In Part 2, Roy signed a contract with Blackburn in February 1997 to take the helm in the summer. Back in Italy, a wretched run of results had seen Inter’s title challenge fade and tensions were mounting behind the scenes. There was however to be no respite.
Three days after the training room ground incident with Aron Winter, former captain and club veteran Giuseppe Bergomi made an impassioned plea for club unity and a public appeal to owner/president Massimo Moratti. He said “We live in an anomalous situation because the coach will be leaving. For me, announcing this farewell is not a problem, but rather gives a greater stimulus. But not all the players are thinking the same way. Say no more… The club now must be even closer to the team, we need them. I appeal especially to the president Moratti: try to ensure a continued presence at the side of the team, we absolutely need you.” This was an extraordinary statement to make – its encrypted signals gave indication of a fractious dressing-room and hence a coach who was no-longer in charge of his players. Was this a deliberate attempt by a player to undermine his coach? Well, it’s possible – according to Paul Ince, he (and then Hodgson) arrived at Inter with the players in charge, and Bergomi their leader. Yet, the Italian was now in the twilight years of a great career. With his form below-par, Hodgson promptly dropped a rather unimpressed Bergomi. Thus, did he still have an axe to grind with the coach? This however would seem very unlikely – Bergomi got back into the team in any case and, given he had spent his playing days exclusively at Inter, would surely have had too much respect for the club to prioritise his own personal grievances, a view subsequently supported by Moratti. As it turns out, Bergomi’s intention was to notify that, although the Scudetto was now all but gone, there was still a 2nd place (ensuring Champions League qualification) and a UEFA Cup left to fight for. Yet, achieving these goals would require everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. Nevertheless, the comments provoked an irate reaction from both Hodgson and other players, and required the coach to reassert his authority at a later press conference. In any case, after watching a day’s training, Moratti concluded that he didn’t need to keep a constant presence near the team.
For the rest of the season, Inter soldiered on, continuing their unpredictable league form (although claiming a 3-1 Milan derby victory) whilst making it through to the final of the UEFA Cup. Here, they would face an unfancied Schalke side that had been the real surprise package of the competition. Amidst more catcalls, insults and a banner proclaiming “Tired of being ashamed, Hodgson go immediately,” Inter lost the first of the two legs 1-0 in Gelsenkirchen. In the return game, Inter played like a team beset by fear in front of their home crowd, lacking rhythm and imagination, whilst having Pagliuca to thank for keeping Schalke at bay. At last, with 6 minutes remaining, Zamarano scored to level the tie up. With extra-time approaching, Fresi was then controversially sent off for a second bookable offence. On the touchline, Hodgson snapped, angrily kicking the ball away in frustration. A man down, Inter rallied during the extra 30 minutes, Ganz hitting the bar and also being denied a clear penalty, which only multiplied the team’s ire.
In the final minute of extra-time, Hodgson prepared for penalties, opting to bring Berti on for Zanetti. The Argentine didn’t realise the purpose behind the substitution, storming off in disbelief. The crowd sided with the player – cue more abuse for the coach. Hodgson, displaying the signs of a man who has lost control of his emotions, sarcastically applauded them back. The decision impacted negatively on the team’s collective concentration. After the final whistle, rather than focussing on the impeding penalty shoot-out, the Inter players (in particular, Zamarano and Angloma), with their anxiety levels now augmented yet further by the situation, were more concerned with becalming the hot-headed Zanetti. Hodgson walked across to assist, but was turned away, smiling nervously as he left. Eventually, order was restored when Zanetti ran over to Hodgson, apologised and embraced him. Unfortunately though, the mistake had already been made, the psychological damage had been done – Schalke triumphed. Zamarano saw his penalty saved, the result was ironically determined before Berti had had the opportunity to take his spot-kick, coins and bottles were thrown in Hodgson’s direction.
By the next morning, with two league fixtures to be fulfilled and a Champions League place still to play for, a tearful Hodgson had concluded that he simply couldn’t take any more of the fans and their insults (as Moratti later said, “I found a man who was humiliated and destroyed”). He contacted the owner, and then met with Bergomi, Ince, Sforza, Pagliuca and Paganin, to inform of his immediate resignation. They all asked him to reconsider, but the Englishman was not for turning. As Roy himself explained, “I’m not leaving due to the defeat [to Schalke], but because my work in two years has only served to sow resentment…I think remaining in this situation would be counterproductive for you. So I have decided to resign.” Was it significant that Hodgson met with only five of his squad to offer the reasoning for his departure? Almost certainly – Bergomi remarked “If he had decided to remain until the end, the team would have been with him. I know that because I had also talked with some teammates” (a quote that dismisses the earlier notion that Bergomi’s appeal was a purposeful effort to undermine Hodgson). In contrast, amongst other things, Ivan Zamarano stated “I don’t think it’s the best time for such a decision.”
In Serie A, Inter ended the season in 3rd with a record of P34 W15 D14 L5 GF51 GA35, their best finish for 4 years. Moreover, they had significantly cut the gap between themselves and the team at the top (just 6 points behind Juventus) from the previous season. Their defence again impressed (3rd best), but could only manage the same number of goals as in 1995-96, despite the (no doubt, heavy) investment in creativity and finishing. In addition to being UEFA Cup runners up, the club had also reached the semi-finals of the Italian Cup (as they had done in the year previous). Employing a fixed 4-4-2, Hodgson’s Inter played with the footballing philosophy that has characterised his managerial career – a short, quick passing team that required a midfield conductor to set the tempo (a job entrusted to Sforza, but who never settled in Italy), with emphasis on hard work and tactical discipline. As Gazzetta dello Sport put it, ‘electric more than eclectic.’ They were clearly well-organised in defence (as we’ve come to expect at Fulham), but lacking attacking flair (in his 2 full seasons at Fulham, the team were averaging only a goal per game, albeit with lesser players).
I would suggest that the job Roy did at Inter was solid, without being particularly spectacular. A certain improvement in his second season after making some shrewd purchases, but was this merely how he ought to have done, given the players at his disposal? Consequently, without something tangible to show for his efforts, many an Inter fan would view Hodgson’s tenure as a failure. Clearly, he is a man who cares immensely about his work. Of that there is no doubt. But I also get the impression that he cares what others think of him and the quality of his work, i.e. he finds it difficult to reject criticism. This may be somewhat unfair; it may be the case that most managers would have succumbed to the constant sniping from fans, journalists and even at boardroom level (although not Moratti). However, there seems no doubt that all of the above ultimately became an albatross around Roy’s neck. This then led to disputes with players, and to a dressing-room of which he had little control. Moreover, it just adds fuel to the fire, provided by a quote from a senior player at Fulham in last week’s Sunday Mirror, that “He loathes confrontation and can’t handle egos and troublesome personalities.” The situation was presumably exacerbated by the early signing of his Blackburn contract (for similar reasons as to Keegan leaving Manchester City). Inevitably, his judgement over footballing matters was then compromised and eventually he cracked. His demeanour in the second leg of the UEFA Cup final had overtures of the irritability on display in Blackburn’s 4-3 home loss to Chelsea in September 1998. Then, two months later, Hodgson was sacked as Rovers boss.
One final point to make is this: it has been reported that although Roy didn’t win anything himself at Inter, it was the basis of his team that went on to be successful. One part of this statement is true since Inter defeated Lazio to win the UEFA Cup in the following season and also finished 2nd in the league, 5 adrift of Juventus. But was it the basis of his team that accomplished this? In the summer/winter transfer markets of the 1997-98 season, Pistone, Paganin, Angloma, Ince, Berti, Sforza, Ganz and Branca all left the club, 4 of whom were bought by Hodgson. In the same time frame, Ronaldo, Alvaro Recoba, Ze Elias, Paulo Sousa, Diego Simeone, Taribo West and Francesco Colonnese (in particular) all arrived. In the league, under new coach Luigi Simoni, Inter collected 10 more points than the previous season, scoring 11 more goals (with Ronaldo in sparkling form) and conceding 8 fewer. In the UEFA Cup final, of the starting XI and 3 subs used, only 3 had been bought by Hodgson, a further 3 were already there when he became manager and the other 8 had been purchased since his departure. So, once again, was that really Roy’s team?