Rooney and Gerrard have unfinished business on football's biggest stage, says Hodgson
21:58 GMT, 1 December 2012
Copacabana's famous beach was deserted and the Sugarloaf Mountain was hidden by cloud as Roy Hodgson sheltered in a waterfront hotel from the heavy shower soaking this city last week. For a moment, the soon-to-be capital of the sporting universe resembled a Spring Bank Holiday at any seaside resort in Britain.
'It's raining cats and dogs, no' said Hodgson's Brazilian guide, and the England manager chuckled at the young man's grasp of idiosyncratic English. Hodgson has made friends easily in a country where football is the communal language, yet he is still surprised to be stopped by people wanting to have their photograph taken with him. 'I wouldn't have expected to be recognised in the street,' he said. 'But even England's friendly matches are televised here. And it has to do with the popularity of our Premier League, too.'
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In 19 months' time, Hodgson hopes England's stars from the Premier League will be here with him when Brazil host the World Cup, an unmissable carnival of football before the Olympic circus rolls into town in 2016.
'There will be a lot of very disappointed people in England if we don't qualify for the World Cup,' said Hodgson. 'I'd be devastated. When you get the England job, you dream of the tournaments; the qualifiers and friendlies are only a means to an end.
'When the people on the selection committee sat me down six months ago and said that they wanted me to do the job, you automatically think of the European Championship, in Poland and Ukraine, and the World Cup in Brazil.'
Hodgson's suitability as England manager – when the country was clamouring for Harry Redknapp to be appointed in succession to Fabio Capello – is evident during the hour he spent on stage here in Rio at the Soccerex football convention. Hodgson chatted, through an interpreter, with Zico, one of Brazil's greatest players, and England's manager was erudite, informed and informative.
Afterwards his passion for managing England, while perhaps not always obvious from his often deadpan demeanour at media conferences or in the dugout, was all too clear. But he knows from his six months in the job that managing England carries a heavy responsibility to the nation. 'Every game has an enormous expectation,' he said. And he believes that it is an expectation that the players, despite being derided at times for being so wealthy that success on the international stage is only of passing interest to them, really do embrace.
'It's important to dispel the myth that the players don't care,' he said. 'I could have been tempted, especially after the criticism that followed some major tournaments, to believe that the players didn't care that much about England and that their thoughts were elsewhere. But it was really pleasant to find that nothing could be further from the truth. I know I cause disappointment when I leave anyone out of a friendly as I take the opportunity to look at other players.
The Wayne Rooneys, Steven Gerrards, Ashley Coles and Jermain Defoes, all senior internationals, care desperately. 'Wayne's a great player, a player who decides games. Yet he would be the first to admit that he has unfinished business for England at a major championship.
'Steven Gerrard comes into that category, too. He will be very important, because of his playing ability, because of his tournament experience, which he can pass on to younger players, and because of his captaincy qualities. He is a captain who cares, one willing to spend time with other players, and he is not part of any clique. He transcends, to some extent, all of that.
'In his best moments, he has world-class ability, which he has shown for the national team on many occasions. With 19 months to go before the World Cup, we have to hope he can keep fit and retain his great athleticism. If so, it's going to be fantastic to have him with us. He would be 34 but that's not a great age for a footballer any more and Liverpool are managing him well.'
Gerrard's experience, clearly, would benefit the younger men Hodgson is looking to groom, players such as Jack Wilshere, Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling.
'Chris broke into the Fulham team when I was there,' said Hodgson. 'He played only a handful of games at the top level before Alex [Ferguson] made the club what they thought was a fantastic offer for him [reportedly 8million]. That's going to turn out very cheap.'
At 65, Hodgson understands that football is a capricious mistress. He also knows that while he has the cushion of a strong contract with the FA, the actual longevity of his own tenure depends on shaping and creating a successful team.
Unfinished business: Manchester United's Wayne Rooney
'I think I have the ability to do the job but I'm not naive. If you don't get results, questions will be asked and there will be those saying there is someone else who can do the job better. In reality, there is no magic wand. I was satisfied with the response of the players at the European Championship after a short time with them. Now we have a couple of years, hopefully, to work together for the World Cup and we'll be more together than for the Euros.'
IN the next seven months, England will play Brazil twice in all likelihood. In February, as preparation for Hodgson's vitally important World Cup qualifying match in Montenegro – leaders of England's group – Brazil have been invited to play at Wembley.
They will be under the direction again of Luiz Felipe Scolari, who coached Brazil to their last World Cup in 2002. The former Chelsea manager replaced Mano Menezes last week.
'I know Phil from when we lived close, when I managed Fulham and he was at Chelsea, then I met him again in Sao Paulo last summer,' said Hodgson. 'There will be a few more Brazilian TV cameras at Wembley in February.'
Hodgson hopes to play Brazil in a second friendly in June at Rio's famous Maracana Stadium, which is being rebuilt for the World Cup and should be ready for the Copa America this summer.
'I'd love for England to play in the Maracana, it's like the holy ground of football,' he said. 'If not, we'd be happy to play Brazil somewhere else in Rio to get the taste of the sight and sounds of football here; anywhere except on the beach, we'd have no chance there!'
England have won just three of their 23 matches against Brazil, most memorably the 2-0 victory in the Maracana when John Barnes dribbled through the Brazilian defence in 1984. Gary Lineker was the scorer when England last won; at Wembley 22 years ago.
But England must also navigate six more qualifying matches to reach 2014, including the hazardous trip to Montenegro on March 26.
'They are No 1 in our group with a couple of points on us. We don't want that gap to become greater,' he said. He craves the opportunity to examine his skills when the World Cup is hosted by the Brazilians, winners of the trophy a record five times, for the first occasion since 1950.
'All managerial jobs are stressful, and sometimes you can lose your job because things are not working out with the players you are using,' said Hodgson, perhaps remembering his short spell at Liverpool. 'But it's not something I lie awake at night worrying about. I like to think that the people I work with respect my ability to do the job.'