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


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


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

Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Life & Style
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal