2 May ~ Not many West Bromwich Albion fans will be so unrealistic as to think that Roy Hodgson should have turned down the England job in order to sign a new contract with the club. In fact, there will be a sense of pride that he is the man the FA wanted. After all, towards the end of the 1990s, Albion bosses tended to either get the sack and drop down the leagues (Alan Buckley, Denis Smith) or quit to manage such domestic giants as QPR (Ray Harford). If you had told us then that we would one day lose our manager to the national team, we would never have believed it.
We will wonder where we go from here, though, because there is little doubt that Hodgson has been Albion's best manager since Ron Atkinson. While Gary Megson, Tony Mowbray and Roberto di Matteo have all earned promotions to the Premier League in the last decade, none has offered convincing proof that they could keep their teams at the top level. Indeed, Megson and Mowbray both suffered immediate relegations.
Hodgson, by contrast, has steered the side to two comfortable mid-table finishes and has mostly radiated assurance while doing it. Even when he looked agitated, such as when banging his head on the dug-out roof in frustration at a poor performance against Everton earlier this season, there was never a sense that he wasn't in control of matters.
Under him, Albion fans have learned not to write off any fixture as a certain defeat. Megson and Mowbray used to appear before the press after surrenders to the likes of Liverpool or Chelsea and talk about how "games against these sides won't decide our fate". Hodgson masterminded wins over them. This season, he even oversaw a victory away to Stoke City, against whom we had won just one of the previous 28 league meetings.
Hodgson is also popular at The Hawthorns because he has maintained, and even built on, the club's reputation for doing things with dignity. Knowing of the unfair treatment he suffered at the hands of a certain section of Liverpool fans during his time at Anfield, Albion supporters felt a particular bond with him when his team won there ten days ago.
This was strengthened in the wake of his post-match press conference. A lesser man might have let slip a hint of self-satisfaction at the result. Hodgson, in his admission that Liverpool had been dominant and his own team fortunate, was gentlemanliness personified.
Yet, for related reasons, we will worry for him when he takes on England. We know that critics will say his work with Albion only confirms that he is an expert at getting results from teams of limited means, while his Liverpool experience suggests he is less effective with players who feel they have little to learn.
Another opinion may be that Hodgson's appointment is evidence of an acceptance at the FA that England are a middle-ranking team, one who need the new coach's trademark drills and rigid organisation if they are to make progress. And, of course, if things do not go well, we will not enjoy seeing him caricatured in the popular press.
That Albion were able to appoint a manager of Hodgson's calibre 15 months ago was a tribute to chairman Jeremy Peace's running of the club. That we can now – finally – claim to be an established Premier League club is a tribute to Hodgson himself.
Peace will not rush the appointment of his successor, but one thing is certain: whoever takes the job will have good foundations on which to build and high standards to live up to. That such names as Chris Hughton and Roberto Martinez are being put forward in the media is simply confirmation of that. James Baxter