The making of Roy: How Hodgson conquered Scandinavia

The new England manager began coaching career in Sweden and then Denmark, where he had amazing success and is still described as a 'legend'. Sam Wallace tracks down those that worked with him

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The Independent Football

When Halmstads BK, a Swedish club in the south-west of the country, decided in 1976 to try to copy the success enjoyed at that time by Malmo, the one thing they thought they needed above all was an English manager. So they simply asked Bob Houghton, the Englishman who would take Malmo to the European Cup final against Nottingham Forest three years later, to recommend one.

Houghton's effect on Swedish football had been considerable but in many respects it paled in comparison with the impact of the then 28-year-old who became the new manager of Halmstads BK that summer. Roy Hodgson, now the England manager, is revered in Sweden for his influence on the game to the extent that he is considered integral in producing the core of the Sweden team that finished third at the 1994 World Cup finals.

Since Hodgson's appointment by the Football Association, The Independent has spoken to former players, coaching colleagues and journalists who knew him in those crucial early years of his career. In the words of Jan Owe Wikstrom, a reporter on the Hallandsposten newspaper in Halmstad, who has covered the team since the 1970s, Hodgson is "a legend in Swedish football".

At Halmstads, Hodgson won the league in his first season as a manager with a team that had almost been relegated the season before. When he returned to the country to manage Malmo between 1985 and 1989, he won five successive league titles, an unprecedented feat that remains unmatched in Sweden. He had one title-winning season, 2000-2001 at FC Copenhagen in Denmark and his effect on that club was so great that the technical director and current caretaker manager, Carsten Jensen, says that Hodgson laid the foundations for their subsequent seven titles and their establishment as a Champions League side. There is no doubt about it: Hodgson is big in Scandinavia.

Bengt Sjoholm was signed by Hodgson from Trelleborgs in 1977, the year after his first title at Halmstads and played for him for the next three seasons. The centre-half later became chairman of the club for five years from 2000 and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Hodgson to return. Sjoholm remembers a manager who was younger than some of his players at Halmstads but had no problem commanding respect.

"He changed the culture of Swedish football," Sjoholm told The Independent. "At first the Swedish FA weren't happy about it. They thought that the way Roy and Bob [Houghton] played was too boring. It was not their football philosophy but gradually it also became the way the Swedish national team played too.

"When the Swedish FA held meetings of all the trainers [managers] of the clubs it would be Roy and Bob who would do all the talking. They were so competent it was embarrassing for those from the Swedish FA. They didn't have the same knowledge as Roy and he could explain his ideas easily."

By the time Sjoholm joined Hodgson at Halmstads he said that the Englishman was already a fluent Swedish speaker. Sjoholm says that he has heard his old boss speaking fluently in French, German and Italian too. What comes across from all Hodgson's protégés is the accent on rigorous preparation that builds up through the week until Saturday. "He's a winner," says Sjoholm.

"As a manager he was young and we could see that he was also a talented footballer, although he was maybe not as physical as he would need to have been to play professionally. He was always capable of showing us what he wanted to be done. He could always take the ball and hit a shot or a cross. He has more talent as a footballer than people understand. He was not that bad a player!

"As a manager he made the team tighter. He wanted hard work in the midfield, don't be too ambitious when defending and never, ever commit a foul in the penalty area. If someone made a foul in their own box, Roy would get so angry he would be close to leaving the training ground."

Halmstads had never won the title until Hodgson arrived and they have only done so twice since the two he won in 1976 and 1979. Sjoholm was so impressed that when he moved into industry after his playing career he said he used many of Hodgson's Halmstads techniques for organising and motivating. He still does now, as a chief executive of a company working in the medical sector.

The philosophy at Halmstads was not, Sjoholm said, "the 11 best players, it was the 11 players who worked best together on the pitch". Hodgson left in 1982 to be Houghton's assistant at Bristol City. When Houghton was sacked, Hodgson took over, lasting only four months. He returned to Sweden where he managed Oddevold a small club in Uddevalla, north of Gothenburg, then Orebo, where the well-travelled Scottish manager Stuart Baxter played. Malmo appointed Hodgson manager in 1985.

Houghton had won three Swedish titles at Malmo in the 1970s but Hodgson's achievement of five in a row was remarkable. Per Agren was Hodgson's captain and is now the club's sporting director. "Roy brought into Swedish football a more British perspective," he told The Independent. "He had the full-backs putting crosses in – this kind of play had never been seen before in Sweden.

