Roy Hodgson’s office at Wembley Stadium is simple, yet spacious. It is where he has been meticulously making his preparations for England’s FIFA World Cup™ campaign.
The former Switzerland boss took time from his hectic schedule to invite FIFA.com into his inner sanctum to chat about his World Cup preparations as England prepare to face Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
In the first part of this interview, the England manager talks of the sense of anticipation among his coaching staff and the country, the values of experience in order to cope with the unexpected and how he plans to manage his players physically and mentally after a draining Premier League season.
FIFA.com: This World Cup has been two years in the making for you and the staff. How are you feeling?
Roy Hodgson: We’re very excited in the right way. We bear quite a large responsibility, but I think the mood in the country is very good. There’s a lot of support for us, and a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of hope going into it. People realise this is the sort of stuff of which dreams are made and that’s a good platform to be going in at. And of course that’s something good for the team itself. We find it exciting. We find it very positive. We think we can feed off that energy to give a good performance.
At this particular moment in time, I think we’re in a good position to take part in the competition and to give a good account of ourselves, and that’s all you can hope for. You can talk down your chances. You can play mind games. You can talk up your chances. Whatever you say, it will be seized upon by people and written. But, in reality, there’s only one thing that counts: we’ve got three games, definitely. We’d like to have a lot more. We’d like to get up to about seven if we could, but we know we’ve got the three. And we know that all the talking in the world, if we talk well or we talk badly or we talk ourselves up or talk ourselves down it doesn’t really matter because when we cross that white line in Manaus and the referee blows his whistle, in that 95 or 96 minutes when we’ll actually be playing, that’s when it will all count.
Sir Alex Ferguson always said that his key virtue was experience. With so many variables in a World Cup, how valuable is the experience of you and your staff?
I think certainly experience on the managerial front is helpful because it will help you keep the right sense of perspective and it will stop you from getting too carried away with a good result or too blown away by a bad result. So, I think you can’t deny that as long as people still retain their passion, their energy and their enthusiasm, if you can add experience to that, it’s only a positive. There’s nothing negative you can say.
Sometimes, of course, with experience, it could be regarded as less valuable if it means that experienced person has developed a sense of cynicism or skepticism or has lost a bit of passion or has lost a bit of energy. It’s not quite as simple as saying experience is good, and youth, passion and energy is bad. I think you have to first of all work on the basis that if you’re going to be an international manager on any reasonable level, then you need qualities like energy, enthusiasm, leadership skills, the ability to motivate players, the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes, et cetera.
There’s a lot of support for us, and a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of hope going into it.
Jose Mourinho was winning things in his early years. Sir Alex was winning things in his early years. He was still doing it when he reached the age of 70. It wasn’t purely Alex Ferguson’s experience that made him a good manager because he did it when he was inexperienced. But if you’ve got the qualities needed, and then you add experience to it, someone who’s been through it, well that has to be advantageous. There’s no doubt about that.
The only prolonged periods you get to work with players is ahead of international tournaments, but they come off the back of the intensely competitive English Premier League season. How do you balance their need for recuperation with time training, and is an intensive league a boon or a bane?
As a national coach in England, you work with the premises you work with. The Premier League is what it is. Some people will see the intensity and quality as a great advantage for your players; it will make them better. Some will see it as a disadvantage because the players play at such a high level and such intensity, it’s difficult for them to drum that up that intensity with a very short space of rest time.
I think the most important aspect of the question is: what are we as a coaching staff going to do? Of course we come into the tournament extremely fresh. We come to the tournament extremely motivated with lots of ideas and lots of things we’re going to work on. We’ve got to make sure our perspective from the whole thing is right. We have to understand that the players we’re working with, all they’ve had is one week (of rest). And some might not even have that if they’re going to FA Cup finals and European Cup finals, which we hope they will.
We have to keep those things into perspective and to balance out our ability to work 12 hours a day at quite a high and intensive level, vis-à-vis the players’ ability to work at a high intensity on the back of 38 important league games, possibly as many as another 12 important games for their club. Add to that the international matches that are played during the season, we have to take all of those things into account. That’s something where perhaps experience could play a part. I’m not certain I had quite the same balanced view of that situation going when I was coaching Switzerland in 1994, but luckily I was dealing with players who were coming from a much less intensive league.
I need to be very careful, but we need to do our work and there’s a lot of work I want to do. I have to find a way of doing it but not push their players beyond their limits. Getting the balance right in everything is all of football and all of sport.
I’d like a longer break, every national team coach will tell you the same. In an ideal world, the season would end and the players would have two-to-three weeks by the beach. You’d have four-to-five weeks of preparation and then you’d play the tournament. That’s never going to happen because you couldn’t possibly fit it all into a season. Because you can’t get that, everything is degrees of bad in terms of your preparation because there’s not enough time for the players to rest from one competition to another. But we’re not alone. Every other team is in the same boat from that perspective.
Be sure to visit FIFA.com tomorrow for part two in which Hodgson talks up a European side’s chances in Brazil and gives an indication on how his squad has been selected.