It feels a little uneasy when it comes to criticising somebody like Roy Hodgson. The England boss is an amicable, articulate and courteous man after all, one of few true gentlemen that remain in the game. It’s little surprise that in various managerial roles he’s assumed across the continent he’s struck up affinities with supporters, players and the media alike. For all in all, Hodgson is an undeniably nice bloke.
Though in many respects, the 67-year-old’s likable personality has shielded him against the backlash that’s typically peppered his faltering predecessors in the role as England manager.
The narrative goes that the European Championships in 2010 went OK if you consider Hodgson only had a few weeks to prepare, didn’t they?
As for the World Cup, what did the nation expect when you consider the anticipation—or lack of it—that accompanied the Three Lions’ pre-tournament aspirations? They weren’t going to do anything of note anyway, I suppose.
The truth is that Hodgson’s been let off the hook substantially during his tenure and any talk of sacking the former Liverpool manager has promptly been dismissed. Mainly on the underpinning premise that at this juncture, there’s simply no outstanding candidate to replace him.
So England must move on with Hodgson at the helm it would seem, and in the wreckage of that World Cup debacle—where England failed to muster a solitary win—plenty has been spoken of this bright new generation of talent the nation have at their disposal and how the current head coach is a manager lucky to inherit it.
But in the first match since the Brazil showpiece, the young lions failed to sparkle. That in itself is no big issue; it was a refreshingly unfamiliar line-up, and the players involved subsequently served up a fumbling performance, occasionally lit up by the effervescent Raheem Sterling or the razor sharp Daniel Sturridge. But these players will grow in England colours; they certainly should do, anyway.
With that in mind, perhaps the manager’s comments post match yielded a much more pertinent concern than the performance itself, per BBC Sport:
If the team works as hard as they did against Norway, show the appetite and desire, and the aggression in the defending, show the exciting moves that were there for all to see, the fans will come back.
And when queried about his side having just two shots on target against dogged but offensively blunt opposition, Hodgson responded:
Two shots on target? Don’t give me that one.
Don’t hit me with statistics. When we had that much possession, and you talk about two shots on target?
What about all the shots they threw themselves in front of?
Hodgson’s quip that England played with “aggression” and showcased some “exciting moves” were certainly at odds with what the television audience—tellingly, England’s match was actually rinsed by the “Great British Bake Off” in the ratings, per The Guardian—and the circa 40,000 spectators in attendance at Wembley, the lowest crowd since the stadium was reopened seven years ago. The England manager emitted the aura of a naïve idealist.
Hodgson must face up to realities that are staring him in the face. England were average against Norway, in the World Cup they were simply dreadful. All in all, the performance against the Scandinavians will do little to galvanise a supporter base that’s increasingly fed up with the high ticket prices, baffling fixture dates and most significantly, drab performances.
And while interest in the international team has seemingly bottomed out for now, there’s a long-term concern, here. Under Hodgson’s tutelage is a crop of enthralling players looking to make their mark on the international stage. But it’s down to the England boss to nurture their talents at this level and coalesce their abilities into an enterprising and effective system.
But has Hodgson showcased anything to date that would imply he has the credentials to mould this side as the nation looks wistfully towards the 2016 European Championships in France? Has he expedited the development of any of England’s younger players since he took over as manager back in 2012?
At the moment, we’ve seen little tangible to suggest he can. And yet another moribund display, the swathes of empty seats at the Wembley and the dogs dinner of a major tournament have not afforded the England boss a much needed reality check. It’s a bucket of water over the head that might be imperative if the Three Lions are going to salvage a bright new cluster of capricious players.
England are set to tackle Switzerland in their first and most difficult European qualifier on Monday. It’s a game that’ll surely mean little in the long run given UEFA’s dilution of the difficulty of the qualifying process; England will surely have enough to qualify for the finals in two years time.
But when this underwhelming and largely untried group rock up in Basel, they’ll be taking on a side that does play with an irrepressible, cohesive aggression, a side that does put together exciting moves and a side that has utilized the quality young players that have blossomed in respective domestic leagues.
Switzerland are a quality outfit that flourished under the gaze of the experienced Ottmar Hitzfeld before he retired after the World Cup; in many ways, the nation’s purposeful development under him has been the antithesis of England’s under Hodgson.
Perhaps this Swiss side can be the ones to finally afford the England manager the wake up call he desperately needs to prevent another wasted generation? But if they do, perhaps the forgiving media and a dwindling fan base will not be quite so merciful this time.