Hodgson puts safety ahead of 'beautiful football'

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The Independent Football

The most decorated manager in the Premier League, or so he effectively claimed yesterday, takes his first game in charge today, although Roy Hodgson admitted that he still has a point to prove after the trauma of his last spell of working in England.

Fulham's new manager said he had won 10 titles during his years in Sweden "they are reduced to four in the newspapers. I sometimes wonder what happens to them?" to add to other honours across Europe but is now in the nitty-gritty business of fighting to keep 19th-placed Fulham from relegation, a fate he described as the "horror scenario".

The vastly-experienced, and highly-rated 60-year-old, who has worked in eight different countries in a 32-year coaching career, was certainly not willing to have his credentials for this latest assignment questioned and it should not be forgotten that, twice, he has been seriously linked to the England job. Indeed Hodgson said he could count "on one hand" how many managers were as experienced as him. "It might be 10 years since I have worked in the Premier League but I have not exactly been working at a low level or working in jobs that have not had pressure or scrutiny," he said.

Nevertheless Hodgson acknowledged that his 18 months, in 1997-98, at Blackburn Rovers were not the best. "Of course I would like to have success here, I think at Blackburn I was very successful in the first year [they finished sixth] but unfortunately that success was wiped out by a bad first half of the second season," Hodgson said. "I see a lot of things written about that which I don't really know where the stories come from. But after the first season at Blackburn, I was riding high but unfortunately I suppose getting the sack in the second season when the team was near the bottom of the league has wiped all that away."

It seems that despite his longevity, Hodgson certainly does not lack motivation. The carrot of a 1m bonus for keeping Fulham in the top-flight also helps and he quickly dealt with the statement, last Friday when he was appointed, from club chairman Mohamed Al Fayed, that the owner wanted a return to attractive football. "I think that is a very dangerous concept," Hodgson said, "because what is attractive to one is not attractive to another. I understand the type of thing the chairman is saying but we fully understand our most important task over the next three or four months is to try and maintain our Premier League status." He added that he had never attempted to promise "beautiful football".

Fulham will certainly settle for winning ugly right now although it was losing ugly that cost Lawrie Sanchez his job, just eight months after succeeding Chris Coleman. It was a disastrous appointment not least because Fayed was persuaded to spend 25m in the last transfer window for 13 players who have, collectively, failed. Money will certainly be made available to Hodgson who spent freely during his brief spell at Blackburn 34.8m was committed, including 7.5m for Kevin Davies and 5.3m for Christian Dailly, deals which may have Fayed thinking twice about trusting his new man's judgment.

But Hodgson said yesterday that it was his intention to, firstly, work with the players he has inherited. "The thing I would like to avoid is desperately going out now and making wholesale changes and finding out that the players are not better than the ones we have now," he said. Some might argue that that would be some achievement.

His work starts at Craven Cottage this lunchtime with the derby against Chelsea. Hodgson was at pains to stress that he had only observed one game and supervised one training session with his new charges. "It's the biggest game for the club, it's the local derby, it is the game the fans want to see the team win," Hodgson said. "So it is tough one. But people aren't stupid. They realise I was offered the job and accepted it on Friday."

But although he has his excuses for today, time is of the essence although he has had recent experience of a relegation battle. In 2004 he took over at a club who, like Fulham, were second from bottom in their league. Relegation was avoided with the club, the following season, qualifying for the Uefa Cup. Fulham fans can dream even if, as Hodgson bridled at yesterday, it was only in Norway with Viking FK.