Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Hodgson stays despite disaster but must up his game

Ross Barkley has impressed for Everton this season
Ross Barkley has impressed for Everton this season

There are many football nations where two defeats at a World Cup finals and elimination before the third game would see the manager sacked before the wheels on the flight home bumped down on the tarmac.

It is considered a mandatory tariff for failure and the only discussion is: who next?

When Steve McClaren was dismissed in November 2007, after the qualifying campaign for Euro 2008 ended in defeat to Croatia on a Wednesday night at Wembley, a Football Association board meeting was called for the next morning.

Not that they needed a show of hands. The decision was a foregone conclusion and that, almost seven years ago, was the last time the FA was obliged to throw a manager overboard.

Having sacked and appointed over the last 15 years, sometimes at an extraordinary cost, the last new option left open to the FA is to stick with its manager.

It is that course which it seems determined to take with Roy Hodgson.

The FA went into the 2014 World Cup with low expectations, although while it is one thing having those expectations, it is another seeing them fulfiled in spectacular fashion.

As Hodgson spoke on Thursday night he had the classic demeanour of the diminished England manager: the colour drained from his skin and the grey FA suit evoked an Englishness that owed more to John Major than James Bond.

A doctor chancing upon the scene might have diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Technically speaking, his team were still in the tournament at that point. Behind him, his players walked out with what looked like a mood of sheer embarrassment.

Come tomorrow, after their final training session in Urca before they leave for Belo Horizonte, the FA will have no further use for the £80,000 media centre there or the training pitch. The Brazilian soldiers at the military base will bear witness to the shortest occupation since Paraguay encroached on their borders more than 100 years ago.

It is a personal view that Hodgson should stay. There is no alternative, given that the alternative should be English. But he is vulnerable.

The current FA chairman, Greg Dyke, gave Hodgson the FA's backing yesterday, but Dyke was not in position when Hodgson was appointed and does not have his credibility bound up with the England manager.

That was a decision made by his predecessor David Bernstein and the rest of Club England, which positions itself as a hermetically sealed enclave within the FA that deals with the national team.

Hodgson's future depends on Dyke over the next six months and he is a man who remains largely a mystery to English football.

His greatest achievement thus far was, with hindsight, calling Group D exactly right at the draw in December. Cut-throat was on the money.

By the end of the year England will have played four Euro 2016 qualifying games, and we will have some idea of how the future looks.

The first is the most difficult, away to Switzerland. San Marino, Estonia and Slovenia come before the turn of the year. In its wisdom, Uefa has expanded the tournament to 24 teams, to the extent that it is more difficult not to qualify.

Even so, it is hard to implement change and take risks as an England manager when one feels that job security is an issue. For instance, what team to pick against Costa Rica on Tuesday?

Yet that is what Hodgson will be required to do post-World Cup as he builds a new team for

Euro 2016. Every slip by his team will just bring back memories of Brazil.

In his defence, Hodgson has introduced a new group of players to international football and his squad and subsequent team selections have not encountered much opposition.

There are some positive aspects to their performances, against Italy more than Uruguay, but it is hard to think of many when the team were out six days after they began.

At least some decisions will be taken out of his hands. It seems inevitable that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard will retire from the international game.

The younger generation of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw will have to be involved.

In this World Cup defence was always likely to be England’s Achilles’ heel and so it has proved.

Until the likes of John Stones develop enough to justify a starting place, that will remain an issue. It is to be hoped he trains on better than Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, whose development appears to have stalled.

Behind them there is an argument that Joe Hart has generally been very good at this tournament.

In midfield there needs to be more imagination around the box and the ingenuity and clever feet of Adam Lallana could have been introduced earlier.

Maybe England’s midfield future is to eschew a holding role completely and copy Croatia, who have Luka Modric and Ivan Ratikic in the centre. Jack Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain perhaps?

Wayne Rooney scored, and looked dangerous, but Sterling, having been shifted to the wing, did not. Danny Welbeck is industrious but rarely threatening and while Daniel Sturridge looked sharp around the box he was not deadly enough in it.

The last three named are aged 19, 23, 24; they will improve.

Hopefully that development will include better movement off the ball as England were often static in attack. At one throw-in Leighton Baines had to gesticulate to team-mates to move around and still had to send the ball backwards.

This England do struggle to penetrate a deep defence, whether it be Italian, Uruguayan or Honduran. Ross Barkley’s dynamism and Lallana’s trickery will help in the long term, but the main issue is poor movement.

As far as Hodgson is concerned, having sacked managers in the past the only thing the FA has not tried yet is sticking with the same man.

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