Let’s face it, Roy Hodgson’s reign as England manager has been an unmitigated disaster. Apart from that ‘wolly with the brolly’ Steve Maclaren, it’s hard to think of another manager who has been so wasteful with the talent at his disposal. In fact, after a lacklustre Euro 2012 and frankly abysmal 2014 World Cup, one must question why he was still trusted to remain manager at all. Such is the sequence of unfortunate events, you could be forgiven for thinking he was a German spy, planted as the England coach to prevent the team from achieving anything. As England limped out of perhaps the easiest group in the tournament, there is a fear that yet again Hodgson the saboteur is back for Euro 2016.
To win the Euro’s requires a few essential elements; a tactically shrewd manager, strong support from the fans and an indomitable team. To achieve this team is a bit like making a smoothie – you add talent, leadership, pace, strength, stamina and vision, mix it all up and add the ‘steroids’ of teamwork, tactical discipline and grit. The whole point of being able to take a squad of 23 players is that you should have diversity in the team, different players for different types of opposition and occasions. It provides any tactically astute manager with the tools to attack and defend against any type of opponent effectively.
England are not short of any of the types of players above, and yet when you look at the squad, leadership, strength and vision have been forfeited to have more pace and attacking talent. The team is a one trick pony; if pace and attack fail, well then we just lose. More worryingly is that of the ‘steroid’ elements, few can be found in this squad.
Hodgson should be questioned over the team he chose. What was the reason? What did he hope to achieve? He should be asked about some of his more dubious choices. The smoker Jack Wilshere not only lacks the discipline to be a team player but hardly played all season. The same can be said of the arrogant Raheem Sterling, who was average at Manchester City. Adam Lallana is about as useful on the wing as a trapdoor on a lifeboat. Marcus Rashford may become a ‘world class’ player in the future, but that’s exactly the point, he’s not at the moment. Similar arguments could be made about Ross Barkley who also had an average season, but by now you get the drift. We constantly hear how we need to take these players to the Euro’s so that we ‘build them for the next tournament’, but we say this in every single tournament and we fail in all of them. The reality is this, we don’t control the future, maybe we’ll win or maybe we won’t, but would it not be nice if for one tournament we focused on the present and tried to win it?
Players like Mark Noble, naively ignored by Hodgson, Danny Drinkwater (who just proved his grit and resolve by winning the title as an underdog!) and even Michael Carrick would have provided England with the leadership, muscle and tactical discipline they desperately needed to bring balance to the team and help our dangerously fractious defence. Andros Townsend and Antonio are two example of wingers who would have provided a more direct and aggressive attack than Adam Lallana.
Hodgson’s conscious decision to pick this squad makes you question his judgement, but it has been made more frustrating by his decisions in the group stages. Top managers are more than just figureheads. They are generals who meticulously plan every game, analysing the opposition and forming multiple contingency plans to come into effect during the game for every scenario. Mourinho, Conte, Guardiola and co seldom enter a game unprepared. However, Roy Hodgson is no Conte. Despite Russia, Wales and Slovakia being very different (albeit easy) opponents, it was hard to spot any difference in approaches to the games, and more worryingly it was hard to spot any clear tactical decisions at all. There was no tactical discipline and no teamwork. The players seemed to play with their hearts rather than their minds, and even their hearts seemed small. Russia and Wales were the two teams with big, tall and slow centre backs. Yet Hodgson chose Kane over Sturridge or Vardy. The fact it took him over a game and a half to realise that this attacking change was necessary is worrying. The fact that when England were 1-0 up against Russia and want to shut the game down he decides to take off Rooney, the one source of leadership, and replace him Wilshere, is worrying. The fact that for 90 minutes against Slovakia, Hodgson saw that things weren’t working and didn’t attempt to change the formation or style of play is worrying.
It may be that Hodgson is just rather skilled at making mistakes, but frankly even a mistake mastermind of the world would be impressed by his increasingly large catalogue of failures since he took control in 2012. He seems out of his depth; to go from managing Fulham and West Brom to being the England boss is a big jump, especially when everyone thought Harry Redknapp would get the job. One would hope that if these are just mistakes, then Hodgson will learn soon, preferably before the next game.
It is quite the blessing to be able to play Iceland, a country whose population is so small that if it was a salary most bankers would be disappointed. To not progress against them is unthinkable but unfortunately, given the state of the management, not impossible. What would face us next would provide a much more daunting test. That is where England need to perform if Hodgson is to salvage his reputation. His polite tone and innocent press conferences have masked his mistakes till now, but failure again might see him back at Fulham sooner rather than later.
By Nima Amin.