He’d never dream of poking a bear, of dangling his arm out of a car window or, when he was a schoolboy in south-east London in the 1950s, of running with scissors, so quite what has inspired Roy Hodgson to flirt with danger so recklessly only he knows.
On the face of it, what the England manager said about Uruguay’s Luis Suarez prior to the pair’s meeting in Sao Paulo on Thursday wasn’t actually that revelatory.
"You can be a great player in your league but to be recognised as one of the all-time greats you have got to do it at the World Cup."
Before adding none too headline-grabbingly:
"He has got the potential. He is a wonderful footballer."
There are plenty of reasons to support Hodgson’s theory.
Such a description matches one we often hear about Argentina’s Lionel Messi as he strives to do the impossible and catch up to Diego Maradona in his nation’s affections. But it is one thing to think it and another to say it on the verge of a match which will virtually decide your World Cup fate.
Because Hodgson trades on the experience he has built up over a long career in football, wearing a sort of “seen it and done it” look which has earned him a wide variety of jobs. If he’s as intelligent as he is portrayed to be, he really should have known what would happen next.
“England manager Roy Hodgson challenges Luis Suarez to prove he is world class” says the headline on this Sky Sports piece, whilst there’s “Suarez not world class yet” in the Liverpool Echo, and the same over at ESPN.co.uk.
In these times when football is often condensed into 140 characters, people like to deal in headlines, not quotes. The mere act of Hodgson discussing Suarez will become a personal attack on the Liverpool forward, the gauntlet thrown down to him and the challenge to prove a nation wrong presented to him again. He likes accepting that challenge.
Because just what is “world class?”
If it is the ability to display your true quality at one tournament every four years then there have only ever been a handful of players who’ve reached that level in football history. What is surely far more pertinent is just who the best players are in the here and now, and England will be facing one of those on Thursday.
Placed into the last-chance saloon at the beginning of the 2013/14 campaign, Suarez responded with one of the best individual seasons in Premier League history and the PFA Player of the Year award.
You can argue all day about whether or not the acts of putting the ball in the back of the net or of humiliating top-flight defenders—often one and the same thing—make up for previous indiscretions, but the fact is that Suarez did both of those things with staggering regularity last season. He scored 31 Premier League goals—10 more than anyone else.
As he sat and helplessly watched Uruguay lose their opening match of this World Cup to a pleasingly vibrant Costa Rica, Suarez’s thoughts would have already been turning to this game against England and the launch of a potential rescue act against a country guaranteed to take up several chapters in the story of his life.
The narrative for this game was already written without Hodgson’s interference, with only a troublesome knee injury threatening to get in the way of Suarez’s impact on it.
Just as he was desperate to bounce back and show the Premier League that he is not the monster he has been made out to be in the past, Suarez will now be filled with a burning desire to show Hodgson just what a world-class player looks like, even if that’s not strictly what the England manager was discussing.
Giving the forward a reason, any reason, to ratchet up the emotional levels in Sao Paulo on Thursday doesn’t look good on the England manager.
And it could end up looking downright foolish very soon.
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