The Three Lions' manager must lead his side to consecutive wins over Montenegro and Poland to book a place in Brazil but he will not sway from his tried and trusted methods
By Julian Bennetts
The quote stands out as an honest appraisal of Roy Hodgson's methods.
“The training can sometimes be boring but we know it works,” said Zoltan Gera some three years ago. “If I wake up in the middle of the night, I know where I should be running in the games!”
The sentiment still rings true. Hodgson's England are dull, predictable and manufactured, only results dictate whether they will be celebrated or derided.
|ROAD TO BRAZIL
England's qualifying results
||0-5 v Moldova (a)
||1-1 v Ukraine (h)
||5-0 v San Marino (h)|
||1-1 v Poland (a)
|WON||0-8 v San Marino (a)
|DREW||1-1 Montenegro (a)|
|WON||4-0 Moldova (h)|
|DREW||0-0 Ukraine (a)|
The question is whether that approach can work with an England team that needs to win both matches to qualify for the World Cup.
Opinion is turning against Hodgson. The reception that greeted the goalless draw in Ukraine was rather more negative than the manager expected. It was undoubtedly a valuable point gained but from the outset it appeared a draw against limited opponents was to be the height of England’s ambition.
Hodgson has not changed, but expectations have. He is not at Fulham any more, or West Brom. England are expected to challenge for major trophies in a way that his former clubs are not.
It is not as if Hodgson’s methods have failed to yield results in the past. The remarkable Europa League final appearance masterminded in west London was, however, built on repetition, repetition, repetition. It was 'boring', as Gera put it.
Hodgson physically moved his defenders and midfielders around the training pitch again and again and again to demonstrate exactly where they should be every time the opposition had the ball.
It ensured he had a side that was rock-solid and could throw men forward to score when required. It also demanded that egos came second to the requirements of the team, and that every member of the side adhered to their manager's demands.
The likes of Gera, Aaron Hughes and Bobby Zamora had no problem with that; after all, Hodgson had saved them from relegation and was taking the club to uncharted heights.
But Hodgson's methods appear not to be as effective when he works alongside genuinely, or so called, world-class talent.
|9/1||Montenegro are 9/1 with William Hill to beat England
His time at Blackburn (champions just two seasons before he took over) also ended in the sack as his style failed to bear fruit.
He has built his reputation in taking middling clubs – Fulham, West Brom, Malmo, Halmstads – and ensuring they punch above their weight.
He is a man who stands up for the little guy and likes to give the heavyweights a bloody nose. He will laud the 0-0 draw and let the 5-4 thriller speak for itself. He will take players of average ability and ensure they perform better as a unit than they can individually. He is, in short, the best manager the Republic of Ireland never had.
The question now is whether he is the best manager for the England job, and the jury is out.
Hodgson is a hard man, far tougher than given credit for. His temper was talked about regularly at Fulham, but not in a disparaging way – all understood this is a man who tries to do everything for a reason.
Now he's in charge of one of the big guys, with Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and all the rest alongside him. Yet the comments are still the same.
"If the expectations upon us are going to get so great that even when we come to places like the Ukraine we're going to be expected to roll all over them, then it's going to be very difficult for us in future to ever get a good result,” was his take on the draw in Kiev.
Media opinion is one thing but players will put their egos and preconceptions to one side if results follow. After years of frustration, loyal servants such as Gerrard and Lampard are happy to do so. But if there is a blip, a sign that it is all in vain, then that could change.
Hodgson had a taste of that in Kiev. He now faces two key fixtures in five days which will allow him the opportunity to prove that those 'boring' hours on the training ground can pay dividends when it matters.