Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Euro 2012: Hodgson remains optimistic on England's future

The England manager Roy Hodgson believes his players must stay true to their roots if they are ever to be a success at international level.

England failed to progress beyond the quarter-final stage of a major tournament yet again at Euro 2012, with critics pointing to poor technique compared to the other major nations. This was highlighted by statistics which showed England had a minority of possession in their games.



But Hodgson does not view the situation in bleak terms. "We have to maintain that degree of pragmatism that we have always had in English football," he said. "We also have to retain that fighting spirit and doggedness. We must not start throwing those qualities overboard just so you can come off the field and have someone say you've had more shots at goal.



"I don't want to emulate nations, no. I want England to be England. You can't say we are going to play like Spain because apart from anything, the Spanish grew up in different climatic conditions to us and have always had very different qualities.



"And let's not forget that, for years and years, Spain went to every major tournament and never achieved anything."



Hodgson's immediate aim is to reach the next World Cup finals, in Brazil in 2014. And before the visit Moldova for the first of 12 qualifying matches on 7 September, England take on Italy in Berne on 15 August, a game Hodgson has already said he will use to experiment.



One of the players who could be selected is Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand, who has made just 16 appearances for the Blues, although the last one was an impressive effort in May's Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich in Germany.



"Bertrand did very well in the Champions League final, so there are players out there," Hodgson said.



"We have players with talent, I've no doubt about that. Jack Wilshere had an impact before he missed the whole of last season with injury. If he can reach that level he's got to be a player who's of interest to us.



"Adam Johnson is another who's quite interesting. Then there are talents like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck, who were with us at the Euros. They are not poor players technically. Hopefully, in two years' time they will be even better."



Hodgson has a few weeks to think about the direction he wants the team to take, but there is no doubt Liverpool's Steven Gerrard has a big part to play.



At 32, he was one of England's better players last month and relished the captaincy, for which he was first choice for the first time. And, while Gerrard accepts he may need to be managed in order to fulfil his obligations to club and country, he is keen to play his part for his country.



"The easy decision for me would be to walk away from all of this and say I want to prolong my Liverpool career," he said.



"We can't hide the fact I need to be managed properly. But the experiences I've had with this team over the last four games have been fantastic and I still feel I'm good enough to have an impact at this level."



Nevertheless, it is hard to see England threatening at the latter stages of the next World Cup, partly because the last eight appears to be a glass ceiling that cannot be broken, but also because no European country has ever won the World Cup in South America.



It was a point Gerrard's good friend Jamie Carragher made rather forcibly in his role as a pundit for ITV, and drew a stinging response from his Liverpool team-mate.



"So should we just not go? Should we give up?" said Gerrard. "Should we not go to that tournament because of what Jamie Carragher said?



"Listen, there are a lot of people out there with different opinions.



"We can't control what they are saying. What's important is that we know what we are good at and where we need to improve. We have to stick together, dust ourselves down and go again."



Meanwhile, Gerrard believes it is unfair to blame Wayne Rooney for England's Euro 2012 exit.



Rooney, who was banned for the first two games of the tournament after his red card in the final qualifying game in Montenegro, was not at his best in the 1-0 win over Ukraine and the quarter-final against Italy, who beat the Three Lions on penalties.



That has led some to blame Rooney for England's failure to progress further, but Gerrard believes the Manchester United striker is judged by higher standards than the rest of the squad.



Gerrard said: "I just think that ever since Wayne has been around, and because of his performances in Euro 2004, there is an expectation that he comes to these tournaments and wins them all on his own.



"I just think that's unfair – especially when it goes wrong and people then point to Wayne and his performances and blame him. But the responsibility has to be on all 23 players.



"It's unfair to look at Wayne and say because he didn't play well it's the reason why we haven't won. I've mentioned on many occasions that at this level the biggest thing is to play without expectation, without fear.



"So it's only normal that at times Wayne is brought down because of that expectation, because everyone expects and wants him to do well."



Meanwhile, the former England striker Alan Shearer has warned he believes the team is going backwards.



Shearer is baffled by the praise Hodgson's men received for their battling performances at the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.



Many critics lowered their expectations because Hodgson had only just taken over from Fabio Capello, and a number of key men were missing from the squad, including Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry.



But Shearer, who scored 30 goals in 63 appearances for England, said: "If we accept this level of performance, then we have given up on England. Have we dropped so far down the pecking order that we are applauding England for trying hard and being well-organised?



"I cannot remember the last time the nation celebrated the team getting out of our group.



"That used to be the least that was expected. Now it seems to be a pointer that we are heading in the right direction.



"Well, we are not. We are getting progressively worse if you look at our performances in the last three major tournaments we qualified for."

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