For the duration of Arsene Wenger’s contract saga last season, one of the enduring themes was the importance of legacy. In that case, it was wondered whether the ugly death rattle at the end of his career would come to solely define him. The Invincibles era was a long time ago and with each passing year that side becomes harder to remember through the fog of underachievement which has followed.
Roy Hodgson is a different case. Now 70 years old, the former England manager has been appointed as Frank de Boer’s successor at Crystal Palace. Little has been heard from him for the past year, with Hodgson quarantining himself following Euro 2016. Like Wenger, though, legacy is presumably also on his mind.
His arrival is easy to frame. Having grown up a Palace supporter, Hodgson is the white knight riding to the rescue. The club of his youth needs his help and, although a mess and directed by a board with a faulty compass, the emotional tug was too great to resist. On the surface, it’s all so neat.
But one imagines that Hodgson would have taken almost any job under almost any circumstances.
Nobody can say for certain just how tough the past year has been for him. His immediate resignation following the Iceland game was noble and right, but while it provided England with closure, his own bleeding will have lasted much longer. There will have been sleepless nights and restless days. While the rest of the nation got up and went to work the next morning, quietly furious and ranting on the bus, Hodgson had nowhere to go but the troubled recesses of his own mind.
In retrospect, it was the perfect example of how dangerous life can be for ageing managers. As the truism dictates, nobody decides when to finish with professional sport, it decides when it finishes with you. That’s particularly true for someone in his late sixties, who can - after such indelible failure - be so easily portrayed as outmoded and useless. When that conversation is animated by such a notorious failure, rarely is there a chance of even a semi-redemption.
Dwell on that for a while.
Had that night in France proved to be Hodgson’s final act, what would anyone have remembered about him? In spite of his long, broad and often successful career, Iceland would have been carved onto his professional gravestone in such high letters that there would have been room for nothing else. No mention of Copenhagen, Inter or his work in Sweden. Nothing about Fulham or West Bromwich Albion, where he did such fine work.
Nobody deserves that. It’s worth considering also that Hodgson suffered, in part, from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When England’s knackered foundations finally gave way in front of the watching world, he had the misfortune to be in the house when it crumbled. To call him an innocent victim would be pushing it, but claiming him as the sole architect of that humiliation is plainly wrong.
Palace’s value to him now is clear. The emotional aspect of his return isn’t imagined and even under normal conditions the symmetry would likely have been too perfect for Hodgson to resist. The real temptation, however, likely lay in the opportunity to rewrite his own ending.
At first glance, Steve Parish has offered a difficult job. Palace are bereft of confidence, sitting at the foot of the Premier League and will play Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea in three of their next four games. It’s plausible that they could remain on zero points until the middle of October.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to mistake their ailments for something more terminal. Long-term, Palace are directionless. The haste to dismiss De Boer exposed both an absence of conviction and a lack of intent to achieve anything more substantial than basic Premier League existence. The long-term, though, is not Hodgson’s problem. Instead, he gets to be the short-term fix. The Allardyce, the Pulis: the manager who gets to cure the fragilities of a talented squad, move them into mid-table comfort and then walk away having given an eight-month rebuttal to 2016.
Hodgson is modest and likeable and players typically respect him. De Boer was brash, confrontational and clearly emboldened by a self-belief that his squad didn’t believe was warranted. They are direct opposites and, as such, of course this move will lead to an improvement.
It would also be naive to assume that, having played such an active role in De Boer’s sacking, the more influential members of that Palace squad haven’t had a hand in the appointment of his successor. Parish presumably knows that his players’ morale is critical at this moment in his club’s history and will have allowed them to partly influence his thinking. Hodgson, therefore, is coming pre-approved: the soothing balm for the egos. It’s what they want and what he needs.
Nothing will ever change what happened inside the Allianz Riviera. No matter what happens at Selhurst Park, Hodgson will never have the opportunity to redact that evening from his CV. But what it will do is update the counter-argument and add a further sentence after that horrendous exclamation point.