London, May 13
Exceeding expectations with unheralded teams has been Roy Hodgson’s forte. And at this year’s European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, just emerging from the group stage could be deemed a success for England.
"One is tempted to say, because it’s England, that success is only reaching the latter stages. Even tempted to say the only success is winning," said Hodgson, who was hired only a month before the tournament is set to kick off. "But I’d like people to cut us a bit of slack in that respect. The resignation of Fabio Capello has made the situation somewhat different."
England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 under Steve McClaren. He was replaced by Capello, but his tenure ended amid controversy about England defender John Terry’s trial on charges of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.
It took nearly three months to replace Capello with Hodgson, and Terry’s fate still threatens to undermine the new coach’s efforts to unify the squad. Can Rio Ferdinand play alongside his brother Anton’s alleged racist abuser in central defense?
"We have to find that unity," said Hodgson, who coached West Bromwich Albion this season. "The only way we’re going to win anything is as a team, and we have to accept that." Where the authoritative Capello was distant with his squad, Hodgson will hope to build on the expertise accumulated on a 36-year coaching career often in the outer reaches of European football.
Unlike any of his England predecessors, Hodgson has tournament experience with another country, leading Switzerland at the 1994 World Cup and Euro 1996.
"It’s not an easy situation to manage (at tournaments)," Hodgson said. "A six-week period together with just odd training sessions — you can’t fill the day with training sessions or the players won’t have anything to take on the pitch — so it’s a constant headache."
There’s also a need to galvanize England fans, whose faith in the team appears to be at a low despite qualifying for Euro 2012 unbeaten. "We have to accept that was a disappointing tournament in South Africa, where we’d gone with high hopes," Hodgson said.
Hodgson will have had only 40 days from his appointment to prepare for England’s group stage opener against France on June 11 after just two warm-up matches. And the 64-year-old coach will have to cope without the devastating impact Wayne Rooney can provide for the matches against France and Sweden.
The Manchester United striker will only become available for selection for the group stage finale against Ukraine after he was sent off for kicking Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic in England’s last qualifier in October. A three-match ban was reduced to two on appeal.
This could be the final time for a cluster of talented Premier League players to make their mark on the international stage. Defenders Ashley Cole, Terry and Ferdinand, and midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are already in their 30s.
"In the tournaments I’ve experienced as an observer with UEFA ... the respect for English football is very high," Hodgson said. "Everyone, like ourselves, is surprised we haven’t been able to capitalize on the talent we’ve produced.