Crystal Palace job offers Hodgson a chance to mend his reputation
LONDON -- When Roy Hodgson said "I don't really know what I am doing here" the morning after his resignation had followed England's shameful 2-1 Euro 2016 round-of-16 defeat to Iceland in Nice, it crystallised befuddled tournament performances in France last year and at the 2014 World Cup, where Hodgson's team did not even make it out of the group stage.
Hodgson was not the first manager -- nor will he be the last -- reduced to rubble by "the impossible job" but, at 69 years old, it appeared his career was over. But then, some 15 months later, Crystal Palace came calling.
It is the club he supported as a schoolboy and where he made a brief, unsuccessful attempt to become a professional player. Fifty-one years after that rejection, Hodgson has stepped back into management, taking the Selhurst Park reins after Frank De Boer's chaotic, pointless and scoreless four-game Premier League tenure.
"I suppose when I was a child, my dreams were playing for the club," Hodgson said on Friday at Palace's Beckenham training ground. "I would have accepted managing them if I wasn't good enough to play for them.
"It's been interesting making the journey from South West London to Beckenham and Selhurst Park, going past some familiar old places. But I don't live in the past. It's the present and the future. There's a smile from time to time, a memory of a building or road I pass, but nothing that has a huge effect on me."
In taking on the Palace challenge, Hodgson has a chance to restore at least some of his reputation after four unsuccessful years with England. Last season, Hodgson's national-team successor Sam Allardyce used five months at Selhurst as the final staging post of his career before retiring from football.
"Careers are defined by small moments," Hodgson said. "Nothing I can say or do will change that. It was a four-year period, one I look back on with satisfaction on a lot of things, but I can't look back with satisfaction with not progressing at tournaments in the way we'd have liked.
"But it's a chapter that's finished, in the past as far as I'm concerned, and now it's a chapter in the book of life opening for me, and one I'm looking forward to, one I'm hoping brings joy to the fans of Crystal Palace. That would be special because I am a Croydon boy."
Hodgson, eight years Allardyce's senior, has signed a two-year contract and his first task is to haul Palace up from rock-bottom in the table. A home game against Southampton on Saturday is the first step on that road and, with trips to the Manchester clubs and a home game against Chelsea after that, it represents their best chance of getting points on the board in the next month.
Before taking the England job, Hodgson had gained a reputation as a specialist in rescuing Premier League clubs from relegation. Fulham in 2007-08 and West Brom in 2010-11 were challenges he took on with less margin for error.
"At Fulham I had 18 games, West Brom 12 games," he recalled. "This is now a 34-game season. We've had a bad start and we've handicapped ourselves by not taking any points from the first four games. But I've said to the players already that our focus is really on May, not the end of September. Leagues aren't won or teams relegated in September."
Looking lean and with eyes twinkling, Friday saw Hodgson in chipper, enthusiastic mood, glad to be back in the game he loves unconditionally. While out of management he worked as a TV pundit in the Middle East, mentored young players at Melbourne City, Manchester City's sister club, and lectured younger coaches at UEFA. Even the personal embarrassment that Nice brought could not dull that devotion.
"Matches do get lost when you're a football coach, particularly in tournament football and the tournament is over," said Hodgson. "I enjoyed my time with England; a huge honour. I have very good memories of those times, the people and players I worked with.
"But it's over," he continued. "That time has gone. That chapter is finished. I'm focused on the next one. Crystal Palace, Crystal Palace, Crystal Palace, it's everyone at the club, hierarchy and players, chairman and owners and it's the fans."
Hodgson recognised he will never fully escape the shadow of England, but Palace is what he cares about now: "I believe the team will stay up, absolutely. I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't believe that. There's never been any doubt in my mind."
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.