Roy Hodgson spent Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro inspecting England’s proposed base for next summer’s World Cup finals, all too aware of the off-field issues that dogged his last experience at the finals, 19 years ago in the United States. Boredom became an increasing factor among Switzerland’s players as the tournament progressed and Hodgson’s planning for 2014, notably looking to limit the length of any pre-tournament training camp, will be influenced by the events of 1994.
England discover this afternoon who they face and where they will play in a tournament that has similarities to the US World Cup, with potentially vast distances to be travelled. The England manager raised the issue of players’ boredom before leaving for Brazil and it is a memory that chimes with Alain Sutter’s.
Like many in the squad, Sutter, Switzerland’s creative force under Hodgson, struggled with a long pre-tournament training stint and the frustrations of being all but confined to the team hotel once the finals began.
“Boredom was the biggest problem,” said Sutter, who won 68 caps. “We had a pretty long preparation camp, too long. We were too long together before the tournament started. Then we didn’t have a hotel where we could go out freely, where we were, like, locked in. The problem was not the work that Roy did, it was on the practical level over the hotel, the surroundings and everything.
“We couldn’t go out freely to get fresh air or get away from things, it was just thinking about playing, playing, playing. I am pretty sure he learned a lot from that because this is the tough part, to find the line between having to focus on the tournament and still being relaxed and enjoying the whole event.
“It was his first tournament and not everything was perfect. Nobody had any experience with a big tournament because we had not been there for 28 years before Roy came. There were a couple of things that I’m sure he would have done differently.”
In 1994, Hodgson gathered his squad for a two-week training camp in Switzerland before they flew to Canada for more training and a couple of friendlies. The Swiss arrived in Detroit two days before their opening match with the hosts. They played two games there, completed the group stages in California and then flew to the east coast to take on Spain in the last 16.
“By the time we got back to Washington I got the feeling that some of the players were a little bit weary,” said Hodgson. “We are aware of the dangers but there’s certain things you can’t change.”
England plan to play two friendlies in the US, the second in Florida where a pre-tournament camp will be held. The squad will leave London towards the end of May with the World Cup opening on 12 June.
“Spending too many days in one place away from home we know what that can do,” said Hodgson. “We will think about family time and giving them days off before training.”
Assuming England stick to their original plan of staying in Rio, the hotel and training base will be in different locations as in last year’s Euros and, unlike in South Africa 2010, the hotel is not isolated. England plan to stay in Royal Tulip hotel in the Barra district of Rio. It is close to a beach and a golf course. The squad will train at the Urca military base near Sugarloaf mountain, a journey that can take up to 50 minutes.
In the US, Sutter scored in Switzerland’s only victory, a 4-1 win over Romania. They made it out of the group stages before being beaten 3-0 by Spain. Sutter has positive memories of Hodgson’s tenure. “I liked that he had a clear idea,” he said. “You know exactly what he wants on and off the pitch. He was authentic in the way he acted. He was very predictable and everybody knew what the rules were. He had his own ideas and as a player when you know what his ideas are it makes it much easier than a guy who is always changing his mind.
“We had different ideas and this I liked too – I could talk with Roy in a critical way, not fighting but arguing and he was always open to that and liked when people spoke their mind.”
Sutter combines coaching with working for Swiss TV and has watched the current Switzerland side develop with admiration. They may be the seeds that everybody wants but Sutter expects them to make a mark in Brazil. He said: “This is the best team we ever had. It has unbelievable potential. Nobody should underestimate them.”