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miracle man Roy Hodgson won’t excite supporters – but he could keep Watford in Premier League


Roy Hodgson is the ideal man for Watford to have at the helm in their predicament. Photo: PA

Roy Hodgson is the ideal man for Watford to have at the helm in their predicament. Photo: PA

Roy Hodgson is the ideal man for Watford to have at the helm in their predicament. Photo: PA

At first glance, it is easy to see why the most unstable club in the Premier League have turned to a manager whose calling card is stability.

Watford know what they will get with Roy Hodgson, a master of top-flight survival and a coach who brings organisation and structure.

There can be few more reliable options for a club in Watford’s predicament, 19th in the league and reeling from the demoralising defeat to Norwich City last week.

Perhaps Hodgson has even usurped Sam Allardyce in the “top-flight firefighter” rankings, following Allardyce’s relegation with West Bromwich Albion last season.

Supporters of Fulham, West Brom and Crystal Palace will no doubt approve of Hodgson’s appointment, even at the age of 74, after their clubs turned to him in their hours of need. In each case he secured their top-flight status and also started the process to allow them to dream of better things.

In contrast to Watford’s erratic decision-making and squad building, Hodgson offers a steady and sensible approach. His training sessions are notoriously rigid, with the team’s defensive shape seen as the overriding priority. There can be no doubt that the new-look Watford will have a more defined structure than under Claudio Ranieri and Xisco Munoz this season.

Hodgson’s four years at Palace, from 2017 to 2021, are proof of what he can offer a smaller club in the modern Premier League: discipline, hard work and character. Under Hodgson, Palace finished 11th, 12th, 14th and 14th. Such was the relentless steadiness of his tenure that some Palace fans even began to complain about his “negative formations” and “safety-first approach”.

It is safe to say, surely, that there will not be any Watford fans objecting to a “safety-first” approach at Vicarage Road. Now is not the time to start a long-term rebuild with exciting young players. It is the time for organisation, clean sheets and cool heads. Hodgson, along with his assistant Ray Lewington, ticks all of those boxes.

There are reasons for concern, though. Hodgson is inheriting a vastly different team to the one he took over at Palace in 2017, and there are serious questions about the quality and depth of this squad.

At Palace, from his first day in charge until his last, Hodgson largely relied on a small group of players. These were seasoned professionals, mostly British, with extensive experience in English football and an appreciation of what it takes to grind out results.

Comparing the team Hodgson inherited at Palace with the squad he now has at Watford, it is clear that he faces a more challenging task.

In Hodgson’s first game as Palace manager, he selected 11 players with a combined total of more than 1,300 Premier League appearances. Eight of his players, including the likes of Scott Dann, James McArthur and Jason Puncheon, had more than 100 appearances in the division.

The Watford side beaten by Norwich City, on the other hand, boasted just three players – Tom Cleverley, Moussa Sissoko and Joshua King – with more than 100 Premier League appearances.

Hodgson’s track record suggests his arrival could be good news for the likes of Ben Foster, who has played under him before, and Craig Cathcart and, perhaps, even Danny Rose, frozen out under Ranieri.

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There are not many of these players, though. Where are the Andros Townsend, Joel Ward, James Tomkins, Gary Cahill-type figures who Hodgson relied upon at Palace?

Watford’s squad is, instead, composed of talented youngsters, inexperienced recruits from abroad and ageing forces like Cleverley, Cathcart, King and Sissoko.

He also has less time to work with. When Hodgson took over at Palace, the season was only four games old. He needed time to impose his methods, winning only once in his first eight league games. Watford are yet to keep a clean sheet this season.

At least there is firepower. Only three players have scored more Premier League goals this season than Emmanuel Dennis, while King has found the net more than 50 times in his top-flight career. Ismaila Sarr, when available, is a potentially devastating attacking weapon.

If Hodgson can tighten up his defence, these are the players who can make the difference at the other end. It is a tough ask, though.

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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