World Cup 2014: Roy Hodgson's calm camp is in stark contrast to chaos of 2010 preparations under Fabio Capello
England are preparing to play Peru at Wembley tonight
It was the fourth anniversary on Thursday of a press conference Fabio Capello gave in Graz before the 2010 World Cup finals warm-up game there at which the then England manager refused to rule out the possibility that he might leave after that tournament – and what a panic it caused at the Football Association. The Club England board was constituted overnight because of Capello’s complaint that, after the resignation of chairman Lord Triesman, he did not know who was in charge of the FA.
Capello duly got his new contract, signed the morning England flew to Johannesburg to ward off the interest from Internazionale who had, conveniently for England’s Italian coach, begun making advances. Looking back, how could we have missed the warning signs that all was not going to turn out well in South Africa? A week earlier Capello had launched his online “Capello Index” to widespread disbelief that the England manager was backing a commercial venture that would rate his own players’ performance.
By the time Wayne Rooney wrote “FCUK U” in black marker pen on his golf shoes it was looking like a Lord of the Flies situation. In retrospect, it did not need John Terry to announce after the Algeria game that he was prepared to tell Capello where it was going wrong to know that the wheels had come off.
With World Cup squads, in particular England, it can be the little things that signpost the way to the general malaise. Four years on and Camp Hodgson is, thus far, becalmed. At The Grove hotel yesterday, their Hertfordshire base ahead of tonight’s game at Wembley, the players were walking around in full kit for a photo shoot but none of them looked like he was trying to send discreet SOS signals to the outside world.
No injuries, no rows, no contract renegotiations so far. England play Peru at Wembley in the first of three warm-up games, this one the last on home shores in front of what will be close to a sell-out crowd. The Peruvians are presumably in town to give England a taste of what it will be like against South American opponents Uruguay. They do have a Uruguayan coach, Pablo Bengoechea, but they won just four games in South American qualification, finishing seventh out of nine. Ranked joint-42nd in the world by Fifa, they last played at a World Cup in 1982.
What could possibly go wrong? “Things could not have gone better,” Hodgson said, “but I am a great believer sometimes when things are going well, watch out because that is when the blow comes from left field and strikes you.”
Asked to cast his mind back to the build-up to South Africa 2010, Steven Gerrard was adamant that it was down to the players, and the players alone. “The easiest thing for me to do would be sit here and make excuses for the reasons we didn’t do well,” he said. “The reason we went out when we did was down to the players and how we performed in the games. So I’m not going to point the finger at previous regimes but this is a very good moment that this squad is in.
“We’re all looking forward to getting started. Preparations are going well and we’re looking forwards, but things can be disrupted with injury or other things. Hopefully things will continue as they are.”
England have had rotten luck with injuries in the build-up to tournaments in recent times. Rio Ferdinand was felled in the first training session in Rustenburg four years ago and missed the tournament. Before Euro 2012, Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard were late withdrawals. Gary Cahill broke his jaw in that collision with Joe Hart in the last warm-up game against Belgium. As for tonight, the only player who might be unavailable is Luke Shaw, who is struggling with a cold.
There will be no holding back, Gerrard said, no matter what is at stake. Hodgson said that he expected to pick a strong side to face Peru and will hope for the best when it comes to injuries. It will be the first time since March that he is able to look closely at his options and, with so many places in the side at stake, one would imagine that none of the contenders can afford to hold back. Yet, every time Hodgson is pressed on what kind of style his England team will adopt, he ducks the question. Gerrard said that England will play “the Roy Hodgson way” although no one is currently any the wiser what that means.
More than once, Hodgson was asked whether he would adopt some of the attacking brio of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool team, given he has so many of those players in his squad, but he was reluctant to be pinned down.
“The players can very easily replicate the qualities of their performances in an England shirt. There’s no reason why the players who’ve done it for Liverpool can’t do that in an England shirt. In terms of styles of play, I’d like to think the way we’ve tried to set up over a long period of time and the type of football we’re trying to play doesn’t differ greatly from the way Liverpool are trying to approach their games: an attacking style, a passing style, using the qualities of the individual and giving them the confidence to go out and showcase their skills.”
Asked to define the style, he said: “You can do the defining. We work on attacking and defending. I’m not prepared to go out and make bold statements about definitions of players. We are a positive team who take the game on to the opposition. We are prepared to accept the responsibility of taking the initiative in games. We don’t sit back and wait to see what happens.”
Ordinarily, Hodgson might have disclosed his team for a friendly game 24 hours early. Not this time. This is an England side that still feels like a work in progress, although at least the progress has not been interrupted – not yet anyway – by the pre-tournament dramas of recent years.
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