The England job is perhaps the most unforgiving and challenging job in football. The job of meeting high expectations of optimistic fans is hard enough, not least with only a handful of real ‘world class’ players. The England managerial role is something that many have tried – and although some have been more successful than others, all have ultimately failed. After the originally promising, but eventually demoralising attempts of Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson faces a very different job than Capello took up in 2008. Hodgson, renowned for making average players perform to the best of their ability, has to regroup the England squad and faces a tough challenge to simply steer them clear of their tough group featuring some of England’s recent enemies. France, the team that beat England 2-1 in Euro 2004 in dramatic fashion that are growing in confidence under Laurent Blanc; Sweden, who remain unbeaten by England in competitive competition since 1968; and Ukraine, who were the only team to take points off England in the 2010 World Cup Qualifying campaign.
While fan-favourite Harry Redknapp watches on at the heaps of work on Hodgson’s shoulders, you can safely make the assumption that, after all, he’s quietly delighted that he wasn’t offered the England job. There’s no doubting the fact that Hodgson’s job wasn’t easy when he took it, in fact it was even harder than the England job normally is, but unfortunately for him and England’s set of loyal fans the job has been made harder by silly, misinformed and ultimately costly decisions. From remarkable player inclusions to silly choices of headquarters, Hodgson and the FA really have their work cut out if Euro 2012 is to be a success – and they seem determined to make it as hard for themselves as possible.
The decision to leave Rio Ferdinand at home was at first sight a bad move but the consistent hole digging by the FA and Hodgson since has turned it into a farce. On the day of the England squad announcement, the uttering of the words that Rio was left out for “footballing reasons” is what’s caused the majority of the problems and the first of Hodgson’s mistakes. If he had simply explained that he could have taken only one of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry and that he’d chosen the latter, then the situation would of been blown away fairly quickly. But the very words “footballing reasons” suggested that Hodgson was both hiding and ignoring the fact that Terry looks set to be convicted as a racist and is therefore condoning it. What message is it sending out; we’ll strip our captain for being involved in a racism scandal but we’re happy to have him in the team and playing? You can say Terry is innocent until proven guilty, but if that’s the case then he shouldn’t of been stripped of the captaincy in the first place and Fabio Capello would still be our manager.
The situation is embarrassing enough but Hodgson’s excuses for leaving Ferdinand out have caused more problems than he could of imagined. Going by actual football terms, Ferdinand has made more appearances for his club than Terry this season. Ferdinand has also been the centrepiece of the defence that conceded the second smallest amount of goals in the Premier League this season, while Terry has been a player partly responsible for Chelsea’s leakiest defence in years. The on going conversation and debate covering the case have turned attention away from the important stuff – the football. FA Chairman David Bernstein wanted talk of Ferdinand to stop until after the competition but Hodgson’s latest comments have shown up his chief once again. The fact Hodgson broke Bernstein’s commands by saying ”My respect for him [Rio Ferdinand] should go a lot further than just asking him to come along to a tournament to be a player to cover,” seemingly admit that he hasn’t taken the strongest set of players possible to the tournament which is just laughable.
But away from the Ferdinand and Terry saga, Hodgson still faces big problems. There are further selection issues surrounding the failure of Micah Richards to make the squad, despite being in solid form for the majority of Manchester City’s title-winning campaign, while Glen Johnson who has remained inconsistent for both England and Liverpool does. Elsewhere many continue to question the absence of Michael Carrick who has had his best season in a Manchester United shirt for a number of years, something that is supplemented by the remarkable inclusion of Jordan Henderson after a poor season at Liverpool. Call me biased but Carrick should be starting in that team, so the fact he’s not even in the squad is one of Hodgson’s biggest mistakes so far for me. Continuing the theme of poor Liverpool players who’ve made the cut for the England squad is Stewart Downing, who failed to even make an assist, let alone a goal, in the Premier League over the last season.
