Tim Sherwood World Cup 2014 column: What I learnt from Roy Hodgson and why Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere should play against Italy

The former Tottenham manager kicks off his exclusive column for The Independent with a look at the man who will guide England through the World Cup. He also believes Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere should all start against Italy

As a former professional footballer, there is one thing above all that I feel when I look back on the managers I played for. I learnt more about the art of coaching from Roy Hodgson than I did under any other manager – and I played for some good ones, Kenny Dalglish, George Graham and Harry Redknapp included. I played for some bad ones, too.

Before I took the Tottenham job in December I spoke to Roy to get his advice, as well as Harry and Kenny. The one thing you knew as a player at Blackburn Rovers under Roy was that not a single minute of training would be wasted. He knows as well as anyone how to prepare a team. He would build up to the game at the weekend. It started with him working with the back four, then the midfield and then at the end of the week he put it all together.

I enjoyed the training. I was at that stage of my career where I wanted to learn. There were some players who didn’t. You hear a lot of hot air from some managers about how to play the game and players can see straight through that. But when it came to organising a team there was no one better than Roy. As a manager I have tried to do the same. I regard myself as a coach and at Spurs I had a hand in every training session.

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People seem to regard Roy’s time at Blackburn as a failure, but we finished sixth in the Premier League in his first season. What you have to remember was that this was a club on the way down. We had won the Premier League in 1995 and people still had expectations of repeating that success. The reality was that at the end of Roy’s first season Rovers sold Colin Hendry and never properly replaced him.

Roy Hodgson talks with Sir Trevor Brooking and Dr Steve Peters (L) during an England training session at The Sunlife Stadium Roy Hodgson talks with Sir Trevor Brooking and Dr Steve Peters (L) during an England training session at The Sunlife Stadium  

The problem was that the club had lost so many good players like Hendry, David Batty and Alan Shearer. Shearer, in particular, was irreplaceable. He was as important to Blackburn then as Gareth Bale was to Tottenham before he left last summer. Rovers lacked foundations too. They had signed players quickly and at a price, and those players were all looking for their next move as well.

If there was one thing that did not go right for Roy, it was some of his signings. He bought Kevin Davies for £7.5m, a move that never worked out, although Kevin went on to have a great career.

Roy signed a defender from France, Patrick Valéry, who spoke little English. As a result, Roy would have to speak French to Valéry in the dressing room. There was one half-time when Roy was getting stuck into him in French and Valéry was giving him a bit back. The rest of us just sat there in silence. At the end of it, Roy turned to us and said, in English: “I told him to put the ball in the fucking channels!”

 

 

One Tuesday a month, Roy would have people in to watch training. There would be lots of them observing the sessions and taking notes. They weren’t watching us; they were watching him and they had come to learn. He was always happy to help young coaches and, looking back, there were probably some faces among that crowd who have since become famous managers.

I liked the way that Roy opened up the training ground at Blackburn. I could never understand why everything was so closed off at Spurs. What do people think goes on in there? It is not a top-secret laboratory. We used to have security guards prowling around the perimeter fences and I would ask why we needed that. It’s not like we were going to let a bunch of hooligans in. I wanted it to be a friendly place, where coaches and former players could come in and watch sessions.

It always seemed to me when England were looking for a new manager after Fabio Capello that Roy was the perfect man, according to their job spec. He is ideal for St George’s Park and coaching the coaches. He has been doing that his whole life. When the Football Association invited him in for a chat, I am sure it was more a case of Roy interviewing them than the other way around.

When it comes to organising a team, Roy knows better than anyone what is needed. He is less likely to give a player the freedom to do what he wants, as someone like, for instance, Harry would. I think someone like Daniel Sturridge is better playing off the cuff. Wayne Rooney is more workmanlike and sticks to a plan. Rooney knows when his team are under the cosh and he needs to thicken up the midfield. I see him making tackles for Manchester United a lot, sometimes at the expense of getting into goalscoring positions.

Wayne Rooney Wayne Rooney  

I would play Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling in England’s starting XI. Lallana is a free spirit with a lot of ability and he is one of those whom the opposition will have to worry about. I like teams that pose opponents problems rather than constantly worrying about what the other side can do.

Lallana has more technical ability than Sterling and brings players into the game more while working in a team framework. Raheem, by contrast, plays like the best player in the school playground, dribbling around his mates. Every time he has been asked to step up a level he has done it. He is a maverick.

I would pick Jack Wilshere alongside Steven Gerrard for the first game. Jordan Henderson has great energy and power but Jack is better suited to the job that needs to be done in Brazil. England are playing in their first game against Italy in the jungle so they need to keep the ball. Jack is a clever passer. Stevie has a better range. Jack can play the ball in between the lines. Stevie is the best at getting in around the ball and breaking up counter-attacks.

Raheem Sterling walks off the pitch in Miami alongside Steven Gerrard after being sent off for a tackle on Antonio Valencia Raheem Sterling walks off the pitch in Miami alongside Steven Gerrard after being sent off for a tackle on Antonio Valencia  

Another thing we noticed at Spurs about Lallana and Sterling was their fitness stats. They are incredible. They are two of the fittest players in the Premier League. They keep going all game and it is not just attacking areas but covering back as well. I always felt at Spurs that Aaron Lennon was one of our best defenders. The reason I played him so much was that I knew the work he did going backwards would allow the likes of Christian Eriksen and Emmanuel Adebayor freedom.

England can’t treat the ball like a hot potato in Manaus. We need players like Wilshere who are comfortable in possession. Footballers can smell it when someone doesn’t like having the ball  played into them in tight situations. You  see opponents take a risk and leave players further up the pitch to hunt for a mistake.

England cannot afford to hit long balls forward. It is not going to be end-to-end like a basketball match. Rooney will need to get around Andrea Pirlo to prevent him from setting the pace of the game. The team that keeps the ball better in Manaus will win the game.

Tim Sherwood will be writing for The Independent throughout the World Cup. He'll be joined by Champions League winning former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, England and Arsenal footballer Alex Scott and writer and broadcaster on all things Brazil Alex Bellos.

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