Hard-earned wisdom helps Hodgson plot United's downfall

West Bromwich manager and his Old Trafford counterpart prove that there's no substitute for experience in a perilous profession

Experience counts and nobody in English football can count on more of it than the two managers in opposition at Old Trafford this afternoon. Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson and West Bromwich Albion's Roy Hodgson have clocked up 74 years between them in one of the most insecure of professions. Both began in the mid-Seventies and won their first title within a year of each other; the Glaswegian with St Mirren in 1977, the Londoner a year earlier with the supposed no-hopers of Halmstad in Sweden – an achievement he still ranks as his best.

Since then their career paths have been very different. Ferguson moved smartly through the ranks in Scotland and earned the right to one of the top jobs south of the border after breaking the Old Firm monopoly and winning a European title with Aberdeen of all people. Since then he has remained in the same position for an extraordinary 26 years. Hodgson, if he ever had such a clear plan, soon veered away from it.

A hero in Sweden, he remained a prophet without honour in his own land throughout the time that Ferguson was being lauded in his, ending up in the wrong job at the wrong time when his friend Bob Houghton handed Bristol City over to him (in 1982), then being perceived as a failure at Blackburn after taking a team that was two points off relegation into Europe.

Being in another place at the wrong time – Anfield between Rafael Benitez and Kenny Dalglish – tendedfor some to obscure his good work at Fulham. Three national teams, half- a-dozen other countries; it was all experience, which could be the title of the autobiography he has yet to write had Martin Amis not beaten him to it. Now he is in the frame for the England manager's job should Harry Redknapp prove no more than flavour of the month.

Hodgson does believe strongly, however, that the bad times can be the making of a man and that one reason the precocious Andre Villas-Boas was drummed out of his job after Chelsea lost to Albion last weekend was his unfamiliarity with the dark side of football management.

"I'm sure when he came to Chelsea his confidence must have been sky-high with everybody singing his praises," Hodgson said on Friday. "But it doesn't prepare you for the bad times you may have to go through. There's no doubt he'll be stronger for it. Talking very generally, when things are going well you can become too relaxed, get a bit cocky about your abilities. The flip side is that when things are going badly you start doubting things you have done. Take Sir Alex as the prime example because he has experienced both sides of the coin and might be able to look back and think, 'I've been here before'. You can't do that as a young coach. I started when I was 29 so I can relate back to many of those occasions but you can't put the 65-year-old head – or in Alex's case the 70-year-old's – on the 35-year-old's shoulders. Experience has to be earned, there's no short cut."

Hodgson, six years younger than Ferguson, has an even greater air of worldly wisdom about him, possibly through having endured more troughs than the knight in the opposite dug-out today. It particularly annoys him when a manager is judged on just his past few results, although in Albion's case that would reflect well currently,three successive victories having pushed them into the top half of the table ahead of the weekend games. To be effectively out of any danger of relegation so early is especially impressive after losing the first three games of the season, starting with a last-minute loss at home to United by an own goal.

So they travel in good heart, although not because today's opponents are coming off a defeat of their own. "It would be a tough ask for me to ask my players to play like Bilbao!" Hodgson said. "They were very, very good. What I've said to the boys is that we're going to find it harder to have that real underdog epithet, which can be quite handy sometimes when you go to the bigger clubs. We've lost that now: I don't think Alex's team will be expecting an easy game against us."

Correct, as the man himself confirmed a few hours earlier, recalling that Albion were the only team to leave Old Trafford with a point last season, and after being two-down at half-time as well.

"They are in their best form of the season," Ferguson said. "They beat Chelsea and scored five at Wolves and it's not easy to do that." Of Hodgson he added: "He's got that experience and that helps. The career he has had has been fantastic. He's enjoying himself after Liverpool, which was a bad experience for him. A bit unfair, but he can handle it."

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion kicks off today at 2pm

Brits in Europe...

Champions' League

Wednesday

Chelsea (1) v Napoli (3) (7.45pm, ITV1)

Originally billed as the match that Andre Villas-Boas had to win to save his job, this has now become an opportunity for Roberto Di Matteo to earn some plaudits and for Chelsea's players to show genuine remorse at having let down another manager. But they must defend much better as a unit than in Naples, where Edinson Cavani and Co overwhelmed them after Juan Mata's early goal.

Europa League

Thursday

Athletic Bilbao (3) v Manchester United (2) (6pm, Five)

The Manchester clubs were grateful to their goalkeepers for not suffering a heavier defeat in the double loss last Thursday. Now United's outfield players must make amends but against a highly impressive Basques under Marcelo "El Loco" Bielsa the feeling is they may be left to focus on chasing the more important Premier League title.

Manchester City (0) v Sporting Lisbon (1) (8.05pm, ITV4)

City were as indebted to Joe Hart between the sticks in the first leg in Portugal as United were to David de Gea. He will still have work to do in preserving a clean sheet, and if he can't do that the home side will have to score at least three times against opposition who are supposedly weaker than Porto, a side they overcame more comfortably in the previous round.

Steve Tongue

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower