After a peripatetic
36-year climb, Roy Hodgson will arrive at the summit of his
career in Donetsk on Monday when he leads England into their
opening Euro 2012 Group D fixture against France.
He freely admits he has revelled in the journey.
But he is less certain if he will always enjoy the view, or
the experience of life at the top.
"I am up for the challenge," he said. "Of course I am or I
would not have taken the job even if I know I am not always
going to be happy at the level of scrutiny of all my decisions.
"But I am a football man and football has been my life," he
added, talking openly to reporters in a stone dining room at the
ancient Hotel Pod Roza, the oldest in Krakow.
"I have had 36 years of it, at varying levels, and now I am
here at the pinnacle. It is the top job in England and I think I
know what it is all about.
"But only a naive person would think that it is all going to
be plain sailing."
A dignified man who was appointed manager on May 1, Hodgson
oozed a quiet sense of pride as he reflected on his journey from
the Tonbridge Angels to Wembley, via Halmstad, Malmo and Inter
Milan, not to mention national service with Switzerland, United
Arab Emirates and Finland.
"The pinnacle? Yes, absolutely, it is the pinnacle for me,"
he said. "I am very excited about this and have been from the
day when the chairman called me about the job.
"I had a harrowing two weeks, a difficult time, when I was
still head coach at West Bromwich Albion and trying to plan
ahead for England, but I have enjoyed every minute."
The Croydon-born coach conceded he was inclined to be
conservative, but preferred to describe his approach as
"pragmatic", someone happy to win 1-0 with a sound defence
rather than take risks with a more cavalier approach.
He added, too, that he was less concerned by the prospect of
a torrid storm of media and public criticism, if results go
against him, than the pain if he felt he was let down, or
deceived, by his players.
"The most painful blow for me would be if they let me, the
team and the nation down," he summed up, after riding a series
of questions on his squad selection, the absence of defender Rio
Ferdinand, the positive mood of his men and a France team,
managed by Laurent Blanc, that is unbeaten in 21 outings.
Reiterating that he omitted Ferdinand for "football
reasons", he said the controversy it created in the English
media was just that - a media creation, not one of his making.
"I don't know how these debates get started in the mass
media," he said. "I am not a journalist. I had to make a
decision and I did it."
He explained he did not want to ask Ferdinand, a former
captain, to travel as a cover player in his 23-man squad and
therefore did not reconsider him, for the same reason, when Gary
Cahill was forced out by injury.
"It was a tough call," he revealed. "I called Rio and we had
a private conversation. I wouldn't dream of telling you what he
said or what I said.
"It's my job to make decisions and I have to do that and
know I feel right myself about them."
Looking at Monday's meeting with France, he said England had
already studied "three or four videos" on them and would watch
another later on Saturday.
"I think the players are enjoying the fact that they are not
considered as favourites for this game," he said.
"But they are very motivated. They have a healthy respect as
they should for a team that has gone 21 matches undefeated, but
they are not cowed.
"There is no fear... they think they can beat them."
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