It was almost an hour into Match of the Day when the real reason for Roy Hodgson appearing on the show came to light. It certainly wasn’t for any incisive analysis of his England players. He said “particularly pleased” so often, one wondered whether he was watching match highlights or was midway through a wine tasting.
But Hodgson’s tepid analysis of the likes of his England players Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Phil Jones served as a mere appetiser for the main event: where Gary Lineker, the host, broached England’s 0-0 draw with Ukraine last month – the one he had famously branded “awful”.
“Biggest week for you as England manager?” asked Lineker, in the manner of a prosecution lawyer eager to tease out a confession. “It feels like it,” the hunch-shouldered Hodgson replied.
Lineker, seemingly treading on eggshells around the England manager for the first half-hour, knew he had to mention his sideswipe somewhere, especially as this was his and Hodgson’s first public meeting since the latter’s testy reply to the former’s comments last month.
Lineker began Saturday night’s inquisition with a softly spoken statement that the Ukraine match had attracted some criticism – “I was one,” he admitted – and in response we were treated to a reassuringly robust defence.
“I suppose I could concur that we have had better attacking days but we defended very well,” Hodgson said. “[But] we have played quite an offensive style. The Ukraine game was a bit special, not least because we were missing players and also because it was important that we didn’t lose.” Take that, Gary.
Hodgson had earlier responded to Lineker’s “biggest week” query in a way which was actually quite stirring.
He drew a deep breath and began: “I have had some weeks in the past with national teams where you are coming to the end of a qualifying campaign and you feel a lot of responsibility for the country. But when it is your own one, it weighs that little bit more heavily.” See Gary? See? Roy cares as much as the rest of the country – how do you feel now, you big meany?
Speaking of punditry, there were six Premier League matches to trawl through on Saturday and it was a vain hope that Hodgson would provide more bite than the other talking head on Saturday, Alan Shearer.
Because when you are looking to Shearer to make incisive criticism you know you are in trouble. Take Hogdson’s opening gambit of his analysis of Manchester United’s win over Sunderland: “I was particularly pleased [that phrase again] with Manchester United in the second half.” The inference was, of course, that United were awful in the first. Which, Shearer, explained, they were: “Jones lost the ball, it was poor from Rooney.” In Shearer-speak, that is tantamount to a public birch-whipping.
It was similarly disappointing when Hodgson was asked to give his views on Everton and Manchester City’s England contingent, firmly sitting on the fence with “I was very happy with all of them”. Thank goodness the main event more than made up for the undercard.