far as the United Arab Emirates in search of work because there’s no way to kick the habit, Hodgson suggests he might be tempted to return to football if work suitable was available. “If one of the top three clubs suddenly decides it has to be me and they won’t accept anyone but me, who knows, I might have my arm sprained,” he said, apparently only half joking. “But I’m not looking for a new arm twist. I look forward to a break and maybe another niche to keep my brain active and feel like I have something to offer. That [role] It will have to develop over time, really.”
That is for the future. For now, it comes the end of a difficult campaign for everyone involved at Watford and for its manager, the 14th to be appointed by owner Gino Pozzo in the last 10 years, an especially notable trip to south London.
“There will be excitement,” said Hodgson, who revealed he dined with Patrick Vieira shortly after the Frenchman succeeded him at Selhurst Park. “He was overwhelmed with the farewell not only from the fans, but from the club itself. I only have good things in my memory about Crystal Palace.”