Roy Hodgson comes out fighting after being put in strong position
England's victory over Montenegro had manager bursting with pride and ready to hit back at critics who had doubted his team's belief and passion
Suddenly the offence of Not Being Harry Redknapp does not seem such a capital crime after all. Nor does it seem any more that the Football Association dropped the clanger Redknapp is convinced they did when they preferred Roy Hodgson as Fabio Capello's successor. It is not just that Redknapp admits himself he would not be interested in the wider aspects of the brief, the ones that do not include the first team, nor is it simply the fact that England finally gained a substantial win in World Cup qualifying against decent opposition on Friday. There is more a growing sense that Hodgson is an international coach and Redknapp more suited to club management.
It is certainly hard to imagine Hodgson being taken in for several years by a pub glass collector masquerading as a jockey who he met in a casino, as Redknapp was. As for the belief that Redknapp produces entertaining teams and Hodgson functional ones, well it is Redknapp who is currently presiding over the series of grinding 1-0 wins that have taken QPR into the Championship's promotion places while Hodgson's England have scored 29 goals in nine qualifiers.
What both men share is faith in the talents of Andros Townsend and while the Tottenham winger was unable to keep QPR up last year he has propelled England towards Brazil with his scintillating international debut against Montenegro on Friday.
"The job is only half done," insisted Hodgson, as he gave his players yesterday off before reassembling in readiness for Tuesday's final qualifying tie against Poland. "I can assure you the players know it too," he added. "There will be no whooping about with them because they know they have three very important days of preparation ahead of them.
"I have given them Saturday off. It is a lot of responsibility on them, but I know they will take that. Although I sometimes complain about the lack of coaching time it is still a long time to be together, and if you go back and incarcerate yourselves again for another couple of days that can have a negative effect. I prefer them to open the window and smell the roses and hope they come back on Sunday ready to play."
Win the home games, draw the away games, this would be a perfect qualifying campaign were it not for the dropped points at home to Ukraine in September 2012. It has gone down to the wire, but that is not uncommon with England and at the start of qualifying Hodgson would have settled for needing to win a home match, against an eliminated team, to qualify, especially as he has, by England standards, a fit and in-form squad.
"In every training session I see them looking like they could be a good team, but to be a good team you have to take that onto match day and win your games," said Hodgson. He added: "We haven't always done that in this campaign, but now we have a much stronger squad. To be able to put on fabulous players like [Michael] Carrick, [James] Milner and [Jack] Wilshere, and to have someone like Jermain Defoe, in the form he is in, on the bench is much nicer."
'Pride, passion, belief', the words of a sponsors' slogan appended to the England team in recent years, would not immediately leap to mind in a Hodgson word-association exercise – 'organised' might be first off the tongue – but they are there in the 66-year-old south Londoner.
His passion (and relief) was obvious in the way he celebrated England's goals, there is belief in his team, and his pride in his players and his country was revealed in a jibe at Dejan Savicevic, the former Milan striker, now president of the Montenegrin FA.
"I was irritated in Montenegro with Savicevic who said to me 'English players don't care about the shirt, they just care about themselves, where we Montenegrins throw ourselves into everything'. It was a complete load of rubbish but, as we played badly in the second half [in Podgorica] and they got a 1-1, I had to swallow that. He might change his opinion after watching our players swarm all over them. Every time we lost the ball we got it back very quickly."
There is also pride in his own work. Often you get the sense that Hodgson thinks his native land does not appreciate just how respected he is elsewhere. It is probably justified, given every time Fulham won a Europa League tie, the man who has won eight League titles, reached two European finals, managed four countries and is a Knight, First Class of the order of the Lion of Finland, was asked by the English media 'is this your finest achievement as a manager?'
We were at it again on Friday. Hodgson replied he would be very proud to take England to a World Cup, but "there will be people in other countries who quite like what I have done there."
He added: "It is a big day for me on Tuesday night because if we do avoid defeat it will be 40 matches in qualifiers with four defeats, which is not too bad when you think some of those games are with Switzerland and Finland."
He pointed out he wants to win on Tuesday. Indeed, he needs to. If England do not win they will be facing a potentially tricky play-off to reach Brazil and Hodgson, fairly or unfairly, will be back in the dock in the court of public opinion.
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