Just two more games. Perhaps it is fitting that tomorrow night, as Roy Hodgson wanders up the Selhurst Park touchline for the final time, he will be cheered and heralded by the returning Crystal Palace faithful. It is no less than he deserves. After 45 years as a football manager, Roy Hodgson has announced that he will be stepping down from the day-to-day rigours of the Premier League.
In a footballing era in which there is no room for sentimentality, it is felicitous that the club with which he began his footballing career as a 16-year-old would provide him with his final job. It’s been one hell of a career. The Europa League run with Fulham, finally becoming England manager and saving Palace, and that is without even mentioning his work on the continent.
As a chirpy but inexperienced 29-year-old, Hodgson took his first tentative steps into football management in 1974 when he took charge of Swedish side Halmstad with instant success. The club had only just escaped relegation the season before he took over, yet in his very first campaign he achieved what he still calls the greatest achievement in his career - his ‘water-to-wine miracle’. They won the Allsvenskan, finishing three points clear of reigning champions Malmo, an achievement that is still considered one of the biggest upsets in the history of Swedish football.
He went on to lead the side to another league championship in 1979, before going on to manage the likes of Oddevold, Orebro and, most notably, Malmo in Sweden. His five consecutive league titles there made him a true icon at Di Blåe, to the extent that they named a corner of their stadium after him. Roy's Hörna (or Roy’s Corner) is still colloquially known to fans of the club from the coastal city.
The 1990s perhaps showed the true range of Hodgson’s talents. Fluent in five languages, for financial reasons he left Sweden for Switzerland, first managing Neuchâtel Xamax before he was given the Switzerland job, his first on the international stage. He was a resounding success and led the country to their first tournament since 1966, by first qualifying for USA 94, and then Euro 96 and leading the relative minnows to third in the world rankings.
Inter Milan came calling and he reached a UEFA Cup final during a turbulent time in their history before an English club finally came in for his services in the form of 1995 Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers. Hodgson had briefly managed in England before, spending just four months at Bristol City where finances were a mess, but this was his big break.
In a wide-ranging successful career with relatively few failures, Blackburn falls into the latter category. Despite improving them in his first season in charge, the second season fell apart and he was sacked with the club bottom of the table. This job rather spoiled his reputation in England in the short-term, despite his huge success in Europe.
Copenhagen, Udinese, the UAE, Viking and Finland followed in the noughties as Hodgson rebuilt his reputation before he joined Fulham with the chance at Premier League redemption. He led them to a great escape with a 3-2 comeback win at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City before transforming the team and taking them to their first-ever European final in the UEFA Cup having mounted a historic comeback win against Juventus. His reputation in his homeland was restored, and he was voted LMA Manager of the Year by a record margin.
Okay, so his Liverpool tenure didn’t work out, but he was a success at West Brom and then was offered the England job, which started brightly. Expectations were met at Euro 2012 and England were ranked third in the world during his tenure, but the less said about 2014 and 16 the better.
Returning home was the best possible outcome for Hodgson and Palace. He went to a place where he was cherished and has done an outstanding job as he bids farewell to the Premier League. From the brink of relegation after losing their opening seven games of the season, he led the Eagles to safety in 2017-18 and they have been steady and stable ever since.
Eddie Howe, Valerien Ismael, Frank Lampard and Steve Cooper are all being talked about as potential candidates for the Palace job, but these are big, lovable shoes to fill. Over 45 years in the game filled with historic moments and certainly more highs than lows, Roy Hodgson has seen it all. Thanks for everything, Roy.