Roy Hodgson's coaching philosophy and tactics

This article is based on an article written by Magnus Thor Jonsson originally published on, a popular Icelandic Liverpool FC forum.

For the last few days I have sought advice from those who have followed Hodgson's career throughout the years ever since he went to Sweden in 1976 and will try to realise his character and coaching philosophy.

Roy Hodgson is a legend in Sweden. He became manager of struggling Halmstad in 1976, who like so many Swedish teams at the time used a sweeper with 3 or 5 in defence favouring man-marking. Roy changed the team's shape to 4-4-2 and used zonal marking: "On the first day of the season, 20 newspapers said Halmstads would go down. I’d qualified for my full coaching badge at 23 but that was my first season coaching adults. Halmstads had played a very different type of football to what I wanted, man-to-man across the field, with a libero. From the start it was: ‘Okay, you lads know nothing, this is what we’re going to do’." (From Roy Hodgson's interview at Fulhamweb).

Hodgson was made fun of at the time, but no one was laughing when Halmstad won the championship, Allsvenskan, for the very first time in the club's history in Hodgson's first season! Whereas the team had 5 wins, scoring 28 goals and finishing 12th out of 14 the previous season, under Hodgson Halmstad won 17 games and scored 56 goals on their way to the title. No wonder he later described this achievement as the greatest in his career, comparing it to changing water into wine. 

Hodgson's good friend, Bob Houghton, who was Malmö FF's coach at the time, reaching the European Cup final in 1979, also used 4-4-2 with zonal marking. The Englishmen were in the beginning called the "enemies of football" in Sweden, but their tactics are now most commonly used in Swedish football. Hodgson later led Malmö FF to the Swedish championship in 1986 and 1988.

Hodgson has always kept faith with the basic 4-4-2 he adopted at Halmstad with constant pressure on the opponent and the defence pushed up the field, used to good advantage against European opposition by Fulham in their successful Europa League campaign last season.

Roy at Malmö FF with Stefan Schwarz, who later played at Arsenal and Sunderland

Hodgson likes to have pairs all over the field. Two centre-backs supporting each other, the left back supporting the left wing with the right back doing the same on the right, overlapping when a chance presents itself. Two central midfielders covering the defence as well as being catalysts for attacks and two up front, feeding off each other, often one larger centre with physical attributes paired with a quicker, more technical one.

Roy is a training ground coach. He likes best to be in his tracksuit at, in this instance, Melwood, emphasising team shape, training routines with the players positioned from where the opponent is attacking, concentrating on how to win the ball from the opponent and attack from that point. Also a favourite routine of his is to split the squad into three teams where two of them keep the ball while one tries to catch it.

"Pass and move, always move it quickly and once you lose it get back in to position. That was the mantra which took Liverpool through their great years. I was influenced by the Liverpool team which dominated the 70s with all its great players and playing the football they played."

Players who have played for Hodgson, sometimes felt these shape routines were boring and repetitive, but when players saw them working on the field of play, they were quite pleased to suffer them. Simon Davies played under Hodgson at Fulham, so he should know a thing or two about Hodgson's training routines:

"Every day is geared towards team shape – and it shows. We would have a little laugh about it now and again, but when he came to Fulham we were fighting relegation. His management style took us to a Europa League final, so you take it. I don’t want to give any secrets away, but he gets the 11 that he wants for a match and drills everything in that he wants. It’s defensive drills and certain attacking drills – with no diagrams. It’s all on the pitch with the ball."

Roy has been referred to as an old school coach (a reference which irritates him), but his comments on his recipe for success at Liverpool suggests otherwise: "Pass and move, always move it quickly and once you lose it get back in to position. That was the mantra which took Liverpool through their great years. I like a high-tempo passing game. I like players to work hard, I like players to get back in position. Those are my priniciples. I was influenced by the Liverpool team which dominated the 70s with all its great players and playing the football they played."

Roy has for several years worked as a match analyst for UEFA's technical committee and is well respected throughout the football world. He's held lectures at various coaching seminars where he preaches his philosophy of football. He's managed virtually at all levels in the game, gathering valuable experience on the way and has learnt from top coaches all throughout Europe. He never tires of telling people of a survey that revealed the best coaches in Europe only use 8-9 different training routines. They may vary from coach to coach, but are basically the same routines.

The following is an extract from Roy Hodgson's lecture in Porto in October 1994:

What is teamwork?
Unselfishness, the development of team spirit, developing pride of being a part of the team and accepting the need for stability within the team.

How do you develop team spirit?
- Create a comfortable atmosphere by positive "brainwashing", eliminating negative influences and use praise rather than a ticking-off - Show respect to people and players and build their confidence - Pay attention to details - The coach has to make his players understanding and patient and have respect for each others' skills.

Key elements for coaches:
Be humane - You can be a perfectionist without being perfect - Show respect - Stick to your principles - Be honest - Be loyal - Be well prepared - Develop a sense for your ambitions - Communicate with people and enlighten them - Be humble - A bad coach thinks he knows everything, a good coach realises he doesn't know everything.

Hodgson has earned the nickname "the nicest man in football". He doesn't like indiscipline on the field which is reflected in Fulham ranking third in the Fair Play league table last season. He is extremely composed and has seldomly lost his temper in the dressing room. He stands by his players, trusting them to play through their bad spells which has earned him popularity with the ones he trusts, but annoyed those who are on the sidelines. "Dressing room unrest" was said to have been key factors in his failures at Udinese and Blackburn where players who weren't in his starting 11 instigated a campaign for him to get sacked.

A player who played under Hodgson at Malmö FF said of "Royson", as he was called in Sweden: 'Roy is a real gentleman. He is incredibly detailed in all his work. He has the ability to get those around him to perform to the best of their abilities.'

Isn't that exactly what Liverpool FC needs right now?

Copyright - - Author: Magnus Thor Jonsson - Translated for

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