"Halmstads and Malmo became very successful with Roy. The national team started to play that way as well, to be more British. It was not just in the way they played, it was also the organisation. The players knew how to play. If we had a bad start we would go back to 'Route One'. The players would know what that meant."

One of Hodgson's most enduring achievements at Malmo, as well as the five titles and two Swedish cups, was to nurture some of the most important players in Sweden's 1994 World Cup team. The team's captain, Jonas Thern, as well as Patrick Andersson, Martin Dahlin and Stefan Schwarz were all developed in Hodgson's title-winning Malmo team and went on to reach the semi-finals in 1994, losing to Brazil 1-0 in Pasadena.

"As a manager he was great on the training pitch at showing us exactly how he wanted us to play," Agren said. "He was always sociable but he kept that distance from the players too. He had interests in music and literature, you could see he was special – different. His Swedish is really good. I spoke to him a few weeks ago and he is still fluent."

For all the league titles he won with Hodgson, Agren's standout memory of his time with the new England manager was Malmo's triumph over Internazionale over two legs in the European Cup in September 1989. Having beaten them in Sweden, Malmo got a 1-1 draw at San Siro that saw them into the next round.

Agren said: "This was not just any Inter team, it was the one which had three German players who would be world champions the next summer – Lothar Matthaus, Jürgen Klinsmann and Andreas Brehme. For me, this was the great game under Roy. I was not the most important player in the team but he made me feel I was. He would tell me, 'If you do this today, we will win' and that got me thinking..."

After leaving Malmo in 1989, Hodgson managed Neuchatel Xamax, Switzerland and Inter (on two occasions). There was the unsuccessful spell at Blackburn Rovers and a season at Grasshopper Zurich. He was a contender to be England manager when Kevin Keegan quit in 2000. Sven Goran Eriksson, whose Gothenburg team had flourished after Hodgson left Halmstads, got the job. Hodgson went back to Scandinavia with FC Copenhagen of Denmark for the 2000-2001 season.

Jensen, a young coach at Copenhagen when Hodgson took over, said that the English manager took the club "from nothing". "We were the big club in Denmark then but only by name," he told The Independent. "We had all the sicknesses of a big city team – all the wrong ideas about how to prepare and perform. That year he [Hodgson] turned things around by himself. I was lucky to be there."

Since Hodgson's title in 2001, then only the second in Copenhagen's history, they have won it seven times. "You can say that 12 years on you can still see the signs of Roy Hodgson in our team – the way he worked and the ideas of how to prepare your team for the next game. It was the best, and most important, experience of my career as a coach."

Jensen said that even the Under-14s at Copenhagen still play the Hodgson way. Before Hodgson's first training session, Jensen said that the manager tested him out. "He gave me a blank piece of paper and said: 'You plan it out.' I was not prepared. I said: 'I think you better do it.' I was there to learn. Roy is a great storyteller. If you find yourself in his company, you'll be entertained."

Hodgson left after a season to join Udinese, a move that did not work out. Nevertheless, his reputation in Sweden and Denmark remains extremely high. The last time Jensen spoke to him was to discuss a pre-season friendly between West Bromwich Albion and FC Copenhagen this summer. "Now it seems," Jensen said, "he will be somewhere else."

And elsewhere: Others have their say

Alain Sutter, Switzerland

His impact on Swiss football was huge. We'd not been to a major tournament for so many years, so to qualify for the 1994 World Cup was a big achievement. He brought a tactical understanding which had been missing. He also influenced the youth programme that was being put in place at the time and which is now very successful. He was able to see the kind of strengths every player had and put him in a place where he could really play at his best – I was a winger and my weakness was my defending so he put a very strong defender behind me and I could focus on my attacking game.

Ciriaco Sforza, Inter and Switzerland

Nobody worked so hard right until the last minute before a game like Roy. He would train the players for hours until they understood his way of playing. He was always straightforward and everyone knew what he had to do. Above all, he was a brilliant tactician. His methods were the same at Inter as with Switzerland and I appreciated this consistency. Roy had no problem with the big names at Inter. He demanded the same from every player, whether they were a star or a youngster – a winning mentality and a willingness to give everything.

Hannu Tihinen, Finland

From the first day he gave a lot of confidence to the players and we played really well – we came fourth in our Euro 2008 qualifying group behind Poland, Portugal and Serbia. We played a 4-4-2 and the back line was the most important thing. Everything started from the back – how can we do it better and get clean sheets? It was the best thing for our national team. He knew almost everything about the opposition and it must help that he has so many contacts in the whole of Europe. I think one of his strengths is when he came here he really put all the pieces together.