Not even the cringe-inducingly labelled ‘golden generation’ were able to reach the dizzying heights of ’66, while limited long-ball tactics and rigid 4-4-2’s have become beyond dated when compared with the cultured passing approach and fluid formations found in the more successful corners of the continent.
In an attempt to make up lost ground on the likes of Portugal, Spain, Germany and Italy the FA’s new ideology was to be implemented to the country’s very core. From grass roots upwards the approach would become more positive, more dynamic, more effective. Players would concentrate on passing, movement, touch and skill. They would be encouraged to befriend the ball rather than be afraid of it. It wouldn’t happen overnight but eventually the green shoots of revolution would break ground and a new, better generation of footballers would blossom.
So who would be the face of this new era at the very top level? Who would be the man to utilise these fresh concepts in an attempt to elevate the senior side to a position in which it could challenge the continent’s elite?
Enter 64-year-old Roy Hodgson. I know right!?
Heading into Euro 2012 expectations of England’s campaign were as low as they ever have been, largely down to the new manager’s penchant for distancing himself and his sides with any prospect of success.
A draw against France was seen as a good result, and it was, even if the performance was about as attractive as Gary Neville’s reflection in the back of a spoon. England even dared venture into the opposition half against Sweden in the following fixture, eventually prevailing 3-2 thanks to a great piece of improvisation by Danny Welbeck.
They beat Ukraine, too, although it was far from a comfortable victory, especially as the home nation had a perfectly good goal overlooked.
Nevertheless, England were top of the tree. Hodgson was lauded for guiding them through and expectation began to creep back into the camp as it always does. But for those who know this manager well – all too well – it was already evident that his side would fall at the first sign of quality opposition.
As they came up against Italy 33-year-old Andrea Pirlo, who had been the standout player of the tournament up to that point, proceeded to run the game from his own little station in the centre of midfield.
Any top manager would have set his team up to deal with this threat from the off, but not Hodgson. And any half decent manager would have at least altered the set-up to counter the issue after it had become apparent, but not Hodgson. And he did notice it, by the way.
“I think had (Andrea) Pirlo played poorly, it might have affected the Italians’ performance,” he said after witnessing the veteran repeatedly scythe open his side in Kiev.
If this open admission of failing to identify and deal with the threat of Italy’s key player doesn’t set off alarm bells at the FA, I don’t know what will.
His brow may be furrowed with the traces of over three decades in football, but at the very top tier Roy Hodgson is exposed as a man entirely out of touch with modern tactics and approach.
Flat, compact 4-4-2’s have their place but it is not against Italy in the quarter-finals of the European Championships. This calibre of football requires a dynamic approach which allows a team to adapt to the opposition in front of it. Even a slight change such as dropping a striker deep when out of possession would have allowed Pirlo much less time and space, and therefore denied Italy a large portion of the 68% of possession that they enjoyed on the night.
Would England have won if they had shut down Pirlo to better effect? We can’t say for certain. Would they have stood a better chance of winning? Most definitely.
But that is the eternal problem teams face under Hodgson; he plays not to win, but to avoid defeat. If victory presents itself as a by-product then great, he’ll take that, but the priority is not to be beaten.
This, like every tactic, has its place in football. The Switzerlands, Finlands and Arab Emirates of the international scene may be content with being difficult to beat, but this is a nation which wants to win.
So what next for the Three Lions?
Well, if Roy is still at the helm in two years time then the World Cup will bring more of the same predictable and limited tactics which prevented further progress in Euro 2012. There’s bound to be a few decent results along the way, but it will ultimately end in an underwhelming and early exit from the competition.
And this isn’t just pessimism, by the way; it is fact based upon the trends in Hodgson’s career to date. People may say “give him time”, but as he so likes to remind us he has been in management for 36 years now, what more has he left to show?
Plainly, then, the FA made a mistake when they handed this man a four-year contract, effectively tying down the country’s senior side to his restrictive methods while the rest of Europe continue to progress with their own forward thinking approaches.
How they didn’t recognise that in the first place is beyond me, but let’s hope that, unlike the man himself, they can at least recognise an issue after it has arisen.