RIO DE JANEIRO: A walk along Rio de Janeiro's beachfront opened Roy Hodgson's eyes to how dedicated Brazilians are to honing their football skills and convinced the England manager his country must do better.
“I saw a couple, a women and a well-built man, about 25 metres apart, playing keepy-up on the beach. He was knocking the ball up to her head and she was heading back to his feet,” Hodgson told a round table during the Soccerex conference.
“I stopped to see how long they would keep this up... after 12 minutes non-stop, I gave up and turned and walked off. When I came past them on my way back, they were still going.”
“In England, we practice skills for five or ten minutes, then we want to get down to a game.”
Hodgson said it illustrated the difference in attitudes between Brazilians, whose country have won the World Cup five times, and the English, whose national team have not got past the quarter-finals of a major tournament since Euro '96.
However, he conceded that Brazil's climate was a distinct advantage, saying England needed to follow Sweden's example and build more indoor training facilities.
“It's one thing to be practising your skills in 29 degrees on Copacabana beach, it's another to ask a 13-year-old to do it in the pouring rain, in minus two degrees with the wind howling across the field.”
“We're not on the wrong track with our new demands on the academies, trying to get coaches to get players working on their techniques, working on getting people who can coach in the right way and right detail.
“(But) if you're indoors on a good surface, you're prepared to spend longer, you can stop and explain things, you don't feel the need to keep them active for fear they will freeze on the spot in front of you.
“Our facilities are getting better and we must take advantage of this new training centre,” he added referring to English soccer's 105 million-pound ($168.29 million) St George's Park training centre which was officially opened last month.
“I don't know if we will catch up with the Brazilians over the next ten years but we must get better.”
Hodgson said other countries, previously considered second-rate in football terms, had focused on player development.
“Lots of teams we regarded as secondary teams have worked harder on their games.
“I can mention so many countries putting so much effort into producing players, maybe we ought to start thinking the same.
“We need to start producing players, and look after them very, very well,” he added.
“We saw the Germans after 2002, they sat down and they really reanalysed what German football was all about... the Spanish have done the same thing. This is maybe what we are doing in England now.
“Even if they are not regulars in their (club) team, we are going to need to develop these players and accept that if we are going to get better, we have to work hard on their game. I haven't noticed a lack of passion or enthusiasm,” he said.
“When I started with England, I didn't know what to expect, you hear a lot and read a lot and I met a group of players who are every bit as passionate about football as I hope I still am.”
But no matter how determined and well-prepared, Hodgson acknowledged that a team's success at the World Cup could still hinge on a slice of luck.
“People forget it's a game played by 22 human beings where errors and mistakes and opportunity and chance play a part.
“Sometimes we don't pay enough lip service to the fact that referees will give penalties they shouldn't, players will slip over at the wrong moment and your world class centre forward will miss a chance your grandmother could have scored.”
“It's a trial by television today, certainly for referees, they are really hard done by. The referee has to decide in normal time, but the experts who analyse do so with the benefit of hindsight, hundreds of cameras and slow motion.
“If you ask me to swear blind the right decision (was made in real time), I couldn't tell you. We don't allow technology so maybe the time has come to take the pressure off referees.
“If we're not going to use videos like cricket or rugby, we have to accept the errors will always be there.”