By Duncan White
They do it in different ways: the bluff Calvinism of Sir Alex Ferguson, the autocratic Catholicism of Fabio Capello, the smooth televangelism of Jose Mourinho. Roy Hodgson? Fittingly he is pure Anglican.
Out in Poland and Ukraine he has preached a return to basic values. It has not always been glamorous but then after the disarray at the World Cup in South Africa it did not need to be. All that was needed was for Hodgson to show that the players believed in him, that he could begin to restore the hunger and humility that they had lost. In that he has exceeded expectations.
Against Italy, England once again played with the imprint of Hodgson’s stamp. One of Capello’s great frustrations was that he felt certain players just did not do as he told them. There has been no such problem for Hodgson. He has certainly persuaded his group to give his methods a try.
As in the Euro 2012 group stages, this was a team whose first objective was not to concede. The central midfield pair, Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker, sought not to leave a gap behind them and the wingers, Ashley Young and James Milner, tucked in when they lost the ball to squeeze the Italian midfield diamond. Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney took turns dropping back to harass Andrea Pirlo. They diligently followed Hodgson’s instruction.
While his approach manifests itself in terms that are risk averse on the field, it is not a policy without risk itself. Harry Redknapp’s gung-ho football at Tottenham had promised an England side that would be exciting to watch. They might fail but they would do so in style.
When Hodgson was appointed in his stead he went the opposite way, building solid foundations, making England harder to beat.
Playing functional football like this is all when and good when you are getting results. Winning ugly is still winning. The risk for Hodgson was if his team started losing ugly.
He would still have been given some grace - after all he only had six weeks to prepare for this tournament - but things would have started to get difficult very quickly if the team then went on to struggle in the World Cup qualifiers.
Hodgson, though, had confidence in the methods that have brought him success around the world. By making the team an obdurate defensive unit - and riding the odd bit of good luck - they have got the results they needed. And Hodgson knows that with results his team will start to build up a bit of momentum. The short-term priorities were clear: if defensive organisation is something he could drill into them on the training ground in Krakow, the confidence to be creative going forward was something they could only really discover on the fields of Ukraine.
With club teams Hodgson’s teachings have taken time to be adopted. He works by relentless drilling and near-pedantic attention to positioning. It will take time before the team truly take the shape he has in mind, certainly going forward. In Kiev last night they showed glimmers of what that might look like, with little bursts of quick interchanged passing.
In between, though, they still looked laboured on the ball, too sloppy in conceding possession. There has certainly been improvement in the way England are using the ball, but it has been gradual.
Hodgson has brought tremendous tactical discipline to the team, but if he wants to build a team that can beat the best sides consistently, he will need to coax them into playing with more progressive intent.
His task is made easier by what he has already achieved. The key has been getting the players to buy in to him. For all his vast experience he is not a coach with the ostentatious achievements of Capello.
Yet he has not only got the players following his orders, he has got them doing so in a united fashion. This has been a campaign devoid of off-field distraction. There has been no whingeing, no formation of cliques, but a group of players who have shown a great spirit and togetherness. In the way he has communicated - in the camp and in public - he has led by example.
His job has been hugely helped by Gerrard. Not only has he led by example on the pitch - he once again played with admirable maturity against the Italians - but, having been familiar with Hodgson’s expectations from his time under him at Liverpool, he has also helped spread the word on the training ground.
Hodgson has not worked miracles but he has made quiet progress in preaching patience. It has not always been pretty but it has all been done with honesty and humility. Slowly but surely he has restored a country’s faith in its national team.