KRAKOW, Poland, June 10 (Reuters) - After a peripatetic 36-year climb, Roy Hodgson will arrive at the summit of his career in Donetsk on Monday when he leads England into their opening Euro 2012 Group D fixture against France.
He freely admits he has revelled in the journey.
But he is less certain if he will always enjoy the view, or the experience of life at the top.
”I am up for the challenge,“ he said. ”Of course I am or I would not have taken the job even if I know I am not always going to be happy at the level of scrutiny of all my decisions.
“But I am a football man and football has been my life,” he added, talking openly to reporters in a stone dining room at the ancient Hotel Pod Roza, the oldest in Krakow.
”I have had 36 years of it, at varying levels, and now I am here at the pinnacle. It is the top job in England and I think I know what it is all about.
“But only a naive person would think that it is all going to be plain sailing....”
A dignified man who was appointed manager on May 1, Hodgson oozed a quiet sense of pride as he reflected on his journey from the Tonbridge Angels to Wembley, via Halmstad, Malmo and Inter Milan, not to mention national service with Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and Finland.
”The pinnacle? Yes, absolutely, it is the pinnacle for me,“ he said. ”I am very excited about this and have been from the day when the chairman called me about the job...
“I had a harrowing two weeks, a difficult time, when I was still head coach at West Bromwich Albion and trying to plan ahead for England, but I have enjoyed every minute.”
The Croydon-born coach conceded he was inclined to be conservative, but preferred to describe his approach as “pragmatic”, someone happy to win 1-0 with a sound defence rather than take risks with a more cavalier approach.
He added, too, that he was less concerned by the prospect of a torrid storm of media and public criticism, if results go against him, than the pain if he felt he was let down, or deceived, by his players.
“The most painful blow for me would be if they let me, the team and the nation down,” he summed up, after riding a series of questions on his squad selection, the absence of defender Rio Ferdinand, the positive mood of his men and a France team, managed by Laurent Blanc, that is unbeaten in 21 outings.
Reiterating that he omitted Ferdinand for “football reasons”, he said the controversy it created in the English media was just that -- a media creation, not one of his making.
“I don’t know how these debates get started in the mass media,” he said. “I am not a journalist. I had to make a decision and I did it.”
He explained he did not want to ask Ferdinand, a former captain, to travel as a cover player in his 23-man squad and therefore did not reconsider him, for the same reason, when Gary Cahill was forced out by injury.
”It was a tough call,“ he revealed. ”I called Rio and we had a private conversation. I wouldn’t dream of telling you what he said or what I said....
“It’s my job to make decisions and I have to do that and know I feel right myself about them.”
Looking at Monday’s meeting with France, he said England had already studied “three or four videos” on them and would watch another later on Saturday.
“I think the players are enjoying the fact that they are not considered as favourites for this game,” he said.
”But they are very motivated. They have a healthy respect as they should for a team that has gone 21 matches undefeated, but they are not cowed.
“There is no fear... They think they can beat them.” (Reporting by Tim Collings, editing by Justin Palmer)