A matter of minutes after England’s most disgraceful defeat in living memory, Roy Hodgson was shoehorned into a temporary media room in Nice’s Allianz Riviera. There, he resigned from his role as manager of the England national team, stating that “now is the time for someone else to oversee the progress of this young, hungry and extremely talented group of players.” It was a bitter, rushed end to a run of 56 matches and over four years as the coach of the England team.
Three years and one tournament on, Roy Hodgson is still remembered for that catastrophic fall from grace on the 27th of June 2016. Let’s weigh up how those four years truly went for the Croydon-born journeyman coach.
It all started on the 1st of May 2012 when, whilst leading his West Brom side to a best-ever Premier League finish of 10th, he was appointed manager of the England team on a four-year contract. He assumed the position the day after the Premier League season ended.
As May turned into June, Hodgson got his first tastes of the job as he led England to two wins from two in their final pre-Euro 2012 preparation matches (against Norway and Belgium). Euro 2012 itself went perhaps better than critics might have expected for England. Hodgson’s side played well as they drew their opening game with 2006 World Cup winners France. Next, they gained their first win of the group-stage by claiming their first ever competitive victory over Sweden. Despite trailing 2-1, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck scored the decisive goals in an entertaining game. Wayne Rooney returned from his ban after kicking out in a crucial qualifier in Montenegro the previous year. He aptly scored the only goal as England beat co-hosts Ukraine and topped the group against the odds.
Andrea Pirlo dictated play in England’s quarter-final, Italy eventually prevailing from the penalty spot after a 0-0 draw. However, Roy Hodgson and England had met or even exceeded expectations in Poland and Ukraine, going unbeaten as they were only knocked out from twelve yards.
Hodgson got revenge of a kind on Italy a month later as England beat them in a friendly in Switzerland, before the competitive football returned in the form of 2014 World Cup qualifiers. England qualified for the World Cup in Brazil in underwhelming, yet unbeaten, style – winning six games and drawing the remaining four. Notable results included a massive 5-0 win in Moldova on opening day and England’s biggest win since 1987 as they beat the world’s worst team San Marino 8-0. Impressive displays in the final two matches, 4-1 and 2-0 Wembley wins over Montenegro and Poland, secured Hodgson and England’s fate.
Amidst this drama came 2013 – the FA’s 150th year. To celebrate, England planned a few commemorative friendlies. They drew 1-1 with Ireland and beat Scotland 3-2, before losing both November friendlies to Chile and Germany. England’s best performances though came in a double-header with Brazil. First, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard goals saw off the five-time world champions at Wembley in February, before England helped reopen the Maracanã in preparation for the 2014 World Cup. A wonder-goal from teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain helped the Three Lions to another unlikely a result – a 2-2 draw.
A mixed bag of pre-tournament friendlies offered question-marks over how the side would do in Brazil. Under intense heat in the middle of the Amazon, a 35-year-old Andrea Pirlo unpicked Steven Gerrard and England, Mario Balotelli scoring the winner in a game that England at times dominated. Luis Suarez declared himself fit on the day of England’s second match – the tussle with Uruguay. He proved fitter than anyone as he dumped Hodgson and England out of the World Cup, again, losing 2-1. Surprise group-winners Costa Rica handed a much-changed and much-deflated England a patronising point as a pre-flight present.
England returned home with a solitary point, but the FA voiced its support of Hodgson. New captain Wayne Rooney defended his national manager, explaining how in previous tournaments England had not been so offensive. Here they had attacked teams but ultimately been on the receiving end of some rotten, perhaps slightly unmerited, non-results.
The business-like nature of international football began again straight away, as it always does. In the face of mass-disillusionment, just 40,000 fans were at Wembley to watch as Hodgson needed a Rooney penalty to see off a stubborn Norway in the first match after Brazil. Thoughts turned to Euro 2016 in France. In the first four qualifiers there were four victories and three clean-sheets. England were riding high at the top of another desperately easy qualifying group by the time they faced Scotland at Hampden in the November friendly of 2014. Two-goal Wayne Rooney was again in inspired form as Roy Hodgson made a successful trip north of the border with his players. England had well and truly recovered from their cursed battles in Brazil.
In 2015, England completed a record-breaking qualification campaign – their best ever. Ten wins from ten confirmed England reached the tournament with three games to spare, qualifying with a 6-0 victory in San Marino. There was a bittersweet end to the year as England beat France at Wembley just days after the fatal Paris attacks. This was a big response to losing in Spain amidst sixteen injury absentees just a few days earlier. This had brought an end to a fifteen-match unbeaten run dating back to Luis Suarez and Uruguay’s damaging defeat of Hodgson’s men in Sao Paulo.
