Hodgson likely to ride out the storm – until after the World Cup anyway

Difficulties of managing at international level shown by the midweek treatment of England’s manager and our own Noel King

RTÉ’s long-serving soccer pundits Eamon Dunphy and John Giles

RTÉ’s long-serving soccer pundits Eamon Dunphy and John Giles

Sat, Oct 19, 2013, 02:00

These are idiotic times for the beautiful game in both Ireland and England. Ireland’s World Cup dreams have been reduced to the sad gun-slinging between RTÉ’s football grandees, Messrs Giles and Dunphy.

It’s true they’ve done the state some service but there have been times over the past two weeks when the pair bore an uncanny resemblance to Muppet characters Statler and Waldorf. It may have been unintentional but there was the whiff of snobbery – an anti-League of Ireland bias – in the language used to disparage Noel King’s selections against Germany and Kazakhstan this week.

As John Giles pointed out to the boys on Newstalk the other evening, once King accepted the position of interim manager, then the RTÉ panel was duty bound to analyse his team selection and performance as they might do anybody else. It was a fair point: to fire out platitudes about King would have smacked of condescension.

Still, King was in an exceptional position: coming in cold to coach a team badly lacking in confidence and only too happy to put this campaign behind them having received a jovial vote-of-no-confidence by the CEO of the FAI before the games were even played. Everyone knew that unless Ireland somehow beat the Germans 3-0, Noel King was only going to have a chance to brew two pots of tea in the gaffer’s office.

Yes, it was an honour to be given the job but it was also brave to take it. RTÉ can’t be unaware of the fact that their panel swings a heavy bat. Rightly or wrongly, Giles and Dunphy are regarded as barometers of the national mood.

Carries weight
So when Dunphy declares King’s team policy “inexplicable”, that carries weight.

And when he says Ireland needs to “get a coach and fast” it poses obvious questions. For what is King if not a football coach? I have never met Noel King but like most people in Ireland with even the vaguest notion of domestic football, you imagine that when he isn’t actually coaching football, he is on his way to coach football. And if King isn’t a coach – if he is some kind of makeweight – what does that infer about every other coach in Ireland?

It didn’t help that the RTÉ boys were not exactly on their game for what was the sorriest conclusion to a World Cup campaign in recent memory: a half empty stadium against a nation made famous –and fun of – by Borat. The debate was reduced to a cranky exchange on the usefulness of formations, which Giles and Dunphy discussed with a sort of “Give Up Yer Aul Tactics” impatience.

Perhaps they were frustrated. Elsewhere in the world, countries were getting on with the business of qualifying for the finals in Brazil. True, the 2014 competition might turn out to be a logistical and financial nightmare for many qualifying nations but it sounds fantastic and this was not a time for England to miss out.

Casual viewers might have wondered if they were breaking some kind of patriot act on Wednesday night as they flicked away from the Ireland match to see how Th’Auld Enemy was getting on at Wembley against the ever-luckless Poles. Fine, was the answer: a 2-0 scoreline, happy Englanders everywhere and the guarantee of many, many highlights clips of Socrates and Zico etc on the BBC between now and next summer. But scarcely had Roy Hodgson booked himself a restaurant table to celebrate what will almost certainly be the most relaxing few weeks of his international tenure than he found himself in the middle of the latest example of political correctness gone nuts.

It will be 30 years next summer since John Barnes returned with his English team-mates from Rio after scoring a goal of balance and beauty in a friendly game against Brazil. In his home country, Barnes – Jamaican-born and black – was greeted with hurled bananas and monkey chants as English football struggled and failed to contain the terrace racists.

But on Thursday the FA felt compelled to conduct a swift, thorough investigation into Hodgson’s strange decision to tell what sounds like a very bad joke involving a monkey in space during half-time of Wednesday night’s game. (Although it would be worth paying a lot of money to see how Giles and Dunphy would react if they heard that Kinger spent the half time of the German match telling jokes).

Ball out
The punch line of Hodgson’s yarn involved the phrase “feed the monkey” and the purpose of his little stand-up routine was to try to encourage Chris Smalling to get the ball out more to Andros Townsend on the wing. Both men are black. All of the England players have come out to defend Hodgson, who is torn between contrition and anger.

Yesterday afternoon’s news that the a letter has been sent to the FA from the Society of Black Lawyers suggesting that Hodgson should attend a ‘race appreciation’ course will pain him deeply.

The FA have backed their man and the storm will blow over after a few days. If it has proven anything, it is that English football culture has travelled light years in the decades since Barnes and other non-white players were forced to endure barbaric chants week after week.

The disappearance of Ron Atkinson from punditry after casually racist remarks he made were picked up by microphone and the investigation into the John Terry race row have been significant steps on the way to ending the culture. There is still a way to travel. Why is it, for instance, that there are so few black managers in the English game?

But the swift investigation into Roy Hodgson’s brief career as a comic speaks of an association that has become vigilant and guarded in the extreme. Hodgson probably regrets once letting slip that one of his non-football heroes is the novelist Philip Roth, whose book The Human Stain revolves around a man who is chased out of his job as a college lecturer after a remark he makes is interpreted as racist.

Hodgson will survive this and need not worry the furore will cause him to be chased out of the English managerial hot seat. No, that only happens after the World Cup. Anyhow, he know should there are no easy days in international football. Just ask Noel King.

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