Proud day for new manager on Wembley debut
'You don’t model a team in two weeks' admits Hodgson before last Euro 2012 warm-up
The first time Roy Hodgson visited Wembley Stadium on 3 May 1975, he witnessed West Ham win the FA Cup final, the last all-English team to do so. Back then, Margaret Thatcher had been leader of the Conservative Party, in opposition, for less than three months and on the day before the final, one David Robert Joseph Beckham was born in Whipps Cross hospital, Leytonstone. Hodgson himself was 27 years old and coming to the end of a non-league playing career at Carshalton Athletic.
Beckham will be at Wembley today to be honoured by Uefa for his 115 England caps, along with Peter Shilton and Sir Bobby Charlton as well as relatives of the two other centurions, the late Bobby Moore and Billy Wright. Beckham may wish to point out to Hodgson that he has never officially retired from international football.
Beckham will get the adulation of the home support, but today is much more significant for Hodgson who, at 64 manages England at Wembley for the first time after a long, and peripatetic coaching career. Not just his first game at Wembley but England's last match before they embark for Poland, and ultimately Ukraine, on Wednesday and the European Championships campaign that has been thrown at Hodgson after one of the Football Association's most dramatic six months.
First the captain John Terry was removed from his position, then Fabio Capello walked out. In the last few days and weeks, Jack Wilshere, Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard have all been lost to the England team this summer. Today, Wembley gets its first glimpse of what might be Hodgson's first XI for France on 11 June. This is not the end of two years' worth of work and planning, it is the start.
For Hodgson, however, none of those details will affect his enjoyment of today. He might have been a child of the post-war baby boom but his nicely formal, considered approach seems to owe more to the orthodoxies of the 1950s than the 1960s. He values tradition. This is a proud moment for him. He has reached the pinnacle of English management and even the last-minute nature of his appointment will not change his enjoyment of that. "Managing at Wembley is fantastic," Hodgson said. "Last week [against Norway in Oslo] was a good first game, but it won't compare to 90,000 people at Wembley on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It'll be a very big occasion for me." His playing career was too modest ever to lead him to Wembley although he recalled playing at the old stadium for a Uefa XI against an FA team the day after the final of Euro 96.
The side Hodgson has picked, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck in the team has the potential to fire the imagination of the country. It is young and bold and, on the brink of a tournament, it has a pleasing element of risk to it. Hodgson maintained yesterday that he is still experimenting with this team but this side is a statement of intent.
"I've not set a final path so I can't tell you how far along the path we are," he said. "I haven't set the end goal. As a football coach who's worked year after year, done session after session, I find it very hard to understand how any one can remotely imagine that, in two weeks, you could get a team playing the way you'd like them to play. If you ask me if I'm happy that the players have responded well... then I'm happy. I think they'll be OK. But you don't model a team in two weeks. It's not a possibility."
The first-choice back five of Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole offer reassurance. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker will start, barring any late problems, in the centre of midfield. "Audition is too strong a word to use with so many senior players, but it's preparatory," was Hodgson's way of explaining it.
In order to convince Hodgson to play this team, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Welbeck, against France in nine days' time it will take quite a performance this evening. There would be no shame in playing conservatively against France and using James Milner and Stewart Downing on the wings to tuck in and keep the midfield tight. This time last year Oxlade-Chamberlain had not played outside League One but he has an opportunity now to stake a claim in England's future.
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