Farcical racism allegations hint at a continued desire to undermine England manager (From The Northern Echo)
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Farcical racism allegations hint at a continued desire to undermine England manager
SO much for Roy Hodgson being allowed to bask in the afterglow of England’s successful qualification for next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil then.
Little more than 24 hours after the England boss achieved arguably the greatest result of his career and spoke emotionally of his pride at leading his country through a testing qualifying group, he found himself splashed all over the front page of The Sun accused of a “race gaffe”.
His crime? Using a wellknown joke about astronauts and monkeys to pass on halftime instructions to Chris Smalling and Andros Townsend.
A staple of many a managerial seminar, the joke describes how NASA send a pair of monkeys into space, with mission control working closely with the monkeys to get them to do all the jobs that are required.
“What should I do?” asks the astronaut. “Keep feeding the monkey.”
The implication was that Smalling in particular should keep feeding the ball to Townsend because the Tottenham winger was enjoying sustained success against the Polish defence.
A crime against humour?
Probably. Lets be honest, its not exactly laugh out loud funny.
But racist? Do me a favour.
There is absolutely no suggestion that either Townsend or Smalling took offence at the comment – Townsend tweeted yesterday: “I don’t know what all this fuss is about.
No offence was meant and none was taken” – and while Hodgson has felt the need to apologise to the Tottenham winger, his only error is to have overlooked the semantic sensibilities of his choice of words.
Given the chance, he would no doubt like to turn back the clock and use a different turn of phrase, but as a previously outspoken critic of racism, it is grossly unfair to use a misjudged throwaway comment as proof of anything more sinister.
As one of the most deepthinking England managers for many a year, Hodgson will be hurt by yesterday’s criticism.
If he chooses his words more wisely in the future, perhaps that may ultimately be no bad thing. But the incident should not blight all the positive things the 66- year-old has achieved since replacing Fabio Capello.
That said though, the fact the story appeared at all suggests two things.
The first is that perhaps the England squad is not quite the tightly-knit, strongly-bonded group we had been led to believe.
Someone leaked the story to the newspapers, and while it is unlikely to have been Townsend, the fact that potentially damaging dressing-room secrets were disclosed is worrying given the history of similar disclosures helping to wreck previous World Cup or European Championship campaigns.
Hodgson has worked assiduously to cultivate a strong team ethic, and watching England’s players celebrate with linked arms in the wake of Tuesday’s victory, it felt like there was finally a bond within the England set up akin to the one that exists within a club environment.
In the wake of yesterday’s developments, perhaps that conclusion was premature.
The other intriguing subplot behind the discloure of Hodgson’s comments, and the subsequent criticism they have attracted, is the lingering resentment in certain quarters that the England manager has his job in the first place.
Reading and listening to some of the reaction that followed England’s back-toback victories over Montenegro and Poland, it was possible to detect the gritted teeth.
Hodgson wasn’t supposed to succeed, not when he hadn’t been many commentators’ first choice for the position.
That, of course, was good old Harry Redknapp, and in the week that the QPR boss was desperately touting his autobiography to any media outlet that would listen, it is telling that some of the praise lavished on Hodgson at the end of a successful qualifying campaign was measured at best.
Perhaps The Sun would have run their story regardless – it’s an eyecatching front-page splash.
But it’s hard not to feel that the exclusive, and the decision to run it in the immediate aftermath of such a positive occasion for Hodgson and his players, is indicative of a niggling disappointment within parts of the media environment that Redknapp was so publicly snubbed.
Had Redknapp led his side to the top of their qualifying group and suffered just one defeat from his first 22 matches as England boss, he would have been lauded as a genius.
Hodgson has received praise, but much of it has been begrudging and posited against continued downbeat assessments of England’s chances in Brazil.
That’s not to say we’re going to win the World Cup next summer – were not. But we’ll be heading there with a much better side and squad than the one that flopped at both the last World Cup in South Africa and the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
Much of that is down to Hodgson, who has handled the dismantling of the previous squad, and the gradual departure of some powerful senior players, with tact and diplomacy.
He has provided his England squad with a vibrant new look, blooded promising young players whenever possible, and trod a careful line between praising, progress and avoiding the hyperbole that has bitten some of his predecessors on the backside.
He also cares deeply about the national side’s fortunes, as underlined by the emotions he displayed on the touchline on Tuesday night.
“I died a thousand deaths every time they (Poland) crossed the halfway line,” he said, in a phrase that would have resonated with each and every supporter watching the match at Wembley or at home.
But he is not ’Arry, and 18 months after he was selected ahead of his rival, some people are clearly still struggling to accept his suitability for the post.
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