Just in time for the World Cup, Fulham manager Roy Hodgson showed England how to lose with dignity. That’s important because with history as the guide England will flatter to deceive in making the knockout stages, only to be humiliated in a penalty kick shootout.
With the World Cup in South Africa looming and England’s predictable fall into an abyss of self-pity and wallowing in perceived injustice, I want to thank Hodgson for showing a better way. He handled defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final with poise and grace.
I’m not sure if Fulham’s defeat is harder on fans or the actual participants, but Hodgson has a grounded perspective: “I could not be more proud of the players. I have to say that no squad has ever surpassed this team in their work ethic and determination.”
Hodgson’s attitude helps as I prepare myself for the potential disappointment of seeing England players trudge off the field in tears after another heartbreaking World Cup loss, this time at Soccer City, Johannesburg. I will try to follow Hodgson’s example and keep a sports game in perspective, but if I’m less magnanimous should England again succumb to nerves there’s always nefarious delight in seeing other soccer powerhouses go down.
For sure, lady luck will need to smile brightly on the Three Lions if they are to win the World Cup — just look at their squad. Manager Fabio Capello recalled Jamie Carragher, who had an average season at Liverpool; Owen Hargreaves, who played a grand total of 2 minutes all season, was seriously considered; and Ledley King, who’s a fine defender but plagued with injuries when things get hectic, is in the squad.
Compare that to Argentina who don’t even have room for Inter Milan stars Cambiaso and Zanetti and you see that England fans might have to invoke Hodgson’s serenity during the month-long tournament. Brazil will leave Ronaldinho and Pato at home; France go without Arsenal’s Nasri and Real Madrid’s Benzema, Totti won’t be donning the Azuri blue in South Africa, yet England have an injured Gareth Barry in their provisional squad.
Be wary England fans: Unlike a few teams with true world-class talent from top to bottom, we’ll need an abundance of luck to lift the trophy. In case it’s in short supply, I want to thank Roy Hodgson for showing the way to dignified defeat.
When a modest, overachieving team like Fulham comes so unexpectedly close to winning a major trophy like the Europa league, there is more thrill than agony in defeat. Indeed, history is generally kinder to teams that suffer glorious defeat than teams who display dastardly antics in pyrrhic victories. Karma has a way of catching up to you, just look at Maradona’s travails over the last decade. Great player though he was, outside Argentina his name is often associated with cheating.
Fulham’s fans were brilliant at the Europa league final, but I dispute some of their banners, like: “Hodgson for Prime Minister.” He’s too sincere, too nice a person to be a politician. When the history books are written, when we can just enjoy the spectacle of soccer played with valor, Hodgson and his Fulham team will be true winners.
In a post-game interview, Hodgson said “Everyone watching on the TV and here in Hamburg will realize we gave everything we had… I think the fans will realize we’ve done the very best we can.” I do realize that, Mr. Hodgson! And if England players do the very best they can, that will overcome my sorrow when we are defeated not by lady luck, but by a better team at the 18th World Cup next month.