England v Italy: Roy Hodgson up against fiercest challenge of his colourful career

England’s eloquent coach explains why he has confidence in his team

Asked as a final shot by the interviewer from ITV whether this was the moment that England had to reach for the stars, Roy Hodgson replied as only Roy Hodgson can. “Per Ardua Ad Astra [through adversity to the stars], that’s the Royal Air Force motto, isn’t it?”

England have never had a manager given to quoting Latin, and Fabio Capello was Italian. But Hodgson’s mind is given to spark in these moments, an eloquent man who never troubled England’s great seats of learning but can be found with his nose in a book at every spare moment. As with his literary interest, so too his management career. Both paths have been unorthodox. He is self-educated, a Jude the Obscure for 21st-century English football.

Read more: Gerrard - It is time for England to walk the walk
Would a dreary draw be so bad?

Through adversity to the stars. It is a beguiling image for this England team on a journey that starts in the heat of the Amazon in a city which the RAF would surely appreciate – there are no roads in, you have to fly. Twenty years ago, Hodgson was the anomaly at the 1994 World Cup finals, an Englishman in the tournament while the nation’s best players languished at home (he took Switzerland to the last 16). Even to this day, no one is quite certain what a Hodgson World Cup England team will look like.

The regulation Fifa press conference with Hodgson and his captain, Steven Gerrard, at the Arena Amazonia took place at 10.15pm UK time last night, much too late for the early editions of the British newspapers. Instead, his interviews with the BBC and ITV were made available and from them we can deduce a man who, unlike many 66-year-olds, cherishing retirement and grandchildren, is approaching the fiercest challenge of his life.

The modern England manager must be an impact coach, capable of getting the best from a disparate group of players in a short period of time. He must be a diplomat with the clubs and a glad-hander with the sponsors. He must put on a performance for the media. He must manage an extensive staff. He must accept that the big logistical calls rest with him. Like his predecessors throughout time he has to deal with the Football Association, and its complex network of allegiances and enmities. Then he has to go to the World Cup and win matches.

 

What would that young coach who took over at Halmstads in Sweden in 1976, and led them to a remarkable league championship a year later, make of the Hodgson of today? “I think he’d be quite proud,” Hodgson said. “He’d certainly be happy that things have gone so well. But I understand where you are coming from. It’s humble beginnings, that’s for sure, but it’s nice to know that it is possible from humble beginnings to reach good positions. Hopefully, positions you are justified in having.”

Danny Welbeck Danny Welbeck  

What of the team he will select against Italy? Hodgson said Danny Welbeck’s right thigh injury was “a niggle”, nothing more than a “slight groin strain” that would not prevent him from playing tonight. As for whether Raheem Sterling or Ross Barkley could feature from the start, he expressed caution. They are “exciting talents with fantastic potential but you have to be careful that we don’t throw them into the lions’ den too early,” he said.

“We have to be aware that the World Cup is a little bit special. There is no doubt that experience does play a part. Quite a few of the teams that are really fancied to do well at this World Cup are quite old in terms of age and the number of caps. So I hope that I’ll be able to keep the balance going roughly as I’ve had it at.”

A beetle volkswagen, locally known as A beetle volkswagen, locally known as "fusca", painted in the green-yellow Brazilian national colours, is parked at the Praca 14 de Janeiro neighborhood in Manaus  

What makes the modern game different, certainly the modern World Cup finals played in tropical heat, is that this is a 14-man game. Hodgson’s substitutions will be only slightly less a crucial part of his match plan than his first XI. He will be judged on the whole ensemble. He is not afraid of picking the youngsters – he could have selected a much older squad – and he made the point that a lack of World Cup experience need not be an impediment. “Pele went into 1958 World Cup as a total unknown – a 17-year-old who was unknown in Brazil, let alone Europe. At the end of that World Cup he became one of the most famous 17-year-olds the world has ever known.

“Maradona was very young when he first started playing for Argentina. Johan Cryuff was another one when he was dominating European football for Holland. And Beckenbauer was a young man when England won in 1966. I’m not afraid to give youth a chance, but youth will have to prove to me that it’s better than experience. If someone wants to take Gerrard’s position on the field, that’s fine by me just as long as someone proves to me he’s better than Gerrard.”

In his ill-fated time at Liverpool, Hodgson was often accused of underselling the history and ambition of the club, of talking in terms that failed to fire the imagination. As an England manager, he has proved the most outspoken in the modern era.

There is a conflict in Hodgson between the old and the new. He admits he looks at the GPS data from training sessions but in the end his judgements are based “on the old-fashioned days of seeing lots of games, having lots of reports, lots of discussions and then trying to back judgement on what you have seen”. He has a team that “does not give the ball away willy-nilly” but he is more interested in strong defending and goalscoring chances than possession stats.

Hodgson is convinced that this is a different England team from the one that drew with Italy at Euro 2012 and went out on penalties. He says there is more “energy, pace and mobility” in this squad than the group he picked up on the hop at the end of the season two years ago.

“I’ve got every confidence in the team and really do believe we will play well. There are always those moments you just can’t control: the refereeing decisions, the unlucky bounce of the ball, the ball hits the crossbar and goes in and comes out. They are really the only things I’m nervous about.”

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone