Hodgson right to treat England stars like humans, not prisoners

The Rio Report

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It is one of the more crucial decisions that a coach makes ahead of a big tour or competition, whether or not to accept the presence of players' families.

It may not always fit with how top sports men and women are portrayed by supporters or the media, but they are human beings like the rest of us and - usually - wish to have their wives, girlfriends and kids around as much as possible.

Just in tournament football in recent years, two extreme styles have had big effects on how England have performed - in neither case, to much success.

In 2006, Sven-Goran Eriksson effectively gave the families of the England players free rein to do as they pleased in Germany. What ensued was what Gary Neville described as a "WAG circus", something that "must never be repeated".

A polar opposite approach followed in 2010 as Fabio Capello ruled an iron fist over a camp that was famously portrayed as a "five-star prison" by Steven Gerrard. Players had to adhere to strict rules and boundaries which did not go down well.

So to 2014, where Roy Hodgson says England players can bring their WAGs to Brazil after giving the green light for partners to attend the Miami pre-tournament training camp.

Rio is famous for its nightlife and partying culture, so does Hodgson need to be wary of a chaotic media frenzy, such as the one that played a part in derailing England's catastrophic campaign in Germany under Eriksson?

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"When it comes to Brazil, we haven't made any hard and fast rules," he said.

"It will be up to the players to decide, presumably around the games more than anything else, if they want to bring their wives there.

"In Miami, we have invited the players or suggested to the players that their wives could come for the latter part of the stay there."

So Roy is pretty chilled about the whole thing, which is absolutely fine. Indeed, such an attitude from the boss is likely to be warmly received.

But should it be?

The antics of the England WAGs caused near-hysteria in 2006 as their eye-watering shopping sprees and rampant partying caused havoc in the sleepy and genteel German spa town of Baden Baden.

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But this issue is not just contained to football, of course. Managers and team leaders have key decisions to make when it comes to much longer events such as cricket tours and Olympics.

It may be impossible to measure the impact of the WAG factor, but England attempted to restrict its presence altogether by banning players’ wives and girlfriends from the early stages of their highly successful Ashes tour in 2010/11.

Andy Flower, then England’s team director, limited the time WAGs can be on tour to a five-week window after the previous Ashes tour - a 5-0 whitewash in 2006/07 - presented a number of issues, including a distracted Steve Harmison famously misfiring on the opening day after reportedly sweating over whether the seats allocated for his wife and kids were in the shade or not.

Cricket is crueler than any other sport in taking fathers away from their families, something Kevin Pietersen was always very vocal about. Conscious of this, the ECB pays for two weeks of family visits while anything longer is funded by the player. It is an arrangement that has generally worked well.

As Flower said at the time, "It’s a tricky thing for players and management — most of us have kids. If you've got a group of almost 30 people going away on tour you are going to have differing opinions and you can’t please everyone all of the time.

"We try to time the families’ visit when it would be healthy thing for the group. I did feel the need to restrict the presence of families on tour as I think it’s important for us to get together as a group and focus fully."

It is one thing to recognise that it is an issue and another thing entirely to ban wives and girlfriends. Such an experienced coach as Hodgson will no doubt have made his own mind up over the years, but his approach is certainly not without risks.

Fans may not all agree that he is doing the right thing in allowing the partners of the players to accompany them on their travels, but he is at least taking a refreshingly considerate approach to that of the suffocating camp under Capello.

Players should never feel like prisoners, no matter how plush their surroundings. Nor should they be left in an environment that is so chaotic they cannot focus.

After the World Cup in Brazil this summer many will make their own minds up regarding Hodgson's approach for his players and their families. He will be hoping it slots nicely in between those of Eriksson and Capello's.

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