2016 started in a similarly memorable fashion to how 2015 had ended, against France. England’s first match of Hodgson’s third tournament year began in Berlin, where the side faced world champions Germany. In what was Roy Hodgson’s self-admitted highlight as England manager, Harry Kane and England’s new breed came from two goals down to claim a stunning 3-2 win thanks to Eric Dier’s thumping stoppage-time winner. But just a few days later, there was yet another humbling result for Hodgson and England as they were beaten at Wembley by the Netherlands, who hadn’t even qualified for the upcoming European Championships.
Three wins from three, including a 1-0 win over previous tournament-slayers Portugal, set England up brilliantly for their Euro 2016 opener against Russia. Three wins in a row and ten from ten in qualifying – what could go wrong? When the day finally came, England performed excellently and put together a display that deserved a two- or three-goal margin of victory. Instead, 33-year-old centre-half Vasili Berezutski leapt highest to head an injury-time equaliser past Joe Hart. England had drawn their opener in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.
Roy Hodgson and his side faced slippery neighbours Wales next, who had beaten Belgium in qualifying and of course would go on to repeat that feat on the way to reaching the semi-finals in France. And Gareth Bale showed just how slippery his Wales side are as he crashed in a wonderful free-kick that meant England trailed and looked in real trouble at half-time. Hodgson had big decisions to make. He made two key substitutions at the break, replacing Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane with strikers Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge. These decisions turned the match on its head. Both subs found the net as Sturridge’s winner sent England to the top of the group with a hard-fought 2-1 win. This time England were on the right side of the injury-time fortunes.
Hodgson’s decision to rest key players in the final group game against Slovakia was met with a lot of criticism, some even from senior FA officials. The changes did not work as an embarrassing 0-0 draw saw England qualify second, behind tiny neighbours Wales. Minnows Iceland loomed in a seemingly straight-forward Round of 16 tie.
The day came and many of the television pundits were in agreement that an early England goal would really settle England’s nerves as they tried to finally win a tournament knockout tie for the first time since 2006. They got what they wanted. Wayne Rooney converted a fourth-minute penalty and his sixth European Championships goal. Just two minutes later, Iceland, despite their worldly obvious game-plan, equalised from their famous long throw. And so began arguably the worst day in the history of the England national football team.
Five-yard passes went astray; the wingers never crossed the ball to the strikers; England’s midfielders were invariably second-best to Iceland’s in the middle of the park; and Joe Hart’s pumped-up nature had a negative effect. Kolbeinn Sigþórsson put a tame shot past Hart – not the first in the tournament that the England keeper should have saved – and England were behind to Iceland.
Roy Hodgson needed to respond, but brought on Jack Wilshere in the second half. He was playing on the back of just 141 minutes in the Premier League season. Hodgson should never have risked him and he inevitably added nothing to a game that was already getting away from a torrid England. When teenage sensation Marcus Rashford came on for England in the 86th minute, he was perhaps the team’s best performer – in the four minutes he played. Every broadsheet newspaper in Britain ranked him as the outstanding player in Hodgson’s side. That said it all.
England were out. They had been knocked out of the European Championships by Iceland. The tiny island country had a population of less than 335,000 people at the time. Wayne Rooney had scored his fourth and fifth international goals in a 6-1 win over the Icelanders in 2004. In 2016, he had scored his final international goal against them as they had beaten England 2-1.
And so we come to that cramped conference room in Nice, where Roy Hodgson’s four-year England journey came to a sour, sour end. The former Inter Milan manager ended with a record of 33 wins in 56 games and just eight defeats. However, in the pressure moments, in the tournament fixtures, Roy Hodgson never delivered what he had hoped to. Perhaps he never knew his best team. Perhaps he felt out of his depth. Whatever it was, he led England to just three tournament victories in eleven attempts as manager. Defeats to Italy, Uruguay and Iceland, as well as another penalty shootout defeat, confirmed he was unable to realise any of the promise he and his side had shown in their often mesmerising qualifying and friendly performances.
How should history judge Roy Hodgson? History should conclude that Hodgson improved the England team. He left it in a better state (for Sam Allardyce and then Gareth Southgate) than he received it (from Fabio Capello and then Stuart Pearce). Hodgson made both brilliant and awful selections at different times. In a pressure qualifier in 2013, he handed Andros Townsend an international debut from the start – the now-Palace man scored and earned man-of-the-match as England won. He started Andy Carroll against Sweden in 2012; his majestic jump and header earned England the lead. But against Italy at the same tournament, he opted for Scott Parker in that ever-so-key central midfield position and he made six controversial changes for that dull 0-0 draw with Slovakia in 2016.
Hodgson left the England team a better, younger side. However, he was “tactically inept” according to Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer. Hodgson was liked and respected by his players. 80% of what he did went down very well indeed. It was the other 20% that ultimately cost him his job.