Hit and welcome to our live coverage of the four Premier League three o’clock kick-offs, with Chelsea’s hosting of Wolves significant as the home side confirmed agreed terms for Todd Boehly’s £4.25bn takeover in the early hours of this morning, bringing to an end almost two decades of the Roman Abramovich era. But there is another curtain closing at the other end of the table.
For Roy Hodgson, it is finally over. Well, probably. A year ago he announced his retirement after 45 years in football management. It lasted just eight months: after walking away for the final time from Crystal Palace last May, he was back in the dugout at Watford in January. This week, at the age of 74, he once again declared his intention to pack it all in. And he insisted now he really was hanging up his tracksuit. Well, unless Manchester City come calling.
“I think you should definitely believe me this time,” he said, addressing the media at Watford’s training ground.
“Unless one of the top-three clubs suddenly decides it’s got to be me and they will accept nobody else other than me – who knows, I might have my arm twisted. But I’m not looking to have my arm twisted. I think you can safely say my CV won’t be on the table of any club looking for a new manager.”
By one of the quirks of the fixture list, on Saturday he will be taking his Watford side back to the scene of his previous retirement: Crystal Palace. His departure from Selhurst Park 12 months ago, after leading the club he had supported as a boy for four successful seasons, was indeed emotional, the eulogies from those he had worked alongside long and sincere. And Hodgson admitted there may well be some bemusement in the stands at his return from him in charge of someone else.
“I am looking forward to going back, I have enormous affection for the place,” he said of the trip to south London.
“Of course when you go back with another team, you want that team to win the game. What sort of reception I get on Saturday might be different, because I don’t think Watford has ever been one of Crystal Palace’s favorite opponents. I’m not expecting them to race out and embrace me with open arms. But I’d like to think the Palace fans know the job I did for them.”
Such was the warmth of his departure, it seemed a fitting end to a long and distinguished career that had then embraced 16 clubs and four national teams in eight different countries. It will not be the same when he walks away from Watford.
The truth is, at Vicarage Road he has presided over failure, accruing just two victories in 14 Premier League games in charge. Although still mathematically not yet relegated, as Hodgson conceded, in all likelihood they will be down by the end of Saturday’s game. But when asked, given the unimpressive run of results, whether he regretted the decision to return to management, he was unequivocal.
“Do not. There is no point regretting that,” he said. “Yes, I regret we didn’t succeed in the task we took on – to help the club out of the relegation zone. But I don’t regret taking the job. I took it with my eyes open. My only regret is that it didn’t work out in the way I dreamt it might.”
His departure, though, will be rather more muted this time. He will be leaving whoever takes over as manager with a significant rebuilding job to get the team into promotion contention. It is unlikely the Watford fans will be lining the street outside Vicarage Road to see him off. But I have suggested that it was part of the job: triumphant departures are rare in management.
“I don’t regret, either, the send-off this time won’t be anything like the send-off from Crystal Palace. But that’s not necessary. I’ve had 46 years in this profession. If your hope and ambition is every time you leave a job you will be carried shoulder-high out of the ground, then you are very naive and stupid. All I can hope for is that people here recognize we have done the best job we could do, in the most professional and correct way that we could.”
Meanwhile, all Watford fans can hope for from the game with Palace is a temporary delay to the inevitable.
By Jim White
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.