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Hodgson: 299 Premier League games later

8 November 2019

In 1982, Roy Hodgson was 34-years-old, held two Swedish league titles with once relegation-favourites Halmstad and found himself in the third tier of English football, coaching on rugby-esque pitches with Bristol City fast plummeting into liquidation.

Hodgson’s time in the West Country would be his only managing in England for the next 15 years.

By 1997, Roy Hodgson was 49-years-old, held four further honours with three new clubs and found himself joining former Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers. Hodgson would coach on fairway-esque pitches in “fantastic training facilities” and kick-start a career in the English top-flight which, on Saturday against Chelsea, will have covered 300 matches for five different teams.

Through his time in England, from Bristol City to Blackburn to now, at Crystal Palace, the league’s oldest ever manager has watched football transform.

“I remember the times with Bristol City, the pitches we played on, the quality of the stadia and all of those things had improved already enormously by the time I came back to England,” Hodgson reflected, sitting in a glass office at Palace - 130 miles and worlds apart from his training ground of 1980s Bristol. 

“The training facilities at Blackburn were so different to the training facilities at Bristol you couldn’t even begin to compare them. We were playing on top class pitches and you had fantastic training facilities.”

Hodgson’s first stint in the Premier League followed a spell taking the Swiss national team to their first major tournament in 28 years and then leading an Inter Milan squad comprised in part of Paul Ince, Youri Djorkaeff and Roberto Carlos.

hodgson inter.jpg

“In terms of the playing side, I suppose I came [to Blackburn] with some ideas from Inter, not least of all on things like the physical preparation of teams. I was used to having what we now call a sport scientist but then we called a conditioning trainer. 

“I was used to having one of those people on the staff, talking with him, preparing to make certain that that side of things was done perhaps a bit more scientifically than it was during the Bristol City days many years before.

“We had a goalkeeper coach of course, a strength and conditioning trainer, two assistants working with me, so that side of things is not different in particular from here [Palace]. The difference is the medical department, the physio department. 

“Whereas now those staffs are very big and there’s enormous care, we had a full-time physio and a part-time one. But apart from that, the staff, if you showed our staff [at Palace] what the staff was like then [at Blackburn], they’d be very surprised that we could care for players as we did with such a small number of people.”

Hodgson Blackburn training.jpg

From Blackburn, Hodgson would experience three new footballing arenas as he coached in Denmark, the United Arab Emirates and Norway as well as returning to Italy and Switzerland, too.

Regarding Serie A as football’s dominant league of the 1990s, Hodgson reflected on his opinions from abroad in the early 2000s, saying the Premier League came to the fore for its competitiveness across the 20-team structure.

“There’s no doubt that the First Division of English football which became the Premier League has always been very, very highly ranked whether I was working in Sweden or Switzerland or Italy,” Hodgson said. 

SEE ALSO: Programme exclusive: Hodgson reflects on remarkable career

“You’d be looking at the First Division - or, by the mid-90s, the Premier League - as the league that was the one to watch and a league that was very strong because English football has been very strong throughout those years. 

“There’s never been a period where English football is in any way weak, it’s really just a question of where the money has flowed. For a long period of time, it flowed to Italy. When people like Ronaldo left Barcelona, he chose to go to Inter rather than come to England. That was how it was in those days. 

“We had a lot of very, very big names [in Italy] - the famous Dutch players, the famous French players, a lot of very famous South American players, they all gravitated to Italy. Whereas now of course with the progression of the Premier League, they gravitate to the Premier League.

Hodgson Blackburn.jpg

“There have always been clubs like Bayern and more recently PSG, where money flows and players get attracted and it improves the standard of the league during a period of time, but I don’t think today the Premier League has any fear of losing its status as being the strongest of leagues, certainly in terms of the 20 teams. 

“If we’re talking about depth, I still think probably the Premier League would be the number one. It was always famed for that, even when I was in Italy. It doesn’t matter if you’re number one or number 20, you’re still going to get a really tough game and a really competitive game.”

After 299 tough, competitive games, one stands out to Hodgson; though not without admitting “there have been so many that whatever answer I give, I go away and think: ‘I should have said that [game instead].’”

Casting his mind back, however, Hodgson recalled one afternoon that saw Fulham - who had desperately battled relegation throughout 2007/08 - notch one of just eight overall wins on the final day of the season. 

The Cottagers had mounted a late push for survival after Hodgson’s arrival in December 2007 began to take effect, earning nine points from their last four games.

Hodgson Fulham safety.jpg

Then, on the final day of the season, Fulham pulled off the impossible. Heading for relegation as fellow battlers Reading and Birmingham overcame Derby County and Blackburn respectively, Fulham secured a last-gasp snatch for safety when Danny Murphy leapt through the hot south coast air to head the Londoners to victory.

In that moment, Murphy, under the leadership of Hodgson, secured Premier League football for Fulham and the next season would see them qualify for a historic Europa League campaign in which they would famously finish runners-up behind Atletico Madrid.

Hodgson, quietly, would be named LMA Manager of the Year for the achievement. 

“We’d been ‘relegated’ for God knows how many weeks and got ourselves up to a position in the final game where if we won the game we would actually survive,” he recalled.

“I suppose that would probably be the highlight if I have to go back at any time, but there have been so many highlights.”

Now, 299 Premier League games on from joining Blackburn on his return to England, Hodgson can hope to add even more.

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