Belfast Telegraph

Roy Keane barking up the wrong tree, says Roy Hodgson

By Sam Wallace

Roy Hodgson has defended his players Phil Jones and Chris Smalling against the latest onslaught from Roy Keane, saying that he and his England squad will be impervious to criticism as they begin their preparations for the World Cup finals this week.

Hodgson and the Football Association opened up their training camp at Vale Do Lobo on the Algarve yesterday with an opening training session designed, in part, to replicate something like the conditions that the players will face in Brazil.

But it was Jones and Smalling, two favourites of Hodgson, whom the England manager defended after criticism from Keane, who recently offered withering verdicts on the Manchester United pair in his capacity as an ITV pundit.

Keane said that having watched the two this season he considered they had "gone backwards" in their progress. He said of Jones: "Every time I see him, he is getting carried off. He's got to toughen up – he's playing for Man United."

Jones, still nursing a shoulder injury, trained separately from the rest of the squad. The only other player outside the group was John Stones, one of the two stand-by players who have travelled with the squad, who twisted a knee earlier in the week.

Jones is still on schedule to be fit by the time England travel to Miami a week on Sunday and Stones is there as his understudy.

Hodgson said: "I am very rarely taken aback by things people say and rarely moved or disturbed by it.

"I work on the simple basis that everyone has an opinion. If you are a TV pundit you are required to give your opinion and I don't expect everyone's opinions to fall in with mine.

"If you say to me, has it been a great year for Manchester United and have Phil Jones and Smalling starred... of course they haven't because they have used so many players and their back line has changed virtually every week.

"But as far as I am concerned they are England players because they have been England players through my two years and any games in particular that Smalling has played, he has certainly never let me down.

"I don't think he's ever let the nation down whether he's played centre back or right back. In my opinion they fully justify their selection."

The England manager's sessions this week have been carried out in conjunction with the FA's head of performance Dave Reddin, who has worked in the past on the staff for the England rugby team and Team GB at London 2012.

Reddin has used sports scientists from Loughborough university to try to recreate hot conditions – chiefly by insisting the players wear more layers of clothing in training than they ordinarily would.

Hodgson said the tests would allow the sports scientists to measure how his players react to the discomfort of high temperatures.

"They went through the session with sweat pads on and they are being analysed. It is part of our process, learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Because there are going to be uncomfortable moments and you've got to learn to get comfortable with that."

One of the those to have caught Hodgson's eye is Rooney, whose dedication to the cause was highlighted last week. Having missed the last three matches of Manchester United's woeful season, the 28-year-old took two fitness coaches on his pre-tournament holiday to Portugal in a bid to get back to full fitness.

That dedication has made an impression on Hodgson and makes the England boss believe Rooney can finally enjoy a big World Cup.

Should that not be the case then Hodgson insists it will not be "for the want of trying or want of dedication".

He said: "He realises what a good player he is and he knows we, as a football nation, place a lot of faith in him.

"He knows the eyes of England, if not the rest of the world, are on him. He will do everything he can, I'm sure, to make sure he brings out his best qualities.

"As you know, the players had a week off and he spent his week off here in Portugal and trained in that time.

"He made certain he got over that injury and he said to me, 'When you arrive on Monday and I meet you there, I want to be 100% ready to train from the first day'. And that's exactly how it was."

Belfast Telegraph


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