It happened so long ago that it’s easy to forget that Roy Hodgson first went to a World Cup 24 years ago.
In January 1992, a 44-year-old Hodgson inherited a Switzerland team that had failed to qualify for a major tournament since 1966, and was a relative unknown outside of Sweden, where he’d spent the majority of his coaching career to that point.
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.
“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.”
If only today’s Premier League clubs were quite so obliging.
Switzerland's squad was more workmanlike than world-beating, but there was plenty of experience, with just one player under the age of 24. A largely home-based squad contained classy playmaker Ciriaco Sforza, then of Kaiserslautern, and a pair of decent strikers in Adrian Knup (Stuttgart) and Stephane Chapuisat (Borussia Dortmund), all of whom plied their trade in the Bundesliga.
All three came to the fore in the second group game, a 4-1 demolition of a very good Romania side that put the Swiss into the second round.
Hodgson, though, learned 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 later admitted that Switzerland’s preparations for their 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, in summer 2014.
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.
Going for it
The current Crystal Palace boss doesn't exactly have a reputation for gung-ho lunacy, but it was that kind of football which ultimately proved their undoing in the States.
In the last-16 encounter with Spain 24 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.
Not that it stopped Hodgson and his squad from returning home to heroes’ welcomes.
Indeed, the benefits of his time in charge of Switzerland – which ended in November 1995 after Euro 96 qualification was secured – were also keenly felt further afield.
“It was under him that the Swiss really revolutionised their player formation and training system,” said Joachim Low, the Germany manager’s move into coaching having been inspired, in part, by the Croydon native. “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.”
Palace fans would agree.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1