Hodgson wants his own ‘invincibles’

England manager Roy Hodgson with his captain Wayne Rooney.
England manager Roy Hodgson with his captain Wayne Rooney.
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Roy Hodgson wants to create his very own ‘Invincibles’ team with England.

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side created history in 2004 when they became the first team to go through a Barclays Premier League unbeaten.

The Gunners clinched the title after going 38 matches without defeat.

Now Hodgson has set his England team the same task – to go through a campaign without being beaten.

Unlike Arsenal, England have far inferior teams to play against in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign – that much is clear from their opponents this week in San Marino and Estonia.

But if England can get to France without losing – or even by winning all their matches – the England manager will be a happy man.

Hodgson has become so enthusiastic about his crop of young players he is working with that he thinks such a feat is entirely possible.

“You get the qualifying group you are given,” the England manager said, reflecting on an uninspiring selection of nations like Slovenia, Estonia and Lithuania, whom he has to face over the next 12 months.

“But it’s such an exciting team to work with here.

“In the last qualifying campaign, we won six and drew four. It would be nice to go through this qualifying campaign unbeaten.

“If we get two good results (against San Marino and Estonia this week), we’ll set ourselves the target of winning all the games.”

A change in the qualifying format means England will have to go through a catastrophic meltdown over the course of the next year to not qualify for Euro 2016.

They overcame their biggest test by beating the Swiss 2-0 in Basle, and now they face their easiest assignment.

San Marino are the joint-worst ranked national side in the world. They do not have a single ranking point – a feat matched only by Bhutan, who share the moniker of the biggest punch bags in world football.

England and San Marino crossed paths in the last World Cup qualification campaign and Hodgson’s men put 13 goals past the minnows with no reply.

San Marino have only won one match in their history, but Hodgson has warned his players he will not accept anything less than an exact replica of the clinical display that his team showed in Basle last month.

“I’m very confident that the players will want to give me and the country the performance I expect of them,” Hodgson said

“I don’t think any of us want a complacent life in football.

“We want to test ourselves and set ourselves standards.

“I want this team to grow and to look back in two years’ time saying we’ve come a long way.

“The players need to continue showing the country and me they continue to have these burning desire to play good football.”

The build-up to tonight’s match, which comes three days before England travel to Estonia, was overshadowed somewhat by an ill-judged comment on his captain Wayne Rooney.

Hodgson, who has made a few PR gaffes in his time with England, said his captain would not be able lecture a room full of people because of his “Liverpool accent’’.

That offhand comment created ripples and one back page 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, which is expected to draw a 50,000 crowd.

“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 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.

“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 is unlikely to make wholesale changes to his team, but Nathaniel Clyne or Calum Chambers could make their full debuts.

England matches could be taken around the country again from 2018 if the Football Association secures an NFL franchise.

The FA has made winning an American football franchise to be based at Wembley a priority and it is understood that would open the way to holding a few England games away from the national stadium.

The FA agreed a deal to play all England games at Wembley until 2017 but there will be some flexibility when that current deal ends, although the majority of the matches would still be held at the national stadium.

Securing an NFL franchise would be a lucrative earner for the FA, which owns Wembley, and allow the governing body to look outside of London.