After 18 months of being England coach, Glenn Hoddle ought, at least, to be nervous or defensive with the press and showing a greying or receding barnet. Not a bit of it, he is all smiles and jokes and, close up, still looks young enough to play. Watching him on the training pitch at Bisham Abbey this week he still seems good enough to do so as well.
Hoddle is getting used to confounding expectation. He was seen as too young and too soft when he was appointed last year. Not a bit of it, the 40-year-old has made a virtue of his relative youth - from David Beckham to Matt Le Tissier current players quote Hoddle as their idol - and he has a steely sense of purpose.
Having steered England to the World Cup finals for the first time in eight years he now has to plan their campaign in France next summer beginning with today's friendly with Cameroon. It is a mission he is clearly relishing for it requires assessment of his players' talent and their temperament.
"I need to know which players have the right temperament to play at this level," he said as we sat under the portraits of Elizabethan nobles in Bisham's Warwick Room yesterday.
"It is being able to play on the big occasions like Rome, they don't come much bigger than then. It is what you can see of a player in the week and how and whether it starts to change on match day - or even when he goes down the tunnel on to the pitch. They are the things you need to be aware of and are looking for all the time, you know players can handle that they have the temperament.
"You can all the talent in the world but..." He gestures outside, past the damp tennis courts and the russet-leaved trees to the practice pitch. "I look at the training ground here and there is a lot of talent. There is not much to choose between certain players, but it is the ones who can take that on to the pitch at Premiership level, European level, and, the ultimate stage, international level. The bigger the game, the more you get to know about your players."
Hoddle has six matches to determine his 22-man World Cup squad. Cameroon are first, Sweden and Portugal are among possible future opponents along with, depending on next month's draw, Colombia, another African side and, perhaps, a weaker team for the final match.
"It is no good just having different styles of opposition, you need good opposition," he said. "It is a juggling act between having the continuity of winning matches with balanced teams and being able to give other players chances as you can lose a key player at any time.
"Then there are the mechanics of planning a squad, getting both the right mix of players and of personalities.
"Say I lose Paul Scholes and Teddy Sheringham, not out-and-out goalscorers but people who score goals. Then I might think I need three `goalscorer' types like Alan Shearer, Robbie Fowler, Ian Wright and Andy Cole. But if there are other options, like Paul and Teddy, I might think I can get away with two."
Then there is the group interaction. "I know from two World Cups and two European Championships as a player that that is one of the most important aspects.
"Things go wrong sometimes and it is because of boredom and being in each others' pockets for six weeks. It is human nature.
"There is not much freedom when you are in training and in a camp situation. It is very important how we deal with that, we have to consider the mentality of our players. What is right for Germany and Brazil is not right for ours.
"In a borderline case I might go for the person with the healthier temperament around the camp.
"There comes a time when it goes flat. It did in Le Tournoi and it was exactly when I expected it to. It will happen in the World Cup preparation so you have to think about it. There might be periods when I don't have everyone together for a long time.
"I still got to look at medical side, take on advice, but we will look at things like the family situation. In Colorado [before the 1986 World Cup] we had a week with the wives out but the distance is different this time around. France is just an hour and a half away and there are different options."
Once the tournament starts the hope is that momentum will provide the lift. "With Le Tournoi it went flat before we played Brazil but we had already won the tournament so it was different to going into a quarter- final or, please God, a semi-final. That's enough to keep it boiling."
As part of the long-term bonding exercise, Hoddle, his staff and the squad went out on Tuesday for a meal. Wine was allowed and a good time had by all accounts. "It was a way of saying well done for qualifying," Hoddle explained. "Les Ferdinand came and Alan Shearer and Stuart Pearce could have but they had problems with the distance and their rehabilitation.
"We went to an Italian restaurant - well, we had to really - and it was an important occasion. It was the right time for it and the players appreciated it."
Such a mood seemed a distant prospect when England lost at home to Italy in February but, insisted Hoddle, "I always felt we could win the group, even after we lost at home to Italy.
"I needed time to get ideas across. You need time to work with your players and progress as a team. In this game things are looked at instantly. It has taken me 18 months to do with England what you would do in six weeks pre-season and four or five games at club level.
"We are progressing and if we continue to do so there is a great opportunity for us. There are seven months to go so I can't get too excited, but it is a superb feeling to know you are there, that you have this momentum to grow. But we don't want too much too soon.
"There is a lot of planning that's been done and a lot of preparation to do. We now have to win matches on the way while doing things with the team. It is a different challenge to qualifying."Reuse content