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Roy of the Rovers had no happy ending at Ewood
HE leads England into Euro 2012 next week, but for almost a decade it appeared that Roy Hodgson’s managerial career on these shores would be defined by his time at Blackburn Rovers.
Respected across Europe, most notably for his spells in charge of Switzerland and Inter Milan, Hodgson’s tenure at Ewood Park would last only 18 months.
Sacked in December 1998, he did not return to England for nine years.
After a brief return to Inter as caretaker boss, he would manage Grasshopper Zurich, FC Copenhagen, Udinese, the United Arab Emirates and Viking Stavanger before Mohamed Al Fayed opted to appoint him at Fulham in 2007.
Now, after success at Craven Cottage and with West Bromwich Albion either side of a difficult time at Liverpool, he finds himself as the man to lead the nation into the European Championships.
There are varying opinions of Hodgson’s time at Ewood, even from within the squad in that era.
That may be in part down to the contrast between how his reign started and how it ended.
Hodgson arrived in the summer of 1997, having agreed to step in when Sven-Goran Eriksson changed his mind on a deal to take over.
The club had finished only 13th the season before, two years after winning the Premier League, with Tony Parkes in temporary charge for most of the campaign following Ray Harford’s resignation.
Hodgson was taking only his second managerial role in England – his first ended unsuccessfully with Bristol City in 1982.
Hodgson’s early months at the club were a great success.
Rovers took 13 points from their first five games, including a 7-2 home win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Kevin Gallacher was on target five times in that period, as the club were the early leaders of the table.
“He made us very organised,” Gallacher said. “And if you get results straight away, people start to feel confident in themselves.”
Indeed, Rovers were second only to Manchester United at the turn of the year, having lost just twice.
Hodgson won the Premier League’s manager of the month award on two occasions.
“I think he came in and impressed a lot of people,” said Jason Wilcox, another member of that squad.
“He was a very confident man and very organised. I think people enjoyed working with him.
“I would put him up there as one of the best coaches I’ve worked for.
“Ray Harford, Terry Venables and Brian Kidd would be the others, I thought they all were top drawer.
“We still had a lot of players who had won the Premier League. But he made us play as a team, whereas possibly before we’d been playing like individuals.
“He had different training methods. He was on the training pitch every day and everyone had specific roles, where they were supposed to be on the pitch.
“There was a time when Damien Duff was coming through and I felt I was playing in all the difficult games and doing all the hard work, then Damien would come in for the easier games at home.
“But Roy explained the situation to me and treated me like an adult.
“A lot of managers don’t, they treat you like kids.”
Not helped by injuries, Rovers would fade in the second half of the season however.
They lost 10 of their final 17 games to finish sixth, although that was still enough to mark a return to Europe in the UEFA Cup.
“Our aim that season was to get in Europe and we just about made it, even though we ran out of steam at the end,” Wilcox said.
“We probably didn’t have a strong enough squad, although that possibly because a lot of the signings Roy made weren’t good enough.
“But Stephane Henchoz was the big exception to that. He was a fantastic signing.”
Others proved less successful though. Martin Dahlin, hit by injury, would score only six goals for the club.
After his first season in charge, Hodgson lost Colin Hendry to Rangers – adding Sebastien Perez, Darren Peacock and, most famously, Kevin Davies from Southampton for a club record £7.25m.
It proved a disastrous move. Davies netted just twice before returning to Southampton, and has since admitted that he and fellow striker Chris Sutton did not see eye to eye.
The poor finish to the previous season extended into the 1998/99 campaign as Rovers struggled from the start.
The squad was struck by injuries again, and the training methods that had impressed some had never been popular with others.
“He had a very European style, I don’t think we were expecting it to be as different as it was,” Gallacher said. “We were used to running about, but it wasn’t like that. We did our running with the fitness coach Arnaldo and then we would work with Roy in a 11 v 11, it was proper coaching.
“The sessions were very stop start.
“That’s okay when you’re in Italy when you only have winter in December and January.
“Here players don’t want to be standing around in the cold and damp. Some players bought into it but others didn’t.”
By the end – as Rovers hit bottom of the Premier League, having also gone out of the UEFA Cup in the first round to Lyon – relationships were becoming increasingly strained.
“It wasn’t good, inside and outside of the club,” Gallacher said.
“He was trying to play with a European style and deal with the injuries we had and it made it twice as difficult.
“The atmosphere did change and there were three or four players who perhaps didn’t get on with him.
“Players had had their toes had been stepped on by the players he had brought in.
“I’d had had a good relationship with him but there was a story in a newspaper that another club wanted me. It hadn’t come from me, I knew nothing about it.
“But Roy saw me saying hello to a journalist after a game and thought I had been talking to him.
“He had a go at me in front of my wife and the journalist.
“From that moment on it sort of soured the relationship.”
Hodgson’s tenure ended following a home defeat to Southampton in November 1998.
Jack Walker asked Hodgson to resign, while offering to pay up his contract.
But Hodgson refused and Walker felt he had no option but to sack him.
Rovers were bottom and would go down that season under new boss Kidd.
Many years have passed since then, however, and Gallacher believes Hodgson is a better manager now.
“I think he has learned from the mistakes he made, he’s older and wiser now,” said the Scot.
“I hope Roy does well with England and I think he can do well.”