Poland, Jun 21: Roy Hodgson has won universal plaudits for quickly restoring unity and pride among England players barely a month after being hired to lead the country into the European Championship.
The coach took over from Fabio Capello three months after the Italian vacated the job. After a miserable 2010 World Cup performance, a reinvigorated England squad will march into its Euro 2012 quarterfinal against Italy on Sunday with confidence.
The 64-year-old Hodgson has generated a feel-good factor in the squad, which was often lacking during Capello's authoritarian reign.
“We are more organized than ever and the lads have been great,” England striker Wayne Rooney said. “We are all fighting for each other. We want to do this together. We feel good, we are prepared well.”
A shrewd move by Hodgson was giving recently retired defender Gary Neville his first coaching job, providing a link from management to the squad while providing fresh tactical insight.
Neville can see how the players are benefiting working with a manager who is “calm, doesn't sort of get carried away by things, brings a great deal of humility, trusts in his players and has faith in them.”
“They are recognizing that he is someone they like and want to play for and I think that's important,” Neville added.
Selflessness has been drilled into the team by Hodgson.
“If you want to be successful you have to perform to your ability and trust the people around you to perform to theirs,” the coach said. “Any national team is going to have players with egos—that's normal. You want that because it's the player with the ego who is often the one who makes the difference.
“But I am very happy with the way these players have worked for each other.”
Capello often petrified players by ruling with an iron fist, notoriously banning tomato k
etchup from dinner. Whereas winger Theo Walcott and his teammates often had to sneak food into the team hotel under Capello's regime, Hodgson has removed the need to report to dinner each night during Euro 2012.
“Roy's come in and he's obviously given us a lot of rest time as well and a lot of downtime,” Rooney said. “It's good for the players to relax and obviously put football aside for even just one afternoon. It's good to give your mind a rest.”
Goalkeeper Joe Hart stresses that the freedom given to roam Krakow doesn't mean the players are any less professional.
“We're here to play football, regardless of whether we're allowed to walk round and see a nice statue or whatever, or have a pizza with someone that we want to be with,” Hart said. “I think we're training hard, I think we're getting the manager's methods.”
On the pitch, Hodgson has drilled discipline into the team. While the football hasn't been scintillating, they are five matches unbeaten under the former Switzerland, Finland and United Arab Emirates coach.
“He plays a different style to the previous manager,” winger James Milner said. “He wants us tucked in, compact and tight and to be difficult to beat and it has worked so far.”
Hodgson's fellow coaches also have been impressed.
“Roy Hodgson is an Italian Englishman,” Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini told Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. “He is intelligent, good and crafty ... England wait for their opponents and hit them on the counterattack.
This is the kind of football that we, Italians, were masters at for a long time. They have understood that winning is what matters.”
They also understand what their London-born coach is saying, unlike with Capello and his broken English. And it helps that Hodgson had previously worked with captain Steven Gerrard during his brief stint as Liverpool manager.
“We are enjoying how we are playing,” Gerrard said. “Everyone knows in South Africa the team weren't playing at a good level.”
Even the notoriously judgmental media back home is gushing about how Hodgson has utilized 36 years of coaching experience—largely outside his homeland—to transform England's fortunes.
“It looks to me like Roy has got into their heads and reminded the players that playing for their country means something,” former England midfielder Jamie Redknapp wrote in the Daily Mail.
“This group of players, under a new manager, seem to have a pride in their work,” added Redknapp, whose father Harry was beaten to the England job by Hodgson.
Hodgson will be hoping his honeymoon period continues long after the team finally leaves the Euros. Potentially, even with a trophy.