It's not every day you get to sit down for a one-on-one interview with the England manager, so when the opportunity arose for an exclusive with Roy Hodgson ahead of the Three Lions' UEFA EURO 2012 opener against France, it was one to grasp with both hands.
Normally you get a little nervous before any interview, let alone one with the most sought-after interviewee in English football, yet as I sat waiting in the hotel room, I felt strangely relaxed. I was right to be. As soon as Hodgson came into the room he immediately sought to shake everyone's hand, introduce himself with a warm smile and joked about the "musty" smell of the grand old suite in which we were set up: "You can tell it's old." He was on a very tight schedule, of which we were all well aware, but Hodgson made it feel like he was happy to be there, answering each of our questions honestly and at length. He was just as I had expected.
My only previous experience of Hodgson was in the post-match mixed zone after his Fulham FC side took on Hamburger SV in the UEFA Europa League semi-finals a couple of years back. I didn't get to talk to him that night, but his polite and friendly manner towards the other journalists confirmed my theory that this was a genuinely nice man.
I began piecing together that impression way back when I was a glory-hunting Blackburn Rovers FC fan in the mid-90s. I remember being intrigued by the fact that he had come to the Premier League, as an Englishman, with experience almost exclusively from abroad. He had led FC Internazionale Milano to the UEFA Cup final in 1997, following successful spells in Sweden and Switzerland. Since then there have been stints in the United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Norway and Finland, as well as his more recent tenures at Fulham, Liverpool FC and West Bromwich Albion FC.
As someone who has lived and worked abroad myself, I can never speak highly enough of immersing yourself in another culture. It broadens your horizons and gives you confidence. Needless to add, I also have a huge amount of respect for Hodgson's linguistic skills.
The man is a true polyglot, speaking fluent Norwegian, Swedish, German and Italian in addition to his native English, as well as some Danish, French and Finnish. The Austrian ambassador to Poland, whom I happened to watch the England-France game with, spoke with Hodgson as a VIP at England's civic reception in Krakow and confirmed he "switched seamlessly into German".
Of course it takes more than just being a nice guy to succeed on the international stage. Hodgson is a renowned tactician and according to his captain, Steven Gerrard, is certainly "tough enough" to deal with the pressures of managing his country. Still, I'm convinced that this ability to communicate is one of his greatest strengths as a coach.
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