This summer's jaunt to Brazil won't be Roy Hodgson's first taste of a World Cup - Louis Massarella ponders what he may have learnt from his previous adventure...
It happened so long ago that it’s easy to forget that Roy Hodgson has taken a team to the World Cup before. But does Switzerland’s Stateside sojourn in 1994 offer us any clues as to how the England coach might approach his latest trip across the Atlantic?
Certainly, on the face of it there were far more differences than similarities between Hodgson’s Swiss charges and his latter-day Lions. For a start, expectations were far lower in 1994 – even though England have spent much of the build-up to Brazil playing down their chances.
In January 1992, a 44-year-old Hodgson inherited a Switzerland team that had failed to qualify for a major tournament since 1966, while the new man in charge was a relative unknown outside of Sweden, where he’d spent the majority of his coaching career to that point. And while the England job could well be the near-67-year-old's managerial swansong, his first international job was viewed as a springboard to the big-time. “Taking the [Switzerland] job was ambition-based,” he recalled. “If I got to go to the World Cup, I knew it could lead to a job in a bigger league.”
And eventually, it would. First, though, Hodgson had the seemingly impossible task of getting Switzerland out of a qualifying group containing Italy, Portugal and a then-competitive Scotland. But the Swiss progressed to the finals in second place, finishing one point behind the Azzurri, who they took four out of six points from to briefly climb to third in FIFA’s world rankings, for what that’s worth.
Qualification was a fine achievement in itself, and just six goals conceded in 10 games helped forge Hodgson’s reputation as, above all, a well-organised and defensive coach. He had two things working in his favour, mind. “I sold the [Swiss] FA and league on the idea of regular internal training camps where players would play for their clubs at the weekend, then join me for Monday and Tuesday,” he explained. “Through that we developed a club ethos.” It’s an environment he’s spoken about trying to create with England. If only today’s Premier League clubs were quite so obliging.
The other main difference was the make-up of the Switzerland squad he took to the tournament. True, it was more workmanlike than world-beating, but there was plenty of experience, with just one player under the age of 24. And while there was no Raheem Sterling or Ross Barkley, a largely home-based squad did contain classy playmaker Ciriaco Sforza and a pair of decent strikers in Adrian Knup and Stephane Chapuisat, all of whom plied their trade in the Bundesliga.
All three were to the fore in the second group game, a 4-1 demolition of a very good Romania side that would put the Swiss into the second round.
In the context of this summer’s tournament, though, Hodgson learnt far more from the opening match against the USA, the first at any World Cup to be played indoors – in the stifling heat and humidity of Detroit’s Pontiac Silverdome.
He admitted recently that Switzerland’s preparations for the 1-1 draw against the hosts – which basically amounted to sitting in a sauna – were “amateurish” compared to England’s approach to playing in the capital of the Amazon, Manaus, this summer.
In fact, Hodgson said the whole tournament in the United States was “a bit like the blind leading the blind” in terms of preparation. “The Swiss FA had never been in the tournament,” he complained. So when the England coach talks about leaving ‘no stone unturned’ ahead of this tournament, he’s not just spouting clichés.
Nor is he likely to react to accusations of England not being adventurous enough. In the last 16 encounter with Spain 20 years ago, the Swiss committed an extra man forward after falling behind to a controversial goal after 15 minutes, and were picked off on the counter-attack to lose 3-0.
It didn’t stop Hodgson and his squad returning home to heroes’ welcome, though, something England can’t expect if they only reach the second round this summer.
But while there are certainly lessons learned from 1994 that Hodgson can apply in 2014, the benefits of his time in charge of Switzerland – which ended in November 1995 after Euro 96 qualification was secured – will perhaps be more keenly felt by two other teams at the World Cup.
“It was under him that the Swiss really revolutionised their player formation and training system,” said Joachim Low recently, the Germany manager’s move into coaching having been inspired, in part, by his England counterpart. “Roy Hodgson is a fantastic coach. I first met him when I was a player in Switzerland and he was the national coach there. Wherever he has gone he has left the most positive of marks.”
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