However, one aspect making the job harder for Hodgson that is out of his and the FA’s control is injuries. The England camp has been struck by a series of injury problems; from little niggles to damage that’s sent players home. Scott Parker, Ashley Cole and Danny Welbeck are just a few of the large group of players who have suffered from knocks in the build-up. The exact extent of these problems and whether or not they’re all fully fit still remains to be seen. Gary Cahill, one of the starting centre backs, is unable to participate in the tournament following a double fracture on his chin and injuries to both Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry are probably making Hodgson wish he’d included Michael Carrick in his original squad or at least persuaded him to be in the back-up pool of players. The sad death of Jermaine Defoe’s father temporarily reduces England’s choice of forwards but rumour has it that Defoe is set to return after the France match.
But the loss of Rooney for the first two games of Euro 2012 remains immeasurable. There’s little Hodgson could do about the striker’s suspension but the choice to take only four strikers, with one of them missing the first two games, is certainly a risky one. With Defoe away for the time being, England only have Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll as proper strikers – something that has seen Ashley Young deployed in a role just behind a lone striker in the warm-up matches. Many managers see taking just four strikers to a major tournament as a risk, that’s without considering Rooney’s two game suspension, so for a conservative manager like Hodgson to make this decision is a big surprise. With Carroll going to the tournament on the back of a disappointing there’s questions over how he can perform at Premier League level, let alone international level. The same goes for Danny Welbeck who is still inexperienced at international level, and despite a promising season at Manchester United, you wonder how well he’ll make the step up.
Another major mistake from the chiefs at the FA was the choice of location for England’s base and headquarters. With England based in Krakow in Poland, they’ll have to travel an average of around 600 miles to each game. The choice of headquarters was made before the draw and therefore England didn’t know where the majority of their matches would be played; Ukraine or Poland. The FA obviously hoped that England would be drawn in a group where they’d play in Poland and that a compromise wouldn’t need to be made, but unfortunately the circumstances now mean that because they’ll play matches in Ukraine large amounts of travelling will be done. In total England will travel over 4,000 miles in the competition in just the group stage – something that’s certainly not ideal with certain key players holding small injuries. It’s a lovely introduction to the life of major international competitions for some of the youngsters, as well as Roy Hodgson. The situation certainly isn’t ideal and you hope that it doesn’t affect the players in any significant way, but you certainly get the idea that it will.
Heading into this tournament as manager at such short notice was always going to have its problems; problems like Rooney’s ban already existed. However, certain problems that didn’t exist when Hodgson took over have already arisen and become large issues. The case of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry has caused more problems than anybody could’ve imagined and unfortunately, for me, Hodgson only has himself to blame. More selection mistakes are likely to come back and haunt him, as they already have with the injuries to Barry and Lampard with no Carrick to reliably fall back on. Yes, troubles have arisen that were out of Hodgson’s control; injuries and the strange decision on England’s headquarters, but as a national team manager he’s got to deal with them while under pressure. But the big issue for Hodgson, England and fans is that the problems aren’t going to stop here; England are yet to even kick a ball at Euro 2012 and there are already problems. What’s going to happen if they perform badly against the French and the press get on their back?
No matter what happens, after the tournament there is a lot of work to do and the rough ride that England and Roy have endured these past few weeks is going to continue. Throughout the tournament the case of Ferdinand, and to an extent Micah Richards, will be discussed and depending on the success of the team, it might even overshadow the whole of England’s campaign. However England do – even if they somehow win it – it’s got to be sorted out after and that’s going to be hanging in Hodgson’s head. Equally, the repressive football that we’ve seen in the two warm-up matches is likely to be unpopular with many fans if it’s not successful, and there will be those who want the style to be changed if that’s the case. I like Hodgson as a manager and I wish him the best, but the mistakes he’s made so far might be crucial. He’s excellent at bringing the best out of average players, as we’ve seen at Fulham and West Brom, but can he do it with the nation watching and the pressure that goes with it? Judging by what’s happened so far, I’m not so sure. Hodgson’s honeymoon period has certainly not been the best; but I fear that it can only get worse and that there’s a long way to go yet.