Quiet Hodgson keeps Cottagers roaring

LONDON - It was surely one of the all-time great moments of footballing irony when, moments after Fulham secured their place in the Europa Cup final, Roy Hodgson said: "I'm a little bit drained of emotion."

Having just seen his team come from a goal down to beat Hamburg SV 2-1 and send Craven Cottage crazy, Hodgson exchanged a few handshakes and disappeared down the tunnel.

He was never going to sprint to the centre circle Jose Mourinho-style but Hodgson's quiet dignity in victory summed up the cerebral approach that has brought him so much success during a peripatetic 34-year coaching career.

As a player Hodgson was never able to crack Crystal Palace's first team and spent most of his career at minor league clubs. Perhaps that was why, when he took to coaching, he quickly developed a talent for turning minnows into big fish.

He led unfashionable Halmstads to the Swedish championship in his first year in charge in 1976, later describing the "water into wine job" as his greatest achievement.

Five consecutive league titles for Malmo earned him a shot at international management and again he got his players punching above their weight as Switzerland made it to the second round of the 1994 World Cup and into Euro 96.

He joined Inter Milan in 1995 where the parallels with what he has done at Fulham are remarkable, overseeing recovery from a dire start that ended with them finishing seventh in Serie A.

The following year they were third and reached the UEFA Cup final and though they lost to Schalke O4 on penalties, the next year the team Hodgson built won the trophy.

By then though he had been tempted to England where he did a similar job with Blackburn when he took them to sixth and into the familiar territory of the UEFA Cup.

However, the halo then began to slip as, for the first time in his career, Hodgson had big money to spend. He did not spend it wisely, or at least the big-name arrivals were not able to work within his framework, and with Blackburn bottom of the league four months into the season he was sacked.

He flitted around the world for the next nine years before being taken on by Fulham in December 2007. Relegation looked a certainty before a late charge culminated in a last-day escape.

Hodgson was back doing what he does best. Like Brian Clough, he somehow makes ordinary players reach new peaks and, as he had in his early successes, he developed real confidence and self-belief within his team.

Zoltan Gera, the scorer of Thursday's winner, Bobby Zamora, Danny Murphy, Paul Konchesky, Damien Duff and Mark Schwarzer have all been given a new lease of life under his stewardship and repaid his faith with consistently high-level performances.

In his first full season in charge Hodgson steered Fulham to a seventh-place finish in the Premier league - the best performance in their history - and into the Europa League.

Victories over holders Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, German champions Wolfsburg and Hamburg will live long in the memory not least because so many of them came when Fulham looked dead and buried.

"The manager said at half time to keep on going and playing football and we will get our reward and we did," said Simon Davies, scorer of brilliantly-taken equaliser on Thursday.

"We have played some great teams and come from behind a few times and it has been amazing."

In the running for manager of the year and, at least in the bars of west London on Thursday, discussed as a possible future England coach, Hodgson is having the time of his life at 62.

Although success always helps, Hodgson seems to have mastered the difficult task of being liked and respected by his players, chairman and the club's fans.

"He has been fantastic since day one when I arrived at the club," said Schwarzer. "And every player can vouch for that."

Follow FFT.com on Twitter Join FFT.com on Facebook