“It would be lovely to think that one day we could all get together and say ‘England is important’," Hodgson said. “You hear people trying to say ‘it’s only the Premier League that counts and the Champions League and people don’t care about international football’. Something like 24 million or 25 million watched our [Euro 2012] game against Italy.”
The peak was 23.2 million, reflecting the enduring interest, but Hodgson understandably worries about the myriad club-v-country problems with the Premier League so powerful.
After the October qualifiers with San Marino and Poland, Hodgson and his assistant Ray Lewington will travel around the country, talking to managers, coaches and players. “It’s one thing that hasn’t happened in the past, but it’s something that Roy is keen to do," said Lewington.
Such is the shallow pool of English talent that Hodgson and Lewington will also be finding out from clubs about any young prospects hoping to break through. “There’s an element of wisdom involved,’’ said Hodgson. “We rely so heavily on the coaches and managers of clubs, who work with the players that we will eventually work with. It’s important we get the relationship where it’s not just a phone-call once every nine months, it’s more a question of knowing them and, if not friendship, at least the feeling of being colleagues and very good acquaintances.”
The scheduling of televised games vexed Hodgson. The England manager has become frustrated at the inevitable delay in players involved in Sunday club games being able to train fully after meeting up with England the following day. “This is the Premier League and TV,” Hodgson told an audience of Club Wembley members. “It would be nice if, when we’re playing on Friday, the top teams played on Saturday and not Sunday. Then on Monday we could do a bit of work, and on Tuesday do some serious work.
“But every time, the top clubs have played on Sunday. If they’re from Manchester and they’ve played in Southampton, they get back late at night, then have to come down again.”
This happened with the United contingent before the recent World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine. The presence of Liverpool and Tottenham in the Europa League on Thursday nights means their weekend games shifting to Sundays, so complicating Hodgson’s task further.
Hodgson also wants a winter break to bring a more “logical” approach to England’s fitness and freshness levels going into tournaments. He also lamented the decreasing numbers of English players in the Premier League. “I am hoping the League retains its quota of at least one-third English players and doesn’t go below that,” said Hodgson. “Juventus are champions of Italy and in resurgence. They had seven Italians in the team that drew with Chelsea. It would be nice if we ever had a situation where the top teams had seven [English] players.”
Hodgson is fully aware of the pressures of the job. Two dropped points and a modest performance against Ukraine inevitably stirred some criticism. “I know I’ll be vilified at some point but I hope when that vilification comes, somewhere down the line I’ll get the redemption that Bobby Robson had,” reflected Hodgson.
“You know when you take the job, you’re dead. All you can hope is that you can enjoy that time on your death-bed and that when you’re resurrected a few years later, people say: ‘you know, he wasn’t that bad’.”