Roy Hodgson makes sunny start for England – with Gary Neville's help
England in bright mood under their new manager as coach puts his boots back on
All England managers are entitled to begin their time in charge with the fresh spring of optimism and a clean break from the decades of disappointment that have followed the national team since its solitary triumph in 1966. Yesterday, even the notoriously unreliable Mancunian climate obliged Roy Hodgson by bathing his second training session at the Etihad Stadium in sunshine.
There are 17 days left until England play their first game of Euro 2012 against France in Donetsk and having convened his squad on Wednesday, Hodgson has – as it stands – only two fit and available strikers for that game. Yesterday, Danny Welbeck once again played no part in training, his ankle ligaments still a concern, and it grows increasingly inevitable that Andy Carroll will have to start the game.
Nevertheless, these are still the early days for Hodgson who, as is his way, took training himself yesterday morning. For those players summoned in from the margins, who now believe they have a chance to play games, and for the new coaching staff, it is a time to be hopeful. If they cannot be that way now, without a game played and none of the recriminations and grudges that have characterised so many regimes of the past, then when can they?
It has been the way of the Football Association in the recent past to swing from one extreme to another in choosing the kind of manager, and therefore the kind of regime, that the organisation thinks is best suited to achieving success. After Glenn Hoddle's hardline attitude to his players came Kevin Keegan and his card schools. When the pressure became too intense under Keegan, the FA appointed Sven Goran Eriksson who let everyone do what they wanted.
After Eriksson was Steve McClaren, unfortunately not the FA's first choice but in the end not regarded as enough of a heavyweight name to deal with England's problems. He was followed by the austere years of serial winner Fabio Capello, the disciplinarian who gave his instructions in broken English and was, in the end, regarded with mixed feelings.
Where the Hodgson years will fit into this cycle of light and shade, boom and bust – mostly bust it should be said – will emerge in time. What was obvious from yesterday was that Gary Neville, his coach, will be a crucial figure in the England camp. With a shortage of defenders in the squad yesterday, especially with Glen Johnson still struggling with a toe problem, Neville put his boots on and played in a full-scale game at the end of training in a makeshift three-man defence with Martin Kelly and Adam Johnson either side of him.
Having Neville around is helpful when it comes to making up the numbers but there is a lot more to it than that. Joleon Lescott said yesterday that the new England coach had – in jest – already warned him to "stay away from the chocolate cake" at lunch. Neville, it was pointed out, had looked a bit tired after the practice game. "He looked tired before it," was Lescott's reply.
The joshing is not as trivial as it may first appear. A successful tournament can rely so much on the mood of the camp and getting that right is a kind of alchemy in its own right. The atmosphere will be one thing now and when the last of the big guns – Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole – turn up next week after tomorrow's friendly against Norway in Oslo it will change again. In Neville, Hodgson has a bridge to the players that none of his predecessors enjoyed.
Lescott, who at 29 will be playing in his first tournament, is typical of those who may benefit from a new manager. He would have been selected in the squad for the World Cup two years ago but for injury and he has a chance of featuring this summer, even if Terry and Gary Cahill are probably the first-choice pairing. Lescott said that Neville's presence as a coach had already changed the mood.
"If coaches and staff feel the need to address you, they will but I think it's more natural for Gary to do that and he will feel closer to the players," he said. "It can come across a bit differently from Gary because he's only been out the game a year or so. I've not worked with him before. I've enjoyed his commentary and punditry over the last season so hopefully he can bring that level of humour into the squad."
The question of Neville the pundit becoming Neville the coach, living and working among the players whom he analyses during the season was, Lescott said, not an issue. "He's very professional in what he does. His comments are fair and valid. A lot of people thought he might be biased towards Manchester United but watching the games and listening to his opinions I don't think he has been.
"Because he is level across the board, he's not biased to any team, so it's easier to take the criticism he's giving you anyway. I don't think there will be any problem with what Gary says."
Lescott denied any suggestion that there was any problem between him and Terry. There was, he said, "no animosity" between them. He did, however, go out of his way to pay tribute to Rio Ferdinand, his "good friend" and someone who has clearly been an influence on him. "We spoke after the league season. He texted me after that to say congratulations... Rio is a person I look up to and also the way he plays."
On a sunny day in Manchester with a summer of possibilities stretching out ahead of them and a good training session under their belts, the mood felt good. But as Neville will know better than anyone, with England at major tournaments, that is not something that can ever be taken for granted.
Hawk-Eye to be used but refs will not see it
England's friendly against Belgium next Saturday will be the first high-profile match in which goal-line technology is tested, Fifa has announced.
The Hawk-Eye system will be installed at Wembley for the match – Roy Hodgson's first home game in charge of England. The match will not be affected, however, with the results of any close calls being known only by scientists monitoring the system – the referee will not have access to the findings.
If tests are successful, Fifa is expected to give the go-ahead for the technology in early July. Next week's trial will be the final live test for Hawk-Eye and follows a previous test at the Hampshire FA Senior Cup final last week.
Class of 2010: England's changes
Only 10 of England's 23-man squad for Euro 2012 played at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Gareth Barry (Manchester City)
Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Robert Green (West Ham United)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
James Milner (Manchester City)
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
John Terry (Chelsea)
* Manchester City's Joe Hart was a squad member but did not play.
The new boys
Leighton Baines (Everton)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Andy Carroll (Liverpool)
Stewart Downing (Liverpool)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
Scott Parker (Tottenham)
John Ruddy (Norwich City)
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
Ashley Young (Manchester United)
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