Hodgson odyssey takes him to Anfield

LONDON - Roy Hodgson has made a career out of exceeding expectations, but that happy knack will not be available to the Englishman when he embarks on his 17th - and most significant - managerial job.

Hodgson, a 62-year-old Londoner who has spent much of his coaching life on the outside of English football looking in, was presented with his ultimate test on Thursday when he was named manager of Liverpool.

It caps a remarkable, peripatetic journey that has included posts in Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, the United Arab Emirates, Norway and Finland.

The offer from Anfield is simply a reward for his impressive work at Premier League Fulham in the past two and a half years.

He saved the London club from relegation in 2008, guided them to the final of last season's Europa League - the first major European final in Fulham's history - and was voted the 2009-10 manager of the year by a record margin.

Craven Cottage had seldom had it so good, and Hodgson's stock - evident in speculation linking him with the England coaching position - has never been higher.

Yet Hodgson, an inquisitive man who seeks new experiences, speaks several languages and reads Milan Kundera and John Updike, will not need telling that Europa League runners-up is not considered an achievement at Anfield.

Although he will be given some time - time to clear the remnants of Rafael Benitez's six-year tenure, time to mould a team amid the turmoil of Liverpool's ownership issues - Hodgson will have to hope his long-term ethos now serves him well in rarefied surroundings.

"Of course it's nice for people to believe some managers are born with a magical quality that will transform bad into good, but I don't," Hodgson said during his spell at Fulham.

"It's about leadership skills, practice, repetition and bloody hard work."


His opinion was formed in his first managerial job at little-known Halmstad which took Hodgson, then just 28, to Sweden.

"On the first day of the season, 20 newspapers said Halmstad would go down," he said. "We won the championship in style."

Another followed. He was already managing expectations as well as his players.

After five seasons with Halmstad, he returned to England in 1982 for an unsuccessful year with Bristol City. He sought refuge in Sweden, first with Orebro and then by guiding Malmo to five successive league titles.

Switzerland was next. He led Neuchatel Xamax to European victories over Real Madrid and Celtic, and then the unheralded Swiss national side to the second round of the 1994 World Cup.

Qualification for the European Championship finals of 1996 was also secured, but Hodgson left before the tournament - a big club had taken notice.

His two years at Inter Milan was seen as a rebuilding effort. Inter finished third in Serie A in 1996-97 and reached the Uefa Cup final in the same season.

It was enough, though, to alert Blackburn Rovers, who tempted Hodgson to the Premier League for the first time. His first year at Ewood Park, 1997-98, was a triumph, as Blackburn finished sixth and qualified for Europe. But a poor record in the transfer market and a surfeit of injuries doomed Hodgson by the Christmas of 1998.

Thereafter it appeared he might be damaged goods as far as the English game was concerned. His desire for renewal took him back to Inter on a caretaker basis, to Grasshopper in Switzerland, to Copenhagen in Denmark, to Udinese in Italy, to the national side of the UAE, to Viking in Norway, and to the Finnish national team.

Finland narrowly failed to qualify for Euro 2008, and it appeared Hodgson's career had flatlined. Then, in December 2007, Mohamed al-Fayed, the Fulham owner and then owner of Harrod's department store, invited Hodgson to south-west London.

Their partnership endured a difficult start. Fulham took nine points from Hodgson's opening 13 league games. Most pundits condemned them to relegation.

Yet Hodgson's ethos - "practice, repetition, bloody hard work" - prevailed just in time.

In the third to last game of the 2007-08 campaign, Fulham trailed Manchester City 2-0. Three goals in the last 20 minutes, including a 90th-minute winner, handed them an escape route.

Hodgson might reflect that, after more than three decades in coaching - thousands of games, hundreds of players and countless practice sessions - 20 minutes of madness has finally given him access to English football's Establishment.

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