England manager Roy Hodgson has apologised to Wayne Rooney for the fuss caused by his throwaway remark about the Liverpool accent – an ill-judged comment that has not incurred the wrath of his captain or Liverpudlian wife.
Speaking at last week’s squad announcement for the Euro 2016 qualifiers with San Marino and Estonia, the England manager said his captain would not be able to lecture a room full of people because of his “Liverpool accent”. That offhand comment created ripples and one backpage read: ‘Roy in a Rooney slip-up – Hodgson claims captain’s Scouse accent a handicap’.
That was a headline Hodgson took umbrage with, although both he and Rooney could see the funny side of the situation ahead of tonight’s match against San Marino.
“I have to be very careful when talking about accents and the way people speak,” the England boss said with a laugh. “It took years for me to realise I had a speech defect, but it was made very clear to me when I took the job that I had one. I have been aware of it ever since so I am the last person to discuss accents.
“I am disappointed, of course, in the headline, I’d add, because what I was trying to say probably came out in the article. But, of course, it is headlines that create potential damage. Fortunately, I have got a guy alongside me who has been with me for a long time and he knows that in no way was it aimed at home or anyone from Liverpool.
“My wife is from Liverpool so that is the last thing I would be doing. I have actually apologised to him for the headline, but he was so gracious that he didn’t even want the apology. As far as we are concerned, it is a storm in a tea cup.”
Hodgson said the comment has not put him in hot water with his wife and Rooney laughed when asked whether his manager got his point across okay. It was an amusing exchange ahead of a match in which the question is not whether England will win but how many by. San Marino sit 208th in the Fifa rankings – joint-bottom with Bhutan – and have conceded 26 goals in their four meetings with England.
They lost 5-0 on their last trip to Wembley, a World Cup qualifier in October 2012, and many bookmakers have them at 100-1 to add to their sole victory over Liechtenstein in 2004.
“We’ve played San Marino before and other teams like San Marino and as the years go by they do get better and better at getting some sort of results, at least in terms of not losing that heavily,” Hodgson said.
“We were lucky to beat them heavily once in our last game (an 8-0 away win in March 2013) but I’ve got to say at no time in my talks with the players have we mentioned goals. I am telling the truth when I say it is all about performance, building on what I think was good in the last two games, making certain that we don’t slip at all from those standards. We’re not trying to play anything down, but we are not trying to suggest this will be a goal feast. It might, but it might not be because these games are difficult.”
As a result, Hodgson is not planning wholesale changes from last month’s wins against Norway and Switzerland.
Fabian Delph, one of the stars of that meet-up, was the only doubt but has been given the green light to feature against San Marino, having overcome a knock sustained at the weekend with Aston Villa. “The players have prepared vigorously and training has been excellent,” Hodgson said. “I haven’t noticed any difference in preparation for this game and the next one [against Estonia on Sunday] than what we did against Switzerland.”