Monday, 14 May 2012

Gary Neville's England appointment strikes a blow for the Hodgson haters

The appointment of Gary Neville as part of the England coaching team is a smart move by Roy Hodgson for reasons related to matters on and off the pitch.

Cards on the table: I like Roy Hodgson. I think that with the many years of experience he has managing in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, the World Cup, European Championships and of course in the English Premier League, to not give him a crack at the national team seems utter lunacy. I don’t wish any specific harm toward Harry Redknapp but believe that Hodgson’s relevant experience knock’s the Tottenham manager's into a cocked hat. Unfortunately, the decision to appoint the Hodge has not gone down very well with a number of tabloid media outlets and it would appear that the knives are out before a ball has been kicked under the new coach’s tenure.

On the surface, much of the criticism seems to be simply mean-spirirtedness by individual journalists who are disappointed that the media friendly Redknapp has not been given the gig. Perhaps the steady stream of content that would have come their way from a man who has enjoyed a close relationship with the press may not be forthcoming under Hodgson and this has put a few noses out of joint. This may be an unfair criticism but of greater concern to the assembled journalists will be the fact that the FA conducted a formal consultation process before arriving at the decision to appoint Hodgson and no one from the Fourth Estate seemed to have any indication that the job would be going to anyone other than Harry. This inability to get the inside track may have caused some resentment and may compel them to reassess their relationship with their contacts within the game.

The upshot of all of this is that Roy is a marked man and will need to tread carefully in his media relations. Winning football matches may not be enough if the performances are unspectacular and the Press will be working hard to find any signs of dissent within the England players. Perhaps mindful of this Hodgson has recruited Gary Neville into his coaching staff. A decision that is both populist and sensible.

Neville’s record as a player requires no close examination, at least not in this post. The former Manchester United full back has bags of recent experience as a player, has his UEFA A and B coaching licences and an international playing record that few other, if any, Englishmen can match. Also, having only recently retired, he will have the respect of the players, most of whom will have played both with and against him. In the search for a young progressive coach to learn the ways of international football, perhaps with a view to becoming the next England manager, Gary Neville seems to tick every box.

The other element to this decision is that it is a good public relations move. While such considerations are secondary to what happens on the pitch, Neville has become a popular man thanks to the work he has been doing at Sky Sports. His obvious insights into the workings of the modern game and his exceptional skill as a communicator have been genuinely interesting and entertaining even to smart arsed know-it-alls like me. Even as a player, Neville was a contrary character with his mildly leftists perspective. He was dubbed Che Neville by The Fiver for years and deep down, I think many supporters respected his passion for his club even if they outwardly abused him as a player.

Nevilles decision to join the England set up represents a blow to Hodgson’s foes. Neville, having earned the public’s respect as a player and a pundit, has clearly endorsed Hodgson and in turn the FA’s appointment, by accepting the position. This will make it harder to hate Hodgson and may at elicit a little more patience from the Tabloids, until the first defeat or below-par performance that is.

In terms of the future, Neville’s success is tied to Hodgson’s. If the England manager stays in post for the full four years of his contract then that would have to be classed as a success. Not just for the man himself but for the management structure. Assuming Neville has not been tempted away by club football, he would, presumably be in line to take on the manager’s job and achieve that lineage that the English FA crave.  Qualification for the 2018 World Cup may well be led by Gary Neville: England Manager.