Roy Hodgson was appointed as England manager yesterday and given just 40 days and 40 nights to lead an under-delivering team out of the international wilderness and into the Euro 2012 limelight.
It is, by his own admission, a job of biblical proportions.
The former Fulham, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Switzerland and Finland coach was impressive enough on his England bow at Wembley as he faced his first press conference since being named as the shock successor to Fabio Capello, taking on a job that seemed destined for Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp, the clear favourite of fans and media.
But he has much to cope with in a very short space of time.
The FA says Hodgson was the only man approached and the timing of the appointment was designed to make negotiations with his current club West Brom as simple as possible; in fact they have even agreed for him to remain at The Hawthorns for the final two games of the season.
But 63-year-old Hodgson, who is the only man England have ever appointed with previous experience of international management, knows the timescale is not in his favour.
He said: “It’s going to be unbelievably hard, very tough given I have to combine it in the next 10 days with being head coach at WBA. It’s not going to be easy.
“But no one said it would be an easy job and I’d look to forward to some sunny, pleasant days ahead. Those 40 days and 40 nights are going to be 40 days and nights when I’m going to be working long, long hours.”
Hodgson has been handed a four-year contract to include not only Euro 2012 but also the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and the European Championships in France in 2016; a decision that surprised many given the huge sums in compensation paid to previous England managers.
But the FA were adamant they have the right man on the right deal.
“There is no fixed minimum target,” insisted FA chairman David Bernstein. “Four years is a natural cycle in international football. To do this job properly and successfully, the manager needs that sort of support and time. We think it’s important and a sign of confidence.”
Even so, Hodgson — who indicated he will select Wayne Rooney in his 23-man squad even though he is suspended for the first two games in June — has many hurdles ahead if he wants to turn England from perennial under-achievers to Euro 2012 heroes.
First, and by no means least, is to win over England fans who are disillusioned by a decision to overlook Redknapp when he appeared to have such huge public support; a situation that must feel eerily familiar to Hodgson who took over at Anfield when the Kop wanted Kenny Dalglish — and left 31 games later as a failure.
“I’d have to be on another planet not to be aware of that,” admitted Hodgson. “But there is one major difference between my time at Liverpool and being offered the job as England manager. The people at Liverpool who appointed me didn’t have a chance to stay very long and others took over the club. The FA had a lot of time to decide which candidate they wanted to do the job, and I’m happy it was me.”
Hodgson, who is expected to appoint an assistant next week, refused to discuss team selection — including whether he will retain Scott Parker as captain.
But clearly one of his first priorities will be to sort out the mess over whether sacked skipper John Terry can be included in the same squad as Rio Ferdinand — despite facing a court case in July accused of racially abusing Rio’s brother Anton.
It certainly seems unlikely he will seek to re-instate Terry as captain after insisting: “It’s a decision that was made by the executive board of the FA and I have no reason to comment on it or discuss it. It’s a decision that was made and I’m fully prepared to accept.
“I’ll have to get in touch with John and Rio to speak with them, hopefully face to face, and find out where they are in this situation.”
So what constitute success this summer? “Difficult question,” he said. “One is tempted to say, because it’s England, that success is only reaching the latter stages. Even that the only success is winning. But I’d like people to cut us a bit of slack.
“I would be very, very disappointed if we didn’t get through the group; but it’s a difficult group with France, Sweden and the host nation Ukraine. It’s one of the hardest, and England were not dealt an easy card.
“So I realise what I’m going in to. I’m not naïve and have been in football a long while.”
True enough, and that’s what makes Hodgson an interesting appointment. But even so it’s a big task; 40 days, 40 nights to stamp his authority on a disjointed and dysfunctional squad that, despite possessing promising young players, is still haunted by its past and has floundered so often under heavy expectation.
Some would say he needs a miracle...
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