His Marks and Spencer Football Association suit is ready. The hotels have been booked, from Miami to Manaus, although the latter sounds like the kind of place most Premier League footballers would not let their chauffeurs stay. All that remains now is for Roy Hodgson, at the age of 66, to embark on the unique journey that only an England manager at a World Cup finals takes. Even for a coach as long in the tooth as him it will undoubtedly be life changing, although how only time will tell.
There is less than a month now until Hodgson, his staff and his 23 players will stand on the airport steps at Luton airport alongside a plane bound for Fort Lauderdale, their pre-World Cup training camp, before they fly on to Rio de Janeiro. For some of the players, it will be their last trip with England, for others the first tournament of many. For all of them a World Cup finals in Brazil will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Before then the England manager faces a significant series of decisions and obstacles which he discussed last night.
Keeping the team relaxed
Hodgson has recruited the sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters – who has worked with Liverpool, British Cycling and the world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan – on a “watching brief”.
He said: “My biggest fear is we will come away from the World Cup knowing that if we’d just been able to be a little bit more relaxed about it and freed our minds a bit more we could have done a bit better.
“That’s why Steve Peters is coming with us, not because I think he is going to go round and sort all these things out in people’s minds – that would be ludicrous – but at least him being there, he might see some of the tensions we don’t see because we are so close to it.
“He might be able to point something out we might have missed because we’ve got our heads so far down we are missing an obvious point. He might even be able to help one or two players. He’s not going to be asked to do it with the players. I’m not going to say ‘Steve, I want you to work with X, Y or Z’. He’s got a watching brief.
“He is there if people need him and we know some of the Liverpool boys will go and speak to him because they do anyway. Whether the others will or not, I don’t know but at least he’s there. If they do want to talk and they are choked up about something maybe he can help them out a little bit. It’s an extra body and a very knowledgeable and expert person in a field where the rest of us can’t ever say we are experts.”
Keeping the players fit for the tournament
Before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Fabio Capello took the players to a mountain resort in Austria he had used as a club manager. The training there, it later emerged, was more like a pre-season conditioning programme which some felt left the players tired and sluggish for the tournament.
“We can’t just do a general fitness session and they all do it,” said Hodgson, who will take his players to Portugal before they play Peru at Wembley on 30 May. “There will be some players who need to do extra work, some players who need to do a bit less work, who need specific emphasis on certain parts of their body.
“Our plan, because we have got Dave Reddin [FA head of performance] on board, two fitness coaches and a nutritionist – we have got quite a big staff with our physios and masseurs – is that we are going to work in Portugal, there is no doubt about that. But it is certainly going to be tailored. It is not going to be, ‘This is the session, everyone does it’.”
Does Ashley Cole go to his fourth World Cup finals, or is it Luke Shaw’s turn?
“The fact that he [Cole] had not played won’t affect me that much,” said Hodgson. “It does to some extent because that is a long time to be out and in the shadows. As a left-back you are either in or out, but I have never doubted Ashley. And I have never thought that I can’t now pick Ashley Cole because he hasn’t played 18 games [out of Chelsea’s recent run]. My problem is going to be a very simple one – there are three, possibly four, very good candidates for the left-back position and can I afford to take more than two?”
On the squad’s emerging talents
Hodgson was blunt about his thoughts on the squad, saying he has made up his mind about the 23 “quite a while ago”. “I am going to see them now in the hope that I see people doing well and everyone justifying it.
“We have to accept that in the course of the time that I am judging players there will be good moments and bad moments. At the moment it is Raheem Sterling. Two months ago if you had asked the same question, people would have looked at you and said: ‘Are you crazy? It’s Ross Barkley, he’s the man’, or Adam Lallana or Jay Rodriguez or somebody else.
“What about Wilfried Zaha? We even took him in the national team and gave him a game for a few minutes because this lad was flying. This was going to be the best England player, but unfortunately because he is young he has hit a bad patch and you don’t hear quite so much about him.
“I am always very conscious when I pick the squad that if I am going to pick players it’s because they have a permanent class and a permanent future and it’s not because they happen to be having a wonder spell.”
The travel plans
The decision has been made for England to fly from their Rio base to Manaus for their first game, against Italy on 14 June, one day earlier than usual on Thursday 12 June. The Italy squad is expected to arrive in the Amazon city the following day, Friday.
On Steven Gerrard’s likely state of mind after his mistake against Chelsea
“I’m not worried because he’s very strong mentally,” Hodgson said. “I know that he’s a bit down because it was a big game and a very heavy defeat when they were being built up to an extent, and unfortunately his mistake cost them the match.
“But football matches are won and lost like that. We all want it to be so logical, to be able to say ‘It happened because of this; they got it wrong, they got it right’. But the truth is that sometimes games turn on such a simple thing. It was unusual for Steven to let the ball run past him in the first place but had he not slipped he’d have won it back anyway, he’d have won the tackle.”
On Adnan Januzaj’s decision to play for Belgium
“I’m sorry, but sometimes I don’t see what the fuss is about. If a player isn’t eligible to play for England until 2018, then what’s the problem if he goes and plays for someone else? He’s not English anyway, let’s be fair. We can argue that, under the current Fifa rules, by 2017 and 2018, he might be eligible to play for England. But how can you be upset in 2014 if he goes and plays for one of the other countries that he’s actually eligible for? He was born and brought up in Belgium. We can’t be disappointed by that.”
On that difficult task of telling players on 12 May who is in, and who is not
“It’s very tough. There is no easy way to break someone’s heart. I can only choose 23 and there’s more than 23 candidates there’s no question about that.”Reuse content