Sam Wallace: Roy Hodgson's late booking offers prospect of thrills in Europe
Talking football: Hodgson is, by nature, no Mr Lastminute.com. Given more time, he would do it differently
A week today, Roy Hodgson is expected to name his England squad for the European Championship. Tomorrow he might just finalise his back-room staff. At some point this week he will look again at the facilities at England's pre-tournament training camp in Marbella and their Krakow base, but the first time he sees them for real will be when he arrives with his players. He still needs to pick a West Bromwich Albion team to beat Arsenal on Sunday. Do Marks & Spencer have a Football Association suit in his size? Put it on the to do list.
So much of the new England manager's preparation for Euro 2012 will be done on the hoof that the temptation is to write the whole thing off, but it is a personal view that it might not be as bad as all that. In fact, for once, it feels quite hopeful. Not in the sense that England might win it, more that a familiar burden has been divested.
The typical build-up for England to any major tournament usually begins so far in advance that by the time June arrives there is well-established dread at the prospect. The manager has his favourites, everyone has a rough idea of the first XI and there are some players who know that, barring a miracle, they face the prospect of six weeks playing the role of the opposition in training.
For those players, as they try to fight the disillusionment, the magic of the big tournament has been less easy to access. This time it is different. This time the slate is clean. If England tournaments of the recent past have been the equivalent of the regimented coach tour, with strict itinerary and four medieval churches to see before lunch, then Hodgson's Euro 2012 is an impulsive late booking, a hasty taxi to the airport and the thrill at check-in that anything might happen.
Clearly, Hodgson is, by nature, no Mr Lastminute.com. Given more than 40 days' grace between his appointment and his first tournament game, he would undoubtedly have done it differently. In speaking to those who knew him well from his time in Sweden and Denmark last week, it was clear that he is a planner and a driller, a man who likes to leave his players in absolutely no doubt as to what is required of them.
Of course, he will want to prepare as best he can but Hodgson will have been in the job, full-time, less than 24 hours before he names his squad next week. That is an absurdly short period of time to do anything. This time, there is surely an argument for tapping that mood around England of into the unknown and harnessing it for the benefit of the team.
In his press conference last Tuesday, Hodgson handled the question of expectation adroitly. "One is tempted to say, because it's England, that success is only reaching the latter stages," he said. "Even tempted to say the only success is winning. But I'd like people to cut us a bit of slack in that respect."
One would be tempted to say the slack has been cut already by the English football public. Hodgson can thank, in part, the nation's devotion to conspiracy theories, and one ill-judged headline, in one British national newspaper (there are eight others, you know) which seems to have convinced a critical majority that the English press are out to get Hodgson.
The reality is that for those of us who cover the England team game after game, year after year, tournament after tournament, nothing could be further from the truth. Nevertheless the backlash to The Sun's "Bwing on the Euwos!" front page is one of those modern, social media-driven phenomena that not even the smartest public-relations guru could have orchestrated. The one good thing to come out of it is that Hodgson has emerged the stronger. That and the fact that we can all now spell rhotacism correctly
But even before then, Hodgson had a free pass for this summer. If he believes that taking both John Terry and Rio Ferdinand will be unworkable, given Terry's court case in July for allegedly racially abusing Ferdinand's brother, Anton, then he should make his choice. If he wants to take the uncapped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, never before named in an England squad, then do so.
The FA will argue that much of the key planning is in place. Hotels have been booked. Practice pitches have been tended. Some of the last remaining Polish decorators still in Poland have been set to working on the training ground outside Krakow. But then logistics were always the FA's strong point. If World Cups were decided on that alone England would have won as many as any nation, with the possible exception of the Germans.
Of greater concern is that Hodgson needed one meeting with Stuart Pearce, the man whom the FA decided was its fall-back plan for Euro 2012 if everyone turned the job down, and decided that he did not even want him on the plane. That would suggest that the contingency plan was not as watertight as first thought.
Given the choice, it would be preferable for England to approach this European Championship as a team with nothing to lose, rather than a side fearful to lose. Not easy when you consider the quality of the opposition but, given the sheer seat-of-the-pants manner in which Hodgson will be forced to manage, it feels like the only way.
Other than the hosts, Poland and Ukraine, and the Czech Republic, every one of the 16 teams at the European Championship, including England, are in the top 20 of Fifa's world rankings. Spain and Germany won every single game in qualification. Italy and Greece were unbeaten. The Netherlands won every game apart from one, when they had already secured first place in their group. France conceded just four goals in 10 qualifying games.
Viewed in those terms it is daunting. Combined with the relative lack of preparation, one could get seriously disheartened. But the tried and tested approach has not exactly yielded a lifetime of great memories for England at tournaments. Bearing that in mind, and in the absence of any other options, the time has come to embrace the unknown.
Hard truth no one seems prepared to tell Torres
First came the indignant statement from his agent, Antonio Sanz, complaining that their client had not been given enough "trust" by Andre Villas-Boas. Then, before the FA Cup final, Pepe Reina weighed in by saying that his friend Fernando Torres had not "felt that confidence" from Villas-Boas.
In fact, Villas-Boas gave Torres so few chances that he started him in 21 of the 39 games for which he was in charge. Roberto Di Matteo, with whom Torres seems to have no problem, perhaps because he is winning games, has started him in 10 out of 19. Faced with winning the FA Cup yesterday, how long did Di Matteo choose to have Torres on the pitch? A total of zero minutes.
Torres has undoubtedly found some semblance of form of late, but when his side needed a goal against Newcastle last week he faded. He is yet to score a decisive goal in a big game (Chelsea were already going through when he scored against Barcelona). Mind you, with friends and agents like his, you do wonder if anyone is prepared to tell him the hard truth.
Euro crisis comes back to haunt Leiria
They are the club who gave Jose Mourinho his second big break in management but it looks like Uniao de Leiria are on their way out of business. Virtually the whole squad resigned over unpaid wages last month and on Friday the club, already relegated, said it could not fulfil its obligations to the Portuguese league.
Leiria had already ditched their 30,000-capacity Dr Magalhaes Pessoa stadium, built for Euro 2004, because the rent was too expensive and decamped to another, much smaller, municipal ground. It comes just as Poland and Ukraine prepare to unveil six new stadiums between them, purpose-built for Euro 2012. Good luck with that.
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