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Friday, 9 April 2010

Arise, Sir Roy

Since the end of December 2007, the only stock to have risen higher than Roy Hodgson’s is that of Tamiflu. And, given that the majority of us didn’t die or turn into pigs, you can guarantee that will be declining soon. Hodgson’s, by contrast, shows no signs of abating.

Incredibly, Fulham are now in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup/Europa League/Spawn of Platini having played 16 games in the tournament so far and 55 in all competitions this season. Preposterously they have knocked out last year’s champions Shakhtar Donetsk, Italy’s Old Lady, Juventus, and now German champions Wolfsburg, who began the season in the Champions League. To even get to the knockouts, Fulham survived a group containing Roma, involved at Serie A’s summit this year, Basel and CSKA Sofia. They’re also safe for another year in the Premier League, sitting 12th.

Hodgson is no stranger to fantastically mind-numbing achievement, having made Switzerland the third best team in the world at one point in the mid-90s. His achievements at Fulham potentially surpass even that, though it is hard to say which is his greatest. Saving the club from relegation with 12 points from their final five games in 2008 – including that turnaround from 2-0 down at half time to win 3-2 at Eastlands – takes some beating. Subsequently leading Fulham to their highest ever finish in seventh place and European competition in 2008/09 somehow saw Sir Alex Ferguson awarded the Manager of the Year accolade for the ninth time.

Finding Brede Hangeland was a stroke of genius. Signing Mark Schwarzer was another. And how good a bit of business was Bobby Zamora for £4.8m? And who could get so much out of a seemingly past it Damien Duff? And Clint Dempsey? And flog a barely-proven Chris Smalling to United for £20m? And… you get the picture.

The only thing possibly standing between Hodgson and being named Manager of the Year is that his achievements haven’t taken place in the Premier League. On relative Premier League form alone this year, Hodgson could be pipped to the post by Alex McLeish. David Moyes is a frequent contender. Should Harry Redknapp take Spurs to fourth, he might get the nod. But no one can deny Hodgson deserves recognition for taking Fulham from relegation favourites to Europa League semi-finalists in two years. His reward would be long overdue.

This season has surpassed all expectations. Fulham knocked Juventus out of Europe. JUVENTUS. That alone, for a club that has a ‘neutral end’ at its ground and Mohamed Al Fayed as chairman, should see Hodgson knighted. For now though, the odyssey continues – Fulham meet Hamburg in the semis for the right to contest the final in… er, Hamburg on May 12th. Hodgson’s stock may not have peaked just yet. Rob MacDonald

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