“Machiavellian” media, Sterling and Euro 2016: Roy Hodgson speaks at the Union

Ellie Hayward 23 October 2014

England manager Roy Hodgson appeared at the Cambridge Union on Wednesday evening, where he spoke to students about his life in football and his high hopes for England’s current generation.

Addressing the chamber, Hodgson at times cut a self-deprecating figure as he gave a run-down of a managerial career that has spanned 38 years and eight different countries.

Skipping over his playing days as “not worth mentioning”, the England boss talked of his early success as a manager in Sweden, success he perhaps felt went under-appreciated at home: “for the English press, winning a title in Sweden isn’t worth a carrot.”

A variety of managerial roles followed, including a spell in charge of United Arab Emirates – “a waste of time” – before he was appointed to the top job in English football in 2012.

While England’s results at the two major tournaments overseen by Hodgson have been disappointing, the manager believes his team have entered a phase of transition that will “hopefully see us race away with the European Championships in two years time.” He talked in glowing terms of Welbeck, Sterling, and other young English players, saying “no other country has players as fast,” and that they “make up for what they lack in experience with their other qualities.”

With the floor then opened to questions from the audience, Hodgson was quizzed over recent press reports concerning a brewing club versus country feud with Brendan Rodgers.

The England manager sharply dismissed any suggestion of tension between himself and the Liverpool boss, claiming, “we get on very well.”

Then, not for the first time of the night, Hodgson criticised the English media. He accused journalists of “working in a Machiavellian way” to generate stories that fitted their agenda, and described recent media criticism of Raheem Sterling as “totally unfair and totally wrong.”

Hodgson proceeded to give a full explanation of the events behind Sterling’s omission from England’s line-up against Estonia, a situation that sparked criticism from elements of the media over the youngster’s apparent lack of commitment to his country.

“Raheem was going to play the game, and would have played the game, had he not come to me in training the day before and said ‘Look, I’m feeling a bit tired, I think I need a rest.’”

“It’s a simple situation where a player asked to be excused from a training session the day before the game. But [the press] don’t want that, that’s too simple, there’s got to be some Machiavellian theory somewhere.”

Hodgson went on to discuss the growing trend towards statistical analysis in sport, and revealed his scepticism about the value of data in football.

He criticised the emphasis placed on certain “ridiculously simplistic” and “nonsense” statistics such as shots on goal and number of corners: “Who cares about shots on goal? If that was an important statistic I’d have my team shoot from kick off!”

The England boss was also asked about Gary Neville – could he be a future England manager? “I’d like to think so,” was the reply, although “he is a bit annoying…I have my wife on one side and Gary on the other.”

Hodgson took the opportunity to share his ideas and philosophy on leadership, telling students “enthusiasm and the ability to inspire is the most important quality for a leader.”

One of those in attendance, Will Nott, said: “He’s an interesting and surprisingly funny guy, although some of his comments did make him appear a bit out-dated.”