RIO DE JANEIRO - The man doesn’t look as if he’s carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders.
It was probably the hundredth time he’s had to answer questions about who he will start for his England squad. Still, manager Roy Hodgson never once snapped off a snarky response.
Hell, Hodgson was even asked by an Italian journalist who he would start if he had a choice between Italian strikers Mario Balotelli or Ciro Immobile.
England managers have the burden of having to face the enormous pressure of fulfilling the expectations of the English media and their own football association that most times can’t be done. Previous managers have lost their minds in that situation and it showed when they confronted members of the media.
Hodgson hasn’t lost his mind quite yet. He said the Italian forward question was better asked of Italian manager Cesare Prandelli. He did go on to give a general comment about how both players were very good.
The only time he bristled was when he was asked by a Brazilian journalist about complaints regarding the heat in Brazil and England having to play their opening game against Italy in Manaus in the Amazon.
The Brazilian media was lying in wait for the English, probably seething since the World Cup draw was held in December and having to listen to the Brits complain about their situation.
“Not true,” Hodgson interrupted before the questioner had finished. “Not true at all we complained about Manaus and Brazil, so that nonsense should be put to bed straight away.”
But it was true. England has done some caterwauling about the schedule and location of their game. Hodgson might have been more restrained than his prickly football association, but playing in 35 degree heat with shower-like humidity is enough to make anyone cry.
Hodgson’s pique didn’t last long before he returned to his calm and collected self.
History tells us that this serene period for England isn’t bound to last very long, especially if they manage to muck up their group opener Saturday against Italy.
While the English press doesn’t believe England has much of a chance to win the World Cup, their secret fantasy has The Three Lions holding the trophy at the end of the tournament so they can celebrate right along with them.
Guaranteed that should England defeat Italy Saturday the headlines would change from England having no hope to win the tournament to “Can England Do It?”
Hodgson doesn’t have the luxury of that kind of support. He knows no matter what the prognosis was for England going into the World Cup, a poor showing means he and his players will be filleted by the press without mercy.
As he was reminded at the press conference, this is his team now. After Euro 2012, he made the changes that molded this team into his own.
A nation that has been desperate to make an impact in a major soccer tournament since finishing fourth in the world in 1990 has invested a lot of hope in the young players England has in their lineup.
Two years ago, according to the press, England was bereft of good, young players.
Hodgson must feel the nation’s expectations weighing on him like a cloak of doom, but as difficult as it is to do that in a nation of 51 million managers Hodgson tries.
Hodgson named eight under-24 players to his squad, including Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw.
Despite the excitement surrounding the squad, Hodgson did his best to warn fans and temper expectations.
Warning No. 1.
“The emergence of youth is very exciting. We have a lot of potential, and we have excitement and belief in them," Hodgson said. “But I must advise some sort of caution because these players haven’t had much chance in an England shirt to show that their potential can be realized.”
Warning No. 2.
“Before we build people up too much and say how wonderful these young players are, let’s see some very good performances in an England shirt first,” he said.
“We believe they can do it, but let’s calm ourselves down a little bit before we say we’ve got world beaters in our squad – to be a world beater you’ve got to go out with your international shirt on and play very well.”
Warning No. 3.
“I’m trying not to play down the fact that the future looks bright but saying that, in this World Cup we are also going to need our experienced players to help these youngsters along,” he said.
But of course the English media and fans won’t listen because a manager and player’s success are often judged in increments of 90 minutes.
It hasn’t changed since 1966 when England won their only World Cup.
Maybe that’s why Hodgson looked so calm. There’s no reason to get bent out of shape when you know that nothing is going to change.
WHERE IS BALOTELLI’S HEAD AT?
Now this is something you might not be too happy with if you are a fan of the Italian national soccer team. Days before Italy plays England in its first World Cup game in Brazil, Mario Balotelli has his mind on other things. The star Italian striker proposed to his girlfriend Fanny Neguesha, posting a photo of his new fiance’s hand with a ring to Instagram. He proposed somewhere near the Italian team’s training site ... Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne have made a late run for the starting spot as striker in warm-up games. Balotelli hasn’t scored for the national team since October. Italian manager Cesare Prandelli is worried about Balotelli’s inconsistency and lack of concentration. You think? ... Pressure? What pressure? Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura will handle the World Cup’s opening game Thursday in Sao Paolo between Croatia and Brazil. It’s not something that Brazil is thrilled about. Nishimura was the man in the middle when Brazil lost 2-1 to the Netherlands in the 2010 quarterfinals in South Africa. Nishimura sent off Brazil’s Felipe Melo for stomping on Netherlands’ Arjen Robben.
HEAT FROM SPONSORS
What do these major corporations have in common; Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa and Sony? These sponsors have a large hand in keeping FIFA financially afloat. Those corporations have served warning that corruption allegations related to Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup are damaging the reputation of the game.
Britain’s Sunday Times leaked yet another set of documents indicating that votes were purchased for the Qatar bid. With the continual attack on the bid and FIFA by British newspapers, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said there was a great deal of “discrimination and racism” in the reporting since some African FIFA delegates were at the centre of the controversy.
The reaction to the comments caused several football associations to leave the press conference and ask Blatter to step down.
Blatter was last seen running from the press conference holding on tightly to his wallet.
WE ARE (NOT) ONE
So here’s your TMZ fix for the day: the World Cup song “We Are One” is taking a beating. Brazilians don’t like it for several reasons. They find it boring and uninspiring. A nation famous for the samba says you can’t dance to it. Music and soccer go hand and foot in Brazil.
Cuban-American rapper Pitbull and American Jennifer Lopez (Puerto Rican) and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte will perform the song at the opening ceremonies. Not much Portuguese content there just as there’s little Portuguese content in the song. Leitte only sings a small part at the end.
Brazil also thinks the video with the song is a cultural cliche and offensive.
On top of all that, Pitbull always struck me as a little creepy.
An update on the travel situation in Sao Paolo for the World Cup opener between Brazil and Croatia Thursday: Brazilian police and striking subway workers fought Monday. Police used tear gas to get rid of the protesters. Union officials threatened a work stopped in time for the opener. Traffic was horrendous for the fifth day in succession. Enjoy the opener!