They say time is the greatest healer and while a cosy press room in Beckenham is perhaps an imperfect testing ground for universal maxims, Roy Hodgson provided clear anecdotal evidence on Friday afternoon.
14 months removed from his nadir as England coach – the Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland and the bizarro, don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-here press conference that followed – Hodgson cut a contented, confident figure as he stepped out for the first time as manager of Crystal Palace.
As he turned on the familiar homespun, slightly gnomic charm of old, it was hard to believe this was the same man who had last been seen squirming in the Chantilly spotlight.
There were warm handshakes for familiar faces from the press corps, wistful asides on the geography of south London (not sure whether you’ve heard, but Hodgson grew up in these parts) and one crowdsourced trip down memory lane, back to when he watched Real Madrid play at Selhurst Park at the age of 14.
Mainly, though, there was the understated steel a man obviously determined to put a few things right as far as his reputation goes.
Not that the 70-year-old was willing to put it in such explicit terms. Indeed, there was a bullishness on display that will have heartened Palace fans as they make their acquaintances with of the English game’s great nomads.
“Words like ‘redemption’ really don’t mean anything to me,” Hodgson said.
“You’re talking in terms which really I haven’t thought much about and don’t need to think about. It’s well over a year ago now and I’ve had lots of time to get my mind back on track. It didn’t take a year, that’s for sure. It took a lot less time than that.
“I’ve never left the world of football behind, because I don’t think you do leave it behind. The drug that gets in your vein stays there. I’ve watched a lot of matches, but this is the first full-time employment in football for a year.
“I think I’m better for that. I haven’t had many periods away from football in the previous 40 years, so I’m hoping this year will have really recharged my batteries, my enthusiasm and my desire to do the job.”
Pressed to comment on that night to forget in Nice, Hodgson did eventually allude to the heartache suffered – both by him personally and the rest of the England set-up. But he was at pains to stress his desire to move on, with the challenge of helping Palace bounce back from their abject start to the season now foremost in his mind.
“The fact is, I and my coaching staff and my players cared very deeply,” he admitted.
“We had high hopes, because we thought we were a good team. To lose as we did against a team we would have beaten on many an occasion… what can one be other than shattered? That was a bad day and the press conference came after sleepless night, as is always the case.
“Have I watched the Iceland game? Yes, of course, but not for about 14 months and I don’t intend to watch it back now because it has no relevance to my work. That game was played and that game has gone. I have very good memories really of those times and the people I worked with, but it’s over.
Euro 2016 Team of the Tournament
“That time has gone. That was a chapter in my life. That chapter is now finished and I’m really focused on the next one.
“I was waiting and hoping for the opportunity to take on a club at a level I want to work at – something that will really test me and give the opportunity to use the experience and ability I’ve got as a football coach. This one came along and I had absolutely no hesitation. It couldn’t have been a better offer for me… back to my roots and a club I’ve always supported from afar.
“What I’ve found in the last couple if days is how much I had missed that day-to-day contact with the players. That’s something I’m really enjoying. My job is to do a good job every day on that training field, making certain that this team recovers the confidence which it must obviously have lost after four straight defeats.”
Hodgson is the first manager to be handed the reins at a Premier League club after turning 70, but as he prepares his side to play Southampton tomorrow, there looks to be a spring in his step that belies the years in the rear-view mirror. “I’m feeling as good as I’ve ever felt,” he added.
“You can’t tear up your birth certificate but you can define how you feel. There were times in my 40s when I felt a lot less physically adept, mentally adept and charged to do the job then I do today. As far as I’m concerned, the age side doesn’t interest me at all.
“It’s been a hectic week and I’ve certainly had a hectic last three days, working with the players for the first time, getting to know them. Now it’s all about tomorrow and seeing what actual outcome of the work we’ve done this week – which isn’t much, of course, but it will be good to see what the players can do. I’m really excited.”