Early Doors

England’s ‘what might have been’ moment

Early Doors

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Roy Hodgson and Steven Gerrard

England's manager took to the stage at his pre-match press conference at Kiev's Olympic Stadium yesterday alongside his captain, fielded his first question and after a short intake of breath, opined in a cockney drawl, "Ibrahimovic? He's a triffic, triffic player."

Oh, hang on a second, that particular scenario occurred in the parallel universe where Early Doors is spending every night quaffing champagne with Henry Winter and Paul Hayward in five-star hotels rather than fending off wild dogs with a stick outside a ramshackle hostel on the outskirts of Kiev.

Of course, rather than media darling Harry Redknapp holding court it was Roy Hodgson tasked with imparting his wisdom to the press. But following the big news of Redknapp's departure from Tottenham in the early hours of the same day, it was impossible not to think of what might have been.

Certainly ED spent most of the press conference trying to perform the mental gymnastics required to place Redknapp in the picture between Steven Gerrard and Generic FA Press Officer. The main barrier to this enterprise being that Redknapp's ginger hair would have clashed horribly with the bright red tracksuit that Hodgson looked rather resplendent in. Not a pleasant sight for the massed ranks of TV cameras.

Though the Redknapp issue did not hang over this media briefing as it did Hodgson's first - when he was asked repeatedly about the man whom he had just elbowed aside to secure the national job that appeared Redknapp's for the taking - he was asked to give his reaction to the news Spurs had sacked the man who led them to fourth place last season.

"I was very sad to hear the news," said Hodgson. "I texted him this afternoon but I don't expect a reply because I expect he is absolutely snowed under at the moment with sympathetic messages. But it came as a major surprise to me. I am disappointed for him and I can only wish him all the best. I am in no position to comment of course on the decision of Spurs."

Had it have been Redknapp in situ in Kiev, then we certainly would have had a different press conference. For a start there would have been more bonhomie on display; in one testy exchange, when asked whether he thought England were tactically inferior to continental sides, Hodgson offered a brusque "no I don't" in response.

Dealings with the foreign press would also have varied. Instead of respectful Finnish and Swedish journalists inviting Hodgson to recall his time working in their country, we might have had Redknapp responding to a query from one Swedish newspaper with "Aftonbladder? What? Who are they when they're at home?"

Redknapp would never be mistaken for a tactical revolutionary either, a transformative figure in domestic football, and in truth neither would Hodgson in England, where he is sometimes more patronised than praised. Yet in the eyes of Friday's opponents, England's manager does possess this kind of Herbert Chapman-esque aura.

When taking charge of Halmstad and then Malmo, and leading the latter club to five successive league titles between 1985 and 1989, Hodgson introduced a compact 4-4-2 that was widely adopted and helped realign the country's football philosophy. The national team employed the same approach and it took them to third place at the 1994 World Cup.

It is somewhat ironic, then, that as Hodgson moulds England back into a 4-4-2 side and away from the 4-2-3-1 employed in the latter stages of Fabio Capello's reign, his opposite number Erik Hamren has become the first Swedish coach to really try and detach the national side from the legacy of Hodgson's favoured formation.

Following a disappointing opening defeat to Ukraine, it remains to be seen whether this is an evolutionary leap forward for Sweden or a strategic error.

Either way, Hamren was certainly glowing about Hodgson's qualities as a manger and the impact his coaching has had on the Swedish football psyche.

"He is a really, really good coach and a nice person too," said Hamren, inside the belly of Kiev's Olympic Stadium and a couple of hundred metres from a rather grand old gymnasium that has been converted into a temporary media centre for the duration of the tournament.

"He came to Sweden unknown but got a big name because of the way he made results and took new influences into Swedish football. He is a big name in Swedish football and we will never forget what he has done."

They won't forget, but Sweden are certainly ready to move on.

"When you're working in football or whatever, you're always taking steps," Hamren said. "You don't want to stay on the same platform. You take steps - that's life. Sometimes you take them forward, sometimes down."

In a parallel universe, it is Sweden still sticking with 4-4-2 and England attempting to play the more expansive, progressive football. But this is Hodgson's England and for now, with Redknapp sitting at home on his sofa watching Euro 2012 on his TV, we must wait to see whether his appointment becomes to be perceived as a step forward or a step back for the national team in this country.

Having secured a valuable opening draw with France and with Hodgson looking nice and relaxed ahead of Friday's game against Sweden, ED is optimistic the FA made the right choice when turning away from Redknapp and handing the job to Hodgson instead.

But really only time, and results, will tell.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "They're not France." - Steven Gerrard takes a rather dismissive tone when discussing the merits of England's next opponents. Gerrard also underestimated Sweden when claiming England would win with the same level of performance that secured a somewhat fortunate draw against France. If England slip up, expect them to be accused of complacency as a result.

FOREIGN VIEW: "We are sportsmen and both the Croats and us will go out to win. I have not made any calculations and we should be interested only in victory." - Vicente del Bosque denies suggestions that Spain and Croatia will collude for a 2-2 draw in their final group game that would send both teams through and eliminate Italy. The Azzurro know how that feels of course having suffered a similar fate when Sweden and Denmark progressed at their expense in Euro 2004, also with a 2-2 draw.

COMING UP: England v Sweden is the headline act, with the Group D match in Kiev kicking off at 7.45pm. Ukraine v France precedes that though at 5pm.

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