With the 2014 World Cup edging ever closer and English fans remaining more pessimistic than ever about their team’s chances of glory in Brazil, at least some will take comfort in the vast experience of coach Roy Hodgson.
In a managerial career that has taken him to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and Bristol, the 66-year-old finally landed every English schoolboy’s dream job in 2012, after missing out in 1999 and 2000.
To many in England, Hodgson’s career pre-Fulham is a mystery that nobody particularly wants to solve. He is known for taking Fulham to a Europa League final, for allegedly failing at Liverpool and for rescuing England from Fabio Capello in time for a respectable Euro 2012. Yet he has won seven Swedish league titles, two Swedish cups, a Danish domestic double and a similar European adventure with Italian giants Internazionale.
A decorated career has only taken Hodgson to two international tournaments though, including just the one World Cup – USA 1994. As England prepare to take on a difficult Group D this June, can fans take solace from his only previous shot at the biggest competition in the world?
In charge of England’s Euro 2016 qualifying opponents Switzerland, the former defender took La Nati to their first tournament since 1966 after negotiating a tough qualifying group that contained Italy, Portugal and Scotland. The only blemish was a defeat in Porto, thanks to Joao Pinto. When FIFA announced a new international ranking system in August 1993, Switzerland began in the dizzy heights of third best in the world – with only Brazil and Germany deemed superior.
So the Swiss descended on America with momentum and a slight air of confidence, despite their tournament inexperience. Drawn in Group A, they were pitted alongside Romania, hosts America and a much fancied Colombia – infamously tipped as potential winners by Pele. Hodgson named a squad lacking in household names but it contained future Premier League players Marc Hottiger and Marco Pascolo. Star striker Stephane Chapuisat went on to win the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund, whilst Ciriaco Sforza and Alain Sutter soon signed for fellow German giants Bayern Munich.
From the start, Switzerland took part in World Cup history, as they participated in the tournament’s first ever indoor match. The match against America finished 1-1 at the Pontiac Silverdome, thanks to 36-year-old Georges Bregy’s free kick. But the heat became a huge issue, as sweltering conditions were exaggerated by the roofed atmosphere. No doubt this was on Hodgson’s mind when he recently joined Italy coach Cesare Prandelli in proposing drinks breaks for England’s Group D clash in Manaus.
In a now roofless Silverdome, Switzerland then destroyed a Romania side containing Gheorghe Hagi, Florin Raducioiu, Dan Petrescu and Miodrag Belodedici. Hodgson’s men outclassed them in a 4-1 victory, made even more impressive by the Romanians run to the quarter finals that saw them defeat Argentina in a wonderful match. Adrian Knup’s double added to Sutter and Chapuisat goals.
Despite losing 2-0 to Colombia in their final group game, Switzerland qualified for the next round in second place. An unfortunate retrospective of the match sees it remembered as the final game of Andres Escobar’s life, after the defender was tragically shot by drug cartel members who bet heavily on Colombia’s progression. Escobar’s own goal against America saw the dark horses go home early; bottom of Group A. Six days after this match in California, the defender was dead.
Washington played host to Switzerland’s second round match against Spain. Unfortunately for Hodgson, the Spaniards ran out 3-0 winners to progress comfortably. Not to be downhearted by their exit, the Swiss were pleased with their World Cup showing and Hodgson returned a hero. Whilst he was slightly unhappy with his national team’s preparation, the scale of the event shocked him. “The Swiss FA had never been in the tournament”, he commented. “It was a bit like the blind leading the blind”.
Nevertheless, he continued to take charge of the Alpine nation as they attempted to qualify for a second successive tournament – Euro 96. Aiming to reach his home country, future Premier League stars Stéphane Henchoz, Ramon Vega and Johann Vogel were introduced to the national team. In truth, the Swiss qualified with ease for the tournament, topping a group containing Turkey and Sweden.
However, before Euro 96 began in his native England, Hodgson resigned as coach to take control of Inter. A huge job, it was irresistible and almost impossible to turn down. Here, he would work with Javier Zanetti, Youri Djorkaeff, Giuseppe Bergomi and Paul Ince. It’s just a shame that he missed out on the chance to make a name for himself back home. Drawn again in Group A, the Swiss held England to a 1-1 draw at Wembley thanks to Kubilay Turkyilmaz’s penalty.
Whilst his first spell at Inter was deemed a success, resigning from the neutral nation is a decision he must think about a lot. How would things have changed for Hodgson? Would he have got the England job sooner? But you can’t change the past. As the World Cup beckons, England fans want reassuring that they’re in safe hands this summer. Hodgson’s track record is outstanding and he proved that in 1994. Lessons have been learnt and he has already hinted at exchanging ideas with rugby’s Warren Gatland and cricket’s Andy Flower.
When it comes to tactics, handling the big occasion, man management and keeping the players entertained on a long trip, Roy Hodgson knows what to do. Group D looks unenviable on paper but his homework will be meticulous and England are in safe hands. Whether that’s enough to mount a serious challenge in Brazil, is something we’ll have to wait and see.