Following spells in charge of Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and Finland, Roy Hodgson is no stranger to life as an international manager. Yet, this appointment means more. On 1 May this year, Hodgson was appointed as England boss following the departure of Fabio Capello.
FIFA.com were granted an exclusive interview with Hodgson in his office at Wembley Stadium, just 20 miles away from where he was born in Croydon. In the first part of this interview (part two follows on Tuesday), Hodgson recalls his feelings at being invited to take the job, assesses Brazil 2014 qualifying so far and heralds the opening of St. George's Park, England's new national football centre, as being key for the development of the country's future coaches and footballers.
FIFA.com: What were your emotions when you got the call saying there was interest from the FA?
Roy Hodgson: Happiness, I suppose, really pleased. There have been cases in the past where it has been mooted that maybe I would be a serious contender but the job has gone to somebody else on those occasions. Having been a bridesmaid on a few occasions, it was very nice when I got the phone call. It was pretty much a fait accompli – it wasn’t a question of going through long processes. The FA had done all of that and made up their mind. It was just a question of reaching an agreement, which was easily done because I wanted the job and they wanted me. It was a very happy occasion and one I’ve wanted for a long time. It’s nice that it finally came to pass.
*How do you assess your Brazil 2014 qualifying so far? *We’re a couple of points behind where we would have liked to have been. If we had ten points, we would have been pretty satisfied given the programme we had – we’ve got eight. We’re still unbeaten after 11 games since I came into the job [until the 4-2 defeat to Sweden], so I’m pleased about that. But disappointed that we didn’t get a victory against Ukraine, where they scored a wonder goal and then defended very well. Although we perhaps had the better of the play, it took us a long while to get our equaliser. In Poland, disappointed that we didn’t play better and hang onto the lead we had created for ourselves. But it was a strange game because of the circumstances, I think both teams were affected by the circumstances. It was a lesser game, in my opinion. I think both we and Poland won’t be that happy with the way the game went. But it’s not easy when a game is called off to suddenly play it the next day, and the pitch was still pretty poor as a result of what happened. In the end a draw is not a bad result, but talking about ideal situations it would have been nicer to have ten points and then I’d have been very happy with our start.
As it happens, I’m moderately happy, reasonably satisfied but not turning cartwheels because we’ve got eight points from four games. There’s a lot of football still to be played but we’ll have a much bigger group of players to choose from in the games coming ahead. I think the opportunity to select a team will be better for me because there will be more and more people knocking on the door, fighting for a place, which will increase the competition and hopefully increase the level in performance.
*What would it mean to you to be involved in Brazil? *It would certainly be something to go to a World Cup with England. That would really mean something a little bit more because of course it was England that formed me, England that gave me my education in coaching, the FA that started me on the path of being a football coach. It would be fantastic to be in Brazil with an England team.
*You must be excited about the mouth-watering friendlies coming up? *Yes, I am. Friendly matches are friendly matches in name only because they’re always competitive matches as far as we’re concerned. Certainly the Sweden game and in particular the Brazil game, most players are going to want to play. Then we’ve got Scotland and Ireland, traditional fixtures, and they’ll be fiercely competitive because of the ‘sibling rivalry’ that exists between the countries.
Some people suggest the eye on the present should be your only focus. I don’t agree with that. I think that you should be trying to do the job in the present while at least bearing in mind that one day you’re no longer going to be the manager.
*What are your feelings about St. George’s Park, the new national football centre? *I think it’s going to be a flagship for English football coaching and English football development. When the flagship teams – the national team, the U-21s, the U-19s, the ladies – train there that will be the icing on the cake, but the centre has a much bigger role to play. Now when England train at any level they have got fantastic facilities. We’ve never been short of facilities for the few days we train together but it’s nice to have your own centre. That’s much better than having to borrow somebody else’s training ground and stay in a hotel. But where it’s going to do its real work, in my opinion, is in the development of younger players and coaches to work with these younger players, and be a focal point which shows how serious the FA are about producing players and producing coaches who can produce players. That’s what I see as its major function.
*How difficult is it for you to have one eye on the present and one on the future? *That’s the job if you’re a national coach. Some people suggest the eye on the present should be your only focus. I don’t agree with that. I think that you should be trying to do the job in the present while at least bearing in mind that one day you’re no longer going to be the manager and what are you leaving behind? What sort of work will have been done when your time with the national team happens to be over? But there’s no doubt that the present is very important. We need to have a successful team. If we’re going to fall by the wayside at national team level then our messages are going to be harder to put forward. There’s no doubt we’re going to see a vast improvement over the coming ten years, and I think you see it already if you look at the young players that are coming through today. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Cleverley, Bertrand, Gibbs, Wilshere – in all of these players you can see that technically they are of a very good level. It can only get better.
*You’ve given those players an opportunity to shine. How proud are you that they have responded? *I’m pleased that they have responded, but not proud. When you select a squad of 23 players, there is plenty of space to put some in there who arguably might not be ready today. Bearing in mind if we’re going to qualify for Brazil, it’s nearly two years’ time. One does need, in the present, to keep an eye on some of these, because who knows, some of these young players who are around the fringes of our squad – getting some experience, getting a feel of what it might be like to be a Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard or Ashley Cole – might, in two years’ time, be right up there alongside these players, might even be taking their places if these players can’t keep up to the standard we’ve acquired.
*What one thing excites you the most and frustrates you the most about managing England? *The exciting things, of course, are definitely the matches – they are great occasions. You are working with fantastic quality players, every game is an incredible event. Even a San Marino, there are 85,000 people at Wembley. It’s an occasion that many people would be happy to experience just once in their life. I suppose the frustrations are the fact that you’re always concerned that at the time of a game or get-together, you’re losing key players through injuries because you don’t control that. The other frustration is the obvious one – every national coach will bring up the lack of time with the players. You would like a lot more time to get to know them, assess them better in terms of their football ability and their personal characteristics, and a chance to work with them in terms of the team play. But you know when you take the job that that’s going to be the case. You can’t complain about it, that’s football life.