Ashley Cole and the overinflated importance of the captain’s armband may have dominated Roy Hodgson’s pre-match press conference ahead of tonight’s friendly with Ireland, but the England manager did have enough time to praise his ‘outstanding’ opposite number Giovanni Trapattoni.
The two know each other since the late 80s, when Hodgson’s Malmo met Trap’s Inter in the European Cup. And although the Italian has been under fire from some quarters in recent months following a clutch poor results, Hodgson spoke of his “enormous admiration” for Trap and his CV.
“Giovanni and I go back a long way, even before when I moved to Italy. It goes back to the Malmo-Inter matches in 1988 and 1989. I regard him as a man whom I’ve got enormous praised.
“His CV is probably the best of any active manager, working today. That is sometimes forgotten about. He’s not a man who shouts from the rooftops about the wonderful job he’s done, and the number of countries he’s worked in.
“He’s an outstanding coach, an outstanding manager and perhaps even more than that, he’s a very good person. If I was a footballer, I’d love to have played for him. Not just because what he would have taught me, but because I’d have enjoyed being in his company.”
Hodgson was full of praise for striker Shane Long too, whom he brought to West Brom from Reading in August 2011. Their time working together came to a premature halt when Hodgson departed to take up the reins with the national side the following April, but he insists the Tipperary man’s best is yet to come.
“Shane Long is a very, very good player,” he said. “I was delighted we signed him at West Brom, from stiff competition. He did very well there last year and I think he’s a player who’s getting better and better.
“In the Premier League, he is still relatively young; he came into the professional game relatively late. He’s had a meteoric rise but I think there’s (a) big, big margin of progression in him. But I hope he’s not going to produce the form I know he’s capable of because if he does, he’s going to give our centre-backs a good test.”
The bulk of the questioning, however, focused on the decision to award Cole the captaincy on the night he receives his 100th cap (though it will be his 102nd appearance).
There was no problem with the actual rewarding of the armband, but the defender’s decision to dodge the customary pre-match press conference, with Frank Lampard stepping in to fulfil the duty instead, meant Hodgson had to field over a dozen questions on the Chelsea left-back and, of course, his relationship with the media.
He said: “As far as we’re concerned, you all know Ashley’s reticence to come out and speak with you. There’s no point going over those matters. We all thought that, seeing this was the night he’s going to be presented with his cap and there’ll be 80,000 people there, we’d tell him ‘you wear the armband’.”
Hodgson also refused to be drawn on Wayne Rooney’s future at Manchester United. “You’re asking me to comment on club football and a player’s status within his club, but I can only talk about Wayne and how he is when he joins up with me and how he behaves during our get-togethers.
“I find his desire strong — if not stronger now than when we first met. I’ve nothing other than the greatest faith in him. He’ll be really desperate to get out and show how good a player he is. My faith, which has been very strong in Wayne Rooney, has never wavered.”
That left little doubt over Rooney’s standing in the national set-up, but seconds later Hodgson admitted if his form was to dip, his place in the starting team wouldn’t be guaranteed. He also suggested it would be very difficult for him to solely pick his side on players who are in action with their clubs every week.
“He has to produce good form as well, nobody can be guaranteed a place for the future. But we are talking about a player with undoubted ability, I expect him to continue to show that.
“An awful lot of clubs don’t use English players and I have to accept they don’t always play. If you were to ask me to pick a team of players who are playing every week, you’re going to limit our options enormously.”
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