Hodgson starts England life on the back foot

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It wasn’t so much an uncomfortable shift in his seat, but there were signs that Roy Hodgson had been taken aback by the line of questioning presented to him on his maiden voyage as England manager yesterday afternoon.


In choppy political waters Hodgson departed for South Africa to ply his trade at Berea Park in Pretoria, in a whites-only National Football League between 1973 and 1974 in pursuit of an outlet for his desire to play football.


Just under 40 years later he was fending questions about his political agenda having just been handed the biggest job of his life by a reporter from Channel 4.


"I was young when I went there and it was just to play football," he said. "I didn't give the politics much thought. I think it's unfair to criticise me for that. All of us were against Apartheid but there wasn't much we could do about it."


For his part, Hodgson did well to negotiate a tough course littered with two awkward lines of questions that cast a long shadow over the room, namely ‘where is Harry Redknapp?’ and ‘why aren’t you Harry Redknapp?’


But Hodgson and David Bernstein were prepared for a probing of that nature. Berstein straight-batted the question, giving little away of the process which saw Redknapp discarded altogether if the FA’s line about Hodgson being the only man they approached is to be believed


“I am not going to discuss any other manager, any other name or any other club," the chairman intoned as the gentle probing over Redknapp continued.


Hodgson for his part tried to move the conversation on by offering up a little bit more detail in the hope that it would appease the journalists hunting for a line. A voicemail had been left for him by the Spurs manager that he would be responding to any day now, he said.


“I hope this doesn’t affect our friendship," he added. Redknapp’s easy manner over the past few days seems to hint that it wouldn’t.


While the Redknapp issue was safely negotiated the question of Apartheid was a curveball, and a window into what he can expect not only as par for the course as the England manager, but as the ‘wrong’ England manager in the eyes of the press and wider public.


A pertinent line of enquiry? Certainly not. Called for? Probably not. But that is the beast that now confronts Hodgson.


While he showed composure under questioning on the issue of his time in South Africa and the Redknapp-shaped elephant in the room he faces up to a four year stretch that begins on the back foot, unlike the wave of optimism felt by most new England bosses.


Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney both threw their considerable weight behind Redknapp immediately of Fabio Capello’s farcical resignation in February, Hodgson had to make to do with Chris Brunt and Ben Foster.


The public reaction to the news of his appointment was full of vitriol even before he had arrived at Wembley to discuss the possibility of being the next man to stand in the firing line.


Hodgson begged ‘everyone in the country’ to get behind him and England, a plea none of his predecessors have never been forced to make.


His disastrously brief spell with Liverpool last year chastened Hodgson and set him up as a figure of fun to the watching public – which perversely could stand him in good stead in terms of his media relations despite it being the largest stick with which he has been beaten over the past few days.


During his time at Anfield he cut a stand-offish figure with the media as the walls crumbled around him, once rounding on a Scandinavian journalist after he was confronted with a question about the supply to his strikers after a humbling 2-0 defeat.


"Are you from Denmark", he asked sharply. ‘No, from Norway’, came the reply from the journalist.


“They are two countries I never want to work in again," was Hodgson’s curt final say on the matter as he exited Liverpool's press room, a response at odds with the bookish, well-travelled man thrust forward by the FA.


But yesterday was a step forward as a thicker-skinned Hodgson dealt with what could have potentially been a difficult press conference in just about the best way possible. He was relaxed, jovial and respectful, about as much as can be asked of him after whirlwind 72 hours.


The problem is that a ball hasn’t yet been kicked. He’ll need all that savvy and then some to win over a universe that he now stands at the centre of, especially with a major tournament on the horizon that may, unfairly, set him up for a fall.


The knives won’t be sharpened if England fail at the Euro’s this summer, but it offers the former West Brom boss the chance to change the tone of his regin that in its infancy is surrounded by doubt. An early exit only offers more ammunition to his detractors.


His first press conference as an England manager offered him a glimpse at the garbage-delving questioning he will sometimes face, no aspect of his professional and personal life will be off-limits. It all comes with the territory.

The fervour behind Redknapp and the general discontent over his appointment will die down and should England fail to provide this fickle nation with good enough reason to cheer, he will face questions not so easy to outmanoeuvre.


Hodgson was up to the task at his press conference yesterday. Now there’s only another couple hundred or so to go before we find out if that four-year deal was a good idea after all.

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