Hodgson happy with two hats

Tonight he leads his resurgent Swiss side at Wembley - but the next stop in the Englishman's footballing odyssey is San Siro to coach Internazionale. Ken Jones reports
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The Independent Online
If the admiration Roy Hodgson expresses in public for notable peers, especially Terry Venables, contains a hint of the prejudice felt by coaches who achieved little as players, it is not an attempt to win approval.

Hodgson, who will be in charge of Switzerland at Wembley tonight and recently leapt at an opportunity to coach one of the game's most demanding clubs, Internazionale, has come so far since his days as a journeyman professional with non-League clubs in Kent and Surrey that respect is mutual.

What you sense immediately in Hodgson is confidence. "Of course, it was a great disappointment when I didn't make it as a player and even now I suppose some people might hold that against me," he declared this week. "But I remember Don Howe saying that the only advantage a coach gets from an outstanding career on the field is 10 more games."

Because of the great responsibility he has taken on in Milan, tonight's match is possibly Hodgson's swansong with Switzerland after qualifying them for last year's World Cup finals and the European Championship here next summer. "I don't know what is going to happen," he confessed. "Nobody stood in my way when Inter came along, so I feel a responsibility and would be willing to take a risk with my reputation. I'm pretty sure Inter would agree but somebody has to make a decision."

The decisions Hodgson, now 48, has taken down the years make a remarkable story. After trying his luck as a player in South Africa he then followed his friend Bobby Houghton to Sweden. "I got to know Bob through being offered some coaching work back home and I soon got a job of my own out there."

During the period that Houghton took Malmo to the European Cup final against Nottingham Forest, losing by the only goal, Hodgson made Halmstads a force in Swedish football, winning five divisional and two overall championships.

The next career move Hodgson made led to a great deal of personal anxiety. "Bob [Houghton] got an offer from Bristol City, who were in a mess after relegation from the First Division, and I went with him. It was a disaster. City had players on eight and nine-year contracts and couldn't meet the wages they'd agreed on getting promotion. We spent half the time trying to sell them off."

Within 18 months [Houghton left for Toronto], Hodgson was back in Sweden. "Strange how these things can work out," he said, "but I was given Bob's old club, Malmo, and never looked back."

His reputation raised in Europe by five championships, Hodgson moved on to Neuchatel Xamax in Switzerland. Further success brought him to the attention of the Swiss Football Association, who offered him the national team. In more than one way, Hodgson was drawing closer to the great prize. "Apart from being the host nation in 1954, Switzerland had been to the World Cup finals before but because qualifying is much more difficult these days getting through to the United States caused tremendous excitement."

That Switzerland are ninth in the world ratings, more than 10 places higher than England, pleases Hodgson no end. It also sharpens the debate over whether he should remain in control of the team. "When the most popular newspaper in Switzerland conducted a poll, 95 per cent were in favour of me carrying on, but as I keep on saying, I don't know what the authorities want."

What Internazionale want is proof of the opinions that persuaded them to place trust in Hodgson's methods. "It's a very big job," he said, "and I can't fail to imagine that a lot of people were consulted before Inter contacted me."

One may have been a man who has never been far from Hodgson's side since his arrival in Milan a month ago, the great international full-back, Giacinto Facchetti. "He seems to know everybody," Hodgson chuckled. "You need a suit, ties, Giacinto knows where to go for them."

In fact wherever Hodgson looks he sees influences from Inter's past. Luis Suarez, the famed former Spanish international, is a senior member of the coaching staff ; Sandro Mazzola has responsibility for completing the purchase and sale of players; Mario Corso is in charge of youth development; Aristide Guarneri is chief scout; another former Inter star, Jair, acts for them in Brazil.

There will be nothing in Hodgson's approach to startle his new employers. "I'm a practical coach," he said. "I want players to think about intelligence in defence and attack. I want to see accurate centres and people getting on to them. Because of the modern obsession with formations and tactics, it isn't what reporters want to hear from coaches, but that is what the game is about."

Hodgson finds the pressure being exerted on Venables alarming. "He remains exactly what he was when the Football Association appointed him - the best coach in England," he said. "Trouble is that the newspapers believe England should win every game, regardless of world developments."

The impression conveyed is that if it ever comes to a crisis of faith in Milan it will not crush the spirit of an extraordinary nomad.