Newsprint and opinion went into overdrive recently over the inadvertent disclosure by Roy Hodgson, the England football manager, that he would not be selecting Rio Ferdinand for World Cup qualifiers against Poland and San Marino. His decision to overlook the Manchester United defender was rather less of a surprise than his place of revelation. Ferdinand, though still a very fine player, was struggling with form and consistency and had also been drawn into the highly unsavoury racist spat involving his brother Anton and that paragon of virtue, the Chelsea and former England captain, John Terry. Hodgson, in an unguarded moment, let slip to a fellow passenger on the tube that Ferdinand was no longer part of his plans. This shocking news was transmitted within moments across the electronic bushwire but was eclipsed by the astonishing realisation that the England manager was using public transport.
This is no ordinary England manager. Hodgson is a thoughtful and intelligent man who, like so many top managers, had an undistinguished playing career. Yet his avuncular, hangdog appearance belies a sharp, inquiring mind that has brought him much success hitherto at club and international level at home and abroad. This is a man who cites Philip Roth as his favourite author. You just can’t imagine Kevin Keegan expressing a fondness for Proust or Steve McLaren shyly confessing to his taste for Calvino. Yet Hodgson is a man much in the Continental mould whose intellectual curiosity takes him far beyond the field of play. You could envisage him slipping imperceptibly into cafe culture, comfortably discussing tactics, political flashpoints, malt whisky and the difficulty of buying a decent suit at a sensible price.
I must say that Hodgson, for all his urbanity, looks uncannily like The Man from C&A, albeit 30 years too late. He might peer across the table at his Italian predecessor, Fabio Capello, dapper, expensively coiffed, introspective and decidedly uncuddly, regaling all who could understand his crooked, angular English about his passion for modern art. Hodgson comes across as an accessible, interested man so his trip on the tube was not out of character. I just can’t see Capello queuing up to renew his Oyster card. Capello, by all accounts, much enjoyed London life. It’s just that he didn’t want to get too close to it, including his own players.
By contrast, Hodgson reinforced the sense that he is a man of the people. The tube was much the quickest and cheapest route to his destination, the Champions League game between Arsenal and Olympiacos. There he would enjoy the company of the suitably cerebral Arsene Wenger, the manager of Arsenal, spuriously banished from the touchline by UEFA, the European governing body of the game and a byword for arrogance under the aegis of Michel Platini. Why was he banished? Because he questioned the competence of officials in a previous match. Quite right too. They were bordering on hopeless but, alas, Platini does not possess the magnanimity and maturity to allow his authority to be challenged. He would probably do rather well in the banking world with that kind of attitude.
No doubt Wenger and Hodgson would have exchanged a few bon mots sitting up on high. Despite their lofty perch, they each built a reputation for the common touch, an understanding of people and personalities and, like a couple of clever alchemists, the ability to create or reinvent successful teams. I would have been delighted to sit there, a fly on their collars, absorbing their footballing wit and insight. It would have been the highlight of a frustrating, scratchy contest which Arsenal, somewhat fortuitously, won 3 – 1. Game over, Wenger would head for the home dressing room and Hodgson for the tube, perhaps a little more circumspect on the return journey but back amidst the throng.
Reassuring to know he understands the value of a pound and is trying to eke out a living on a salary of just £2m per annum, barely a third of the sum paid to Capello. Perhaps he might set an example to latter day stars of screen and green in mingling with the paying customers but you are as likely to see a bird of paradise strutting down the platform as a real life footballer. Whether Hodgson actually wins anything worth winning with those eternal underachievers called England is a moot point but, should you find yourself unexpectedly sitting alongside him on the Picadilly line, expect nothing less than to talk a good game, openminded, considered with a whiff of gossip too. I salute you, Roy Hodgson, in your smart blazer and slacks – man of the people!