Hodgson restores unity, pride in England team

Roy Hodgson has won universal plaudits for quickly restoring

unity and pride among England players barely a month after being

hired to lead the country into the European Championship.

The coach took over from Fabio Capello three months after the

Italian vacated the job. After a miserable 2010 World Cup

performance, a reinvigorated England squad will march into its Euro

2012 quarterfinal against Italy on Sunday with confidence.

The 64-year-old Hodgson has generated a feel-good factor in the

squad, which was often lacking during Capello’s authoritarian

reign.

”We are more organized than ever and the lads have been

great,” England striker Wayne Rooney said. ”We are all fighting

for each other. We want to do this together. We feel good, we are

prepared well.”

A shrewd move by Hodgson was giving recently retired defender

Gary Neville his first coaching job, providing a link from

management to the squad while providing fresh tactical insight.

Neville can see how the players are benefiting working with a

manager who is ”calm, doesn’t sort of get carried away by things,

brings a great deal of humility, trusts in his players and has

faith in them.”

”They are recognizing that he is someone they like and want to

play for and I think that’s important,” Neville added.

Selflessness has been drilled into the team by Hodgson.

”If you want to be successful you have to perform to your

ability and trust the people around you to perform to theirs,” the

coach said. ”Any national team is going to have players with egos

– that’s normal. You want that because it’s the player with the ego

who is often the one who makes the difference.

”But I am very happy with the way these players have worked for

each other.”

Capello often petrified players by ruling with an iron fist,

notoriously banning tomato ketchup from dinner. Whereas winger Theo

Walcott and his teammates often had to sneak food into the team

hotel under Capello’s regime, Hodgson has removed the need to

report to dinner each night during Euro 2012.

”Roy’s come in and he’s obviously given us a lot of rest time

as well and a lot of downtime,” Rooney said. ”It’s good for the

players to relax and obviously put football aside for even just one

afternoon. It’s good to give your mind a rest.”

Goalkeeper Joe Hart stresses that the freedom given to roam

Krakow doesn’t mean the players are any less professional.

”We’re here to play football, regardless of whether we’re

allowed to walk round and see a nice statue or whatever, or have a

pizza with someone that we want to be with,” Hart said. ”I think

we’re training hard, I think we’re getting the manager’s

methods.”

On the pitch, Hodgson has drilled discipline into the team.

While the football hasn’t been scintillating, they are five matches

unbeaten under the former Switzerland, Finland and United Arab

Emirates coach.

”He plays a different style to the previous manager,” winger

James Milner said. ”He wants us tucked in, compact and tight and

to be difficult to beat and it has worked so far.”

Hodgson’s fellow coaches also have been impressed.

”Roy Hodgson is an Italian Englishman,” Manchester City

manager Roberto Mancini told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello

Sport. ”He is intelligent, good and crafty … England wait for

their opponents and hit them on the counterattack. This is the kind

of football that we, Italians, were masters at for a long time.

They have understood that winning is what matters.”

They also understand what their London-born coach is saying,

unlike with Capello and his broken English. And it helps that

Hodgson had previously worked with captain Steven Gerrard during

his brief stint as Liverpool manager.

”We are enjoying how we are playing,” Gerrard said. ”Everyone

knows in South Africa the team weren’t playing at a good

level.”

Even the notoriously judgmental media back home is gushing about

how Hodgson has utilized 36 years of coaching experience – largely

outside his homeland – to transform England’s fortunes.

”It looks to me like Roy has got into their heads and reminded

the players that playing for their country means something,”

former England midfielder Jamie Redknapp wrote in the Daily

Mail.

”This group of players, under a new manager, seem to have a

pride in their work,” added Redknapp, whose father Harry was

beaten to the England job by Hodgson.

Hodgson will be hoping his honeymoon period continues long after

the team finally leaves the Euros. Potentially, even with a

trophy.