‘If anyone has what it takes to inspire the boys, then it’s Roy’
I was recently standing at the top of the BT Tower, with Roy Hodgson, the England manager. Both of us were looking at a large clump of trees, and trying to work out if it was St James’s Park or Hyde Park.
We were stumped.
Until I noticed the very tip of Buckingham Palace’s roof, and the riddle was solved.
It was St James’s in case you’re interested.
At that moment, Roy looked at me, a glint in his eye, paused and he just said “well played son”.
He didn’t know it at the time, but I felt about 10 feet tall and I guess that’s what it feels like if you’re one of the chosen 23 England players, and the Gaffer tells you you’ve played well. I’m hoping for all our sakes that in the coming months a bunch of Englishmen hear those words a lot. Especially on July 13th 2014.
I was atop the BT Tower with Roy, as we're both doing our bit for the NSPCC at their charity fund-raiser. Roy didn’t notice, but later that evening I spotted him gazing out on a sun-drenched capital, and for just a moment I think he may have been imagining what it would be like to return in a few weeks with the World Cup trophy.
I also looked down on the commuters, tourists and school kids filling the streets, and it dawned on me that his decisions this summer will be scrutinised, questioned and debated by almost everyone I could see. Talk about carrying the hopes of a nation.
And the scrutiny starts in earnest this weekend as the first game arrives.
Two ‘big’ teams, two sides desperate to not start the World Cup with a defeat, all played out in the near-tropical sauna of Manaus. It’s got 0-0 written all over it, hasn’t it?
Unless, of course, Roy can make a difference, or at least his decisions mean the players can make a difference. And is there a difference-maker better suited to make an impact this weekend than Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling?
I don’t think so, and my heart leapt recently when I heard Roy say that his approach to the first game will be one of attacking intent, of ambition…and hopefully brimming with entertainment. Some reacted with surprise to Roy’s approach. I didn’t.
What I learned that evening above London is that if anyone has what it takes to inspire the boys, then it's Roy.
Now, let me be clear, I hadn’t spent much time with Roy until we had dinner together at the top of the tower. Until then I thought he was considered, clever, honest, and successful. What I hadn’t bargained for was a man brimming with passion, a man who at one point shook with fury when talking about injustice, and a man who captivated a room of big-business brains who had gathered to listen.
He talked about soldiers dedicating themselves to their nation, and that he wanted to see the same level of commitment from his charges. He discussed the challenges of Brazil, not least the constant media scrutiny and negativity that seems to spill from social media forums and newspaper columns as if it’s our national pastime. Which perhaps it is, sadly.
He had me gripped. He has presence, he has self-confidence, and most importantly of all he is completely aware of how much the next month means to you, me, and everyone we know.
Here we go… savour it…