Coach dismisses claim by Montenegro legend Dejan Savicevic and insists he can handle criticism of his style
Roy Hodgson has issued a passionate defence of his players’ patriotism and commitment, rubbishing a claim by one of the biggest names in European football that the England team “do not care about the shirt”.
Ahead of the decisive World Cup qualifier against Poland on Tuesday, Hodgson revealed that Dejan Savicevic, the former AC Milan and Red Star Belgrade midfielder who is now president of the Football Association of Montenegro, had told the England manager in a private conversation that his players were selfish and unpatriotic.
Hodgson said he had been infuriated by Savicevic’s comments, made after the 1-1 draw between the teams in Podgorica last March.
“I was irritated, I don’t mind saying this now, in Montenegro, with Dejan Savicevic, who suggested to me that England players just play for themselves, they don’t care about the shirt, whereas ‘we Montenegrins throw ourselves into everything’.
A complete load of rubbish,” he said. Hodgson decided not to reveal his anger at Savicevic last March because England had “played badly in the second half” in Podgorica. But following England’s 4-1 win over Montenegro at Wembley on Friday, Hodgson said: “I had to swallow that. But he [Savicevic] might be changing that opinion after watching us swarm all over his players.”
England’s victory kept them top of Group H. If they beat Poland on Tuesday they will win the group, ahead of Ukraine, and qualify automatically for the finals in Brazil. Anything else and they will be in the play-offs as Ukraine’s final match is against no-hopers San Marino.
Hodgson’s anger with Savicevic offered an insight into his frustration at some of the public attacks he has faced as England manager, especially the persistent accusation that he is a defensive coach. “People can say what they want,” he said.
“I’ve been coaching for 38 years, I’ve been being labelled as this coach or that coach for 38 years, so I can certainly stand it for a couple more. I think our nine games without defeat [in the qualification campaign so far] and our 29 goals for and four against, that’s a good record.”
Hodgson has called up 18-year-old Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling from the under-21s to replace the injured Tom Cleverley. With Kyle Walker suspended and Glen Johnson injured, Hodgson will decide between Phil Jones — who will probably start — and Chris Smalling as stand-in right-back.
After his outstanding debut, Andros Townsend can expect to retain his place. “He played like a veteran and scored a wonder goal,” Hodgson said.
The only other selection issue would appear to be whether Frank Lampard is again chosen alongside Steven Gerrard in central midfield or gives way to either Michael Carrick or Jack Wilshere.
Hodgson warned Poland, who cannot qualify, will not “take their foot off the pedal”, especially because they will be backed by about 18,000 of their supporters at Wembley.