This Summer: Introducing Roy Hodgson As…

RT @The Football Ramble ‏ Daily Express headline tomorrow: ‘Was Roy Hodgson to blame for Princess Diana’s tragic accident?’

On Saturday, April 29th, the prevailing opinion of Roy Hodgson leapt from a 200 ft. high stockade with a bungee cord attached to its feet. It is still bobbing up and down, bullish and bearish, as we speak. The journalistic waves of action, reaction, counteraction to the reaction, counteraction to the counteraction to the reaction, and so on, are inevitable to any major event in soccer nowadays. A lot has been made about whether social media is a closed-circuit reflecting pool, circulating your friends’ and followees’ opinions ad nauseum like a cloud of used carbon dioxide in a zipped sleeping bag. I think this is part right. Social media (Twitter, mainly) is a reflecting pool, but not a closed one. It’s more of a room made of mirrors, with both doors wide open. Opinions can stroll in, be magnified and proliferated, then stroll out or be subsumed by others. As soon as it’s clear that the majority has established itself, the minority rises up, matching loudness to size.

Scrolling through Twitter, this pattern is clear. To start, Roy’s potential appointment was received like the draft of moldy smell that greets you when you open a loaf of bread two weeks after you bought it. This version of Roy was like Inspector Gadget or Maxwell Smart. Given his obvious and painful failings at Liverpool, you asked yourself how he was ever allowed into that position. He was the comedic hero. At best, he would succeed in spite of his best efforts to screw things up. At worst, he would reduce the establishment to a smoking pile of decrepitude. Like David, waiting until the behemoth of majority opinion had spent itself, those who thought Hodgson would do OK crept out, looked around, and immediately went on the attack, backed by the indignant righteousness only known to the wary. They hammered those Hodgson detractors until they weren’t only beaten, weren’t only humiliated, but had regretted their entire education and questioned whether soccer punditry was even the right career for them. The perception of Roy inverted, from the hero with many failings, to the average guy who might become the hero, like John McClane in Die Hard.

That is, until Hodgson support became the default majority. Those Hodgson supporters may hold court for a few months or a few weeks, until good ole Roy does something that seems (or is) inane, or until England doesn’t advance to the group stages of the Euros, until they lose a couple of World Cup qualifiers. The former majority now minority will wait, hiding behind their begrudging approval of Hodgson, and then strike when the iron is oh-so-proverbially-hot and show that they were right all along, that Hodgson was a poser, someone who would never overcome the basic inability to craft a line-up that would promote beautiful football. The Hodgson detractors would pillory the Hodgson promoters, setting the FA as Dumbledore who foolishly chose Hodgson’s Gilderoy Lockhart,  and setting the promoters themselves as the silly, starstruck Mrs. Weasley who believed that he was who he said he was. Put otherwise, Hodgson will be another in the long line of fake heroes whose bravado is shown to be merely that in the face of a serious challenge.

The highly accelerated life cycle of social media-fueled opinion would then stretch out into years, like a ripple, the troughs and crests becoming ever smaller, until Hodgson’s reign at England is no more than a paragraph or two in a Jonathan Wilson book on the history of the English National team. Echoes into infinity, growing ever more softly. In my opinion, Hodgson is a minor character in the greater story of English football. His obvious talents aside, the problems that beset the founders of the beautiful game are greater than he can hope to overcome. A lot of pundits claim that England is in the refractory period a golden generation of football (you know the one, Beckham, Scholes, Neville, Heskey, Terry, Lampard, Cole, Ferdinand). The problem is that that generation failed to win them anything. If that was a golden generation, then I hate to see what the refractory period will look like!

The other major issue is what I just spent 600 words describing. In American sport, journalists cite Dimaggio’s record of 56 consecutive games with a hit as a record that will never be broken. Like all records, it’s a probability game. Which means, given enough baseball played, someone will eventually match that record. Records are made to be broken, after all. There is a serious flaw in the system though, something that throws all the normal behavior of the statistics way off. Media attention. All those journalists who cite Dimaggio’s as an unbreakable record acknowledge that intense media (and as a result, audience) speculation is what would prevent any sane athlete from accomplishing the feat. The pressure would be amped so ridiculously high, that getting to 40 consecutive games would set off a cyclone of pressure so intense that the player might not be able to sleep the night before his game, throwing his reflexes and focus all off. A lot of players might take the attitude that it would be better just to go hitless to get the spotlight off of them.

The English football team has the same issue, and yet it crops up every time they enter a major competition (ask Tim Henman about the kind of pressure the British media puts on you to succeed). Anyone would acknowledge the ugliness of being England manager. The constant, unrelenting crap you need to put up with. The weight of expectations grows heavier, the desperation to win something, anything, gets more intense with every year. It’s going to take a serious, iron-willed personality to tune that kind of attention out. Many thought Fabio Capello would be that person. Observing his abject and colossal failure, it’s just hard to say how Roy will hold up. It’s hard to see how anyone would hold up…

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