Tuesday 19 November 2019

Duvet or not duvet, that is the question for dreaming classes

England manager Roy Hodgson
England manager Roy Hodgson

Dion Fanning

Roy Hodgson used the word 'workshop' last week which is a sign of things to come. As an intellectual, Hodgson will be aware that Kingsley Amis said that if there was one word that summed up all that had gone wrong since the war, it was 'workshop' but Amis and Hodgson would probably not agree on many things.

One writer noted admiringly that Hodgson watches foreign movies without subtitles while Amis considered Beverly Hills Cop a "flawless masterpiece" and complained of "fucking phoney foreign films" while he was working as a critic for Esquire.

They would have been most divided on the subject of workshops which figure heavily in the life of any man who is as highly regarded within UEFA as Hodgson.

Thanks to Sky Sports, last week we were able to experience just what it might be like to attend a UEFA workshop.

There is clearly great interest in these things. It is not uncommon to hear praise for a piece of writing or documentary which is said to "capture perfectly what it's like to sit on a GAA pitch maintenance committee."

Some of us have made it our life's work not to be on any committee and consider any day that we avoid something which captures perfectly what it's like to serve on a committee as a day not entirely wasted.

Yet the Footballers' Football Show took us into this world and as Adrian Bevington of the FA discussed the different types of bedding England might consider bringing to Brazil, the programme captured perfectly what it was like to sit on an FA logistics committee.

Bevington seemed strangely reluctant to be there, as if he'd rather be out there "doing it" rather than explaining it in the studio, even if being in the studio "doing it" is probably what he does.

"I heard a few rumours about mattresses and beds," the presenter Dave Jones, quickly getting to the heart of the story, said to Bevington. Bevington coolly dismissed it as a gross exaggeration – "We might take bedding," he confirmed and if one closed one's eyes – or indeed left them open – we were right there at the heart of a committee meeting – perhaps even a workshop – where the subject of what tog duvets should be brought to Brazil was being discussed in some detail.

Having dismissed the beds and mattresses rumours as alarmist, Bevington went on to stress the positives, pointing out that the FA's pursuit of excellent communal areas in the hotels was "an absolutely crucial element of what we do".

As they talked us through the magnificent logistics, the flight plans and the search for training grounds, it seemed a shame that the World Cup would have to come along at all. There was something tragic in the idea that, as they spoke soothingly about bedding and communal areas, in the darkest reaches of their psyche an image persisted of Chris Smalling slicing the ball into his own net in Manaus and ruining the months of planning.

In Ireland, administrative successes have become even more important as we come to terms with repeated failure when we get to play football.

Last week we prepared for the white-hot intensity of a tournament draw and braced ourselves for disappointment. We were then subjected to the added agony of the fixture list when the television companies went into a room and emerged sometime later to reveal that our worst fears had been realised and Ireland would be playing every team in their group home and away.

These moments sometimes appear to be all we've left as we're told that the FAI will be pleased with the draw from a financial point of view after we've indulged in some muted 'we are greatism' when Michel Platini says that Ireland was central to the expansion of the European Championships.

We hail these bureaucratic achievements, noting that among his many talents – administrator, visionary, dancer – John Delaney has made Ireland's voice heard at UEFA and we can be proud of that too.

Presumably, we are praised in the UEFA workshops but Hodgson again demonstrated how much we have to learn.

England's manager will leave nothing to chance, especially when it comes to managing expectations. As he talked on Sky, Hodgson reflected on his previous World Cup experience with Switzerland in 1994 and noted that "at Switzerland we had even less choice of players than I have at England".

Hodgson is the desk sergeant who thanks you for taking the time to report your stolen bike but notes there has been a spate of thefts recently so he wouldn't hold out any hope of recovering it, before making some gloom-filled remark about the times we live in as you slump out the door.

England might have a team worth at least £150m but for Hodgson they are a squad that he is scrambling together, a team of misfits, drawn from whatever talent he can uncover.

Glenn Hoddle was sitting alongside Hodgson on the panel and he offered a compelling counterpoint as he talked about his own experience as England manager which was "taken away from me for other reasons", those reasons being his somewhat controversial views on the transmigration of souls.

It wasn't the kind of show to get into that and again it probably replicated a workshop which would advise that advancing views on reincarnation was never helpful, even if it was a central part of what you do.

Happily, Hoddle wanted to be hopeful. "We have got a set of real good youngsters coming through. We say this all the time. Every generation we always talk about, 'There's some good youngsters coming through!' but I really feel genuinely that we have got some players that could, in two years' time, be almost ripe to go in there."

Beside him, Hodgson relaxed. In two years, some players will be almost ripe to go in there. That was the kind of crazy dreaming everyone could believe in.


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