HE might not go in for overt displays of emotion or fistpunching celebrations on the touchline, but it would be wrong to assume that Roy Hodgson lacks passion for the post of England manager.
Having managed Switzerland at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, a tournament that saw Hodgson’s side progress from the group stage before losing to Spain in the second round, the 66- year-old has already experienced the pride that accompanies a personal involvement in the biggest tournament in the world.
This time around, however, things are different. For all that managing the Swiss was a highlight of Hodgson’s career, it does not compare to the thrill of leading England, the side he has supported all his life, into a World Cup finals in Brazil, the spiritual home of the beautiful game.
Outwardly, Hodgson will be his usual unflappable self when he enters the dug out in Manaus’ Arena Amazonia ahead of Saturday’s opening Group D game with Italy.
Inwardly, however, his heart will be racing.
“It means a lot,” said Hodgson, who had only just taken over from Fabio Capello when he presided over England’s underwhelming campaign at the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. “It meant a lot to manage Switzerland during the 1990s and later the short spells in the UAE and Finland.
“All the countries have meant a lot to me, but of course when it’s your own country and the country of your birth, then in terms of pressure, the pressure is a little bit more because you’ve been following your home country’s progress in all the tournaments over all the years.
“It will mean a lot to me and I’m really looking forward to the World Cup and hoping that we can give a good account of ourselves.” For once, England will not travel to a World Cup burdened by the weight of expectation from home. Memories of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, in which England scrambled out of an inviting group before being hammered by Germany in the second round, remain painful.
Fabio Capello was the manager then, and after the Italian departed under something of a cloud following the end of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, Hodgson was far from a unanimous choice to replace him.
A number of supporters and pundits championed Harry Redknapp, yet two years on, and it is hard to find too many people unhappy with Hodgson’s stewardship. Given Redknapp’s struggles at QPR, the Football Association can be satisfied that they got things right.
With his blend of calm authority and meticulous planning, Hodgson has set about rebuilding the England team and restoring a sense of pride and responsibility in the wearing of the national shirt. He has been tough and decisive in terms of selection, resisting calls to recall John Terry, dropping ageing players like Ashley Cole, Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick and Peter Crouch, and introducing a crop of exciting youngsters who will tackle the World Cup challenge with no fear or emotional baggage from past failings.
He has nurtured a strong team spirit, which means the mood in the England camp ahead of this tournament is markedly different to 2006, when the WAGS circus in Baden-Baden became an unwanted distraction, or 2010, when Capello’s bootcamp philosophy turned the players against him.
Crucially, he has also managed expectations perfectly, positive enough to ensure there is a sense of excitement at home, but realistic enough to avoid the triumphalism that has set England up for a fall on so many previous occasions.
Ironically, a difficult group draw might have helped on that score, with England’s opening two matches pitting them against Euro 2012 finalists Italy and a Uruguay side that is expected to feature injury worry Luis Suarez.
Play at their best, and England should make it to the knock-out rounds. But even the most ardent of supporters will accept there is little room for error.
“It will be difficult, there’s no doubt about that,” said Hodgson. “When we were in the hall (for the World Cup draw), there was a bit of a gasp when Italy were added to what was already a pretty strong group with England, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
“But I think the most important thing is that we are confident that at least we will put the other teams, the opponents, to the test as well.
“We are not easy to beat, and by the same token, the three teams we are playing won’t be easy to beat either, so we will have to see what happens.”
Neverthless, Hodgson is happy with the make-up of the squad that will represent England in Brazil, and has dismissed suggestions that, with so many youngsters involved, the tournament could be something of a stepping stone to the next European Championships in France in 2016.
“I hope the squad will give a good account of itself and they won’t let the country down,” he said. “Do I believe the squad can win the World Cup? Yes, otherwise what is the point of a taking a squad to the World Cup?
“I refute any claims that some of these players have been selected because of 2016. They are selected because of 2014 and I think they can do well.”