Perennial quarter finalists, penalty shoot-out chokers and now the third best team in the world, well, at least according to the current FIFA rankings. The truth is, however, Roy Hodgson has few reasons to be positive about England and England have even fewer reasons to be positive about Hodgson.
In a way, Hodgson and England are actually the perfect couple. Hodgson speaks confidently; boosting his ego and image by regularly extoling the virtues of his thirty odd years of experience in management yet has little or no tangible success to point to. England, like Hodgson talk the talk but sadly not only fail to walk the walk but often end up tripping face first into the muck, rising with a mix of indignation and embarrassment, pointing , spluttering but never looking in the mirror.
The secret to their happy marriage is that both Hodgson and England are mired in the past, yesterday’s men who hark back to the glory days but seem unable or unwilling to change.
Hodgson’s rigid reliance on 4-4-2 failed miserably at Liverpool where he tried his best to sell Daniel Agger to Wolfsburg and decided that Christian Poulsen was the answer to Liverpool’s midfield problems.
The standard of football and the results swerved from poor to atrocious .Week after week Liverpool either drew or were beaten and yet he returned for the next game with the same formation. 4-4-2 is to Hodgson, what a Teddy Bear is to a child, comfort and familiarity. Yet unlike the petit enfant, Roy has failed to move beyond comfort and familiarity.
This was seen on an even grander scale at Euro 2012, where Hodgson tactical rigidity ensured only two things, neither of which was victory. The first was that England were consistently outnumbered in the middle of the park meaning that neither Parker or Gerrard were able to establish a midfield platform for the side to progress and attack the opponent higher up the pitch. The result of this central two was that England at Euro 2012 consistently dropped deeper and deeper, to the point that they were so deep against France that Steven Gerrard could not get out quick to enough from the centre back position to block Samir Nasri’s goal bound shot.
The second symptom of 4-4-2 was the sheer physical exhaustion of Parker, Gerrard and Milner. These players were effectively told to at all costs keep the shape by shadowing the players in possession. Now, keeping such a rigid shape is harder than it looks. It requires huge work rate particularly when you are effectively a man light in the centre of midfield. Parker in this system was doing the work of two men.
To his credit Parker went about the task with admirable gusto but was left exhausted and puffing for air after 70 minutes in nearly all of the games. Add in to the mix that Parker, barely has the technical ability to do his own job, never mind another role, and you have the most mediocre and ineffective cocktail since sex on the beach.
Hodgson’s reliance on 4-4-2 also made England extremely easy to play against. England under Hodgson line up with two rigid banks of four which makes it ridiculously easy for any player that plays in between the lines or “banks” to have a huge influence on the game.
Andrea Pirlo, remember him? These two rigid banks of four plus the lack of a high press ensured that Pirlo not only controlled the game but did so while smoking a metaphorical cigar. He walked off the pitch barely out of breath with hardly a hair out of place. In many ways, Pirlo is the living , breathing embodiment of everything that is wrong with Roy Hodgson’s England.
Roy Hodgson, however, should not take all of the blame. The Football Association did after all appoint the Croydon intellectual to the manager’s job. This appointment was made after the FA went cold on Harry Redknapp (a wise move) and effectively had nowhere else to go (poor planning). The appointment of Hodgson though is all the more baffling when you put it into context.
For months prior to Hodgson’s appointment, Trevor Brooking was telling anyway that would listen about how the future of English football was based on two things , St George’s Park in Burton and 4-3-3. The idea was to create system where all England teams played to a similar formation (4-3-3) and style (fluid, passing and interchangeable players). This creates a football identity and also allows for an easier transition form age group to age group. To then go and appoint a man that is as wedded to 4-4-2, as Bono is to his sunglasses is truly staggering.
The idea that Brooking and the FA had was a good one. The idea of bringing up a whole generation of coaches, players and teams playing the same way makes sense and is common practice in countries where long term planning and success are seen as intrinsically linked.
Sadly, the FA has set this project back at least four years. Hodgson may have certain myth built up some in the press that he is some sort of managerial genius/ pseudo-intellectual (See the Daily Mail’s article about the “Hodge’s” reading habits). He is sadly neither, what he is though is bad for English football. He will guarantee qualification, quarter finals and stagnation. Still at least they are third in the world.