Sunday 18 February 2018

Hodgson aiming to set record straight at Palace

Hodgson: Aiming for good start. Photo: Reuters
Hodgson: Aiming for good start. Photo: Reuters

Jack Lang

They say time is the greatest healer and while a cosy press room in Beckenham is perhaps an imperfect testing ground for universal maxims, Roy Hodgson provided clear anecdotal evidence this week.

Fourteen months removed from his nadir as England coach - the Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland and the bizarre, don't-know-what-I'm-doing-here press conference that followed - Hodgson cut a contented, confident figure as he stepped out for the first time as manager of Crystal Palace. As he turned on the familiar homespun, slightly gnomic charm of old, it was hard to believe this was the same man who had last been seen squirming in the Chantilly spotlight.

There were warm handshakes for familiar faces from the press corps, wistful asides on the geography of south London (not sure whether you've heard, but Hodgson grew up in these parts) and one crowdsourced trip down memory lane, back to when he watched Real Madrid play at Selhurst Park at the age of 14. Mainly, though, there was the understated steel a man determined to put a few things right as far as his reputation goes.

Not that the 70-year-old was willing to put it in such explicit terms. Indeed, there was a bullishness on display that will have heartened Palace fans as they make their acquaintances with of the English game's great nomads. "Words like 'redemption' really don't mean anything to me," Hodgson said. "You're talking in terms which really I haven't thought much about and don't need to think about. It's well over a year ago now and I've had lots of time to get my mind back on track. It didn't take a year, that's for sure. It took a lot less time than that.

"I've never left the world of football behind, because I don't think you do leave it behind. The drug that gets in your vein stays there. I've watched a lot of matches, but this is the first full-time employment in football for a year. I think I'm better for that. I haven't had many periods away from football in the previous 40 years, so I'm hoping this year will have really recharged my batteries."

Pressed to comment on that night to forget in Nice, Hodgson did eventually allude to the heartache suffered - both by him personally and the rest of the England set-up. But he was at pains to stress his desire to move on, with the challenge of helping Palace bounce back from their abject start to the season now foremost in his mind.

"The fact is, I and my coaching staff and my players cared very deeply," he admitted. "We had high hopes, because we thought we were a good team. To lose as we did against a team we would have beaten on many an occasion... what can one be other than shattered? That was a bad day and the press conference came after sleepless night, as is always the case.

"Have I watched the Iceland game? Yes, of course, but not for about 14 months and I don't intend to watch it back now because it has no relevance to my work. That game was played and that game has gone. I have very good memories really of those times and the people I worked with, but it's over. That time has gone.

"I was waiting and hoping for the opportunity to take on a club at a level I want to work at - something that will really test me and give the opportunity to use the experience and ability I've got as a football coach. This one came along and I had absolutely no hesitation. It couldn't have been a better offer for me... back to my roots and a club I've always supported from afar."

Hodgson is the first manager to be handed the reins at a Premier League club after turning 70, but as he prepares his side to play Southampton, there looks to be a spring in his step that belies the years in the rear-view mirror. "I'm feeling as good as I've ever felt," he added. "You can't tear up your birth certificate but you can define how you feel. There were times in my 40s when I felt a lot less physically adept, mentally adept and charged to do the job than I do today.

"Now it's all about seeing the outcome of the work we've done this week - which isn't much, of course, but it will be good to see what the players can do."

Crystal Palace v Southampton,

Live, Sky Sports, 12.30

Irish Independent

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