Conservative Hodgson must allow England to cut loose

England coach Roy Hodgson reacts at the end of their international friendly football match against Ecuador, ahead of the 2014 World Cup, in Miami June 4, 2014.

LONDON - In the year that England enjoyed their greatest football success by winning the World Cup in 1966, one young Englishman was facing an altogether uncertain future after being released by his club without making the grade as a professional.

That man was current England coach Roy Hodgson, who now faces the difficult task of getting it just right if his team are to win the World Cup for the first time since Crystal Palace cast him adrift almost half-a-century ago.

He must decide whether to allow England's young players to cut loose and express their attacking talents or to adopt a more measured and conservative approach. "I don't think you can win games very easily if you allow the opposition that kind of time and space," he told reporters. "But it is important to be organised," he said before resorting to his own stock-in-trade tactic - the ability to sound eloquent while keeping his cards very close to his chest.

He can do that fluently in five languages, English, French, German, Italian and Swedish. "One needs to be very wary of saying: 'This is going to be our style'," he said. "Football is, and always will be, about winning matches. You can't ever sacrifice the chance to win a game because of a certain style that you've decided to adopt."

What is certain is that Hodgson is in a relatively enviable position as he becomes the first English coach to lead England at a World Cup since Glenn Hoddle in France 16 years ago.


Although he faces every coach's dilemma of balancing his squad between established performers and exciting newcomers, he has a far bigger pool of bright young players to choose from now than seemed likely three or four years ago.

Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson of Liverpool, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere of Arsenal, Everton's Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw of Southampton are all in the squad. "There are no right or wrong answers to this," Hodgson said in his charmingly old-fashioned and polite way. "This is not just a problem for a football coach but for all coaches in all sports, it's a classic dilemma. "Before we went to the Euros in 2012 we lost Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill, John Ruddy, Kyle Walker. Wayne Rooney could not play in the first two games because of suspension. "They had all been part of my plans for weeks, and suddenly, at the last minute they were all gone. It can be a problem, but I can deal with it."

That is because, at 66, he will be the second oldest coach at the finals behind Uruguay's Oscar Tabarez, and has 38 years coaching experience with 16 teams, club sides and international ones, in eight countries.

A modest non-League playing career followed his release by Palace and Hodgson began his wandering around the football globe with a move to Berea Park in South Africa in the early 1970s.

His coaching career began in Sweden with Halmstads and success came with league titles in 1976 and 1979, the 1976 success by "English Roy" still being regarded as one of the greatest upsets in Swedish football history.

He returned to England in 1980 to coach Bristol City but he really began to make a mark in the mid-1980s when he went back to Sweden and led Malmo to five successive league titles and two cups.

Many in Sweden attribute their team's success in finishing third in the 1994 World Cup to his influence, although he coached Switzerland in that tournament - their first finals appearance since 1966.

Club management continued at Inter Milan, Blackburn Rovers, Fulham, Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion while Hodgson also coached the national teams of the United Arab Emirates and Finland, taking them to their highest ever FIFA ranking.

Now approaching what could turn out to be the crowning moment of an illustrious career, he, typically, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. "Taking Switzerland to the World Cup was a wonderful thing to do, but I am an Englishman and it does not get better than taking England into the finals," Hodgson said. "We might not be the favourites to win it, but when did that ever matter. I hope we give a lot of people a very pleasant surprise."