Fulham's gentleman coach eyes shot at redemption
HAMBURG, Germany |
HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Thirteen years, eight teams and seven countries on from his first European final, Roy Hodgson will urge Fulham to defy expectation one more time and wipe out memories of his career's great anti-climax.
Hodgson, who has pulled off a scarcely believable coup in guiding the London club into Wednesday's Europa League final against Atletico Madrid, was coach of the Inter Milan team that lost on penalties to Schalke 04 in the 1997 UEFA Cup final.
Now 62, and in charge of players who have performed heroics to get a small, unfancied club far further than anyone thought possible, the amiable Englishman is back in Germany intent on grasping this unexpected shot at European redemption.
"Whatever happens this has been a very good season," Hodgson told reporters on Tuesday before his team's training session at the Hamburg Arena.
"This is a greater occasion (than in 1997) because it's a one-off final. Playing the final at home and away wasn't the same.
"Of course, my memories of that final are very vivid. If you lose on penalties in front of your own crowd the memory will stay with you, and it won't be a happy one.
"I'm proud of reaching that final but I hope Inter Milan will forgive me for saying that I'm even prouder of this.
"I'm more mature, more philosophical, stronger and able to take what comes my way. I'm ready to take what comes but I hope memories of then will be expunged by a great victory tomorrow."
Hodgson's career has been nothing if not unpredictable, so perhaps it would be wise to expect the unexpected.
The modest former player had spells at clubs in Sweden, England and Switzerland before guiding the Swiss national team to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup and qualification for Euro 96.
That earned him his big break at Inter, which he followed with spells in England, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, the UAE, Norway and Finland before he came to Fulham in 2007 and somehow staved off relegation at the end of his first season.
Hodgson, who has injury doubts over chief striker Bobby Zamora and winger Damien Duff, was named England's Manager of the Year for masterminding victories over the likes of Juventus and holders Shakhtar Donetsk on the way to the final.
"You work hard to get to finals, play a lot if games on the way," he said. "You know that one team one will go from the field smiling and one with tears in their eyes -- that's the nature of things.
"If the question is whether we really want to win, have we prepared as best we can, will we give our all on the night, do everything we can to win the game, the answer is a big big yes.
"But still, there'll be 11 men on the other team feeling the same."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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