Euro 2012: Where are England's new recruits?
Published 26/06/2012 | 09:43
Roy Hodgson was talking about a revolution yesterday. England managers always do in the aftermath of tournament elimination, when the old frustrations re-surface and the nation demands a new-look team, a brave new world, a radical re-aligning of the planets. Or, failing that, the faintest evidence that change is coming.
It was the same with Fabio Capello in South Africa two years ago when, asked what groundbreaking changes he might make to his squad after the disappointment of the World Cup, he suggested, to an incredulous press pack, Bobby Zamora and Owen Hargreaves. Hodgson, one hopes, can be more imaginative although he did warn that the "revolution" as such will involve August's friendly against Italy in Berne. Come the first 2014 World Cup qualifier, against Moldova on 7 September, he may have to be more circumspect.
For that away game he will, he said, have to "mix the two together", meaning the old and the new. For now there is no suggestion that England are facing a series of international retirements. Steven Gerrard signalled his desire to carry on yesterday and Hodgson said John Terry and Ashley Cole had made no indication to him that they were preparing to quit, although clearly that situation is fluid.
This generation might not have turned out to be golden but it is proving to be as difficult to shift as a toothpaste stain on a silk tie. It was once believed that the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 would hasten the end of the international careers of some of this group of players but then, as now, there is no great wave of good youngsters easing them out the picture.
Of course, Jack Wilshere would be in the side were he fit and he was mentioned on more than one occasion by Hodgson as an alternative he would loved to have had at his disposal in Kiev on Sunday. But he also mentioned Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard. Chris Smalling and Kyle Walker, two young 'uns who would have been in this squad were it not for injury, were mentioned. The likes of Daniel Sturridge and Adam Johnson, who at 24 needs to stake a claim soon, were on stand-by and in contention.
But, as ever, they will have to prove themselves more valuable than the old guard to be sure of a place and with a number of them struggling to hold down a regular club spot that is unlikely. Gerrard will have been an England player for 14 years by the time of the next World Cup, which is longer than David Beckham's international career.
There is no reason that more young players will not come through between now and selection for Brazil 2014 – should the team qualify. Young talent does not necessarily obey the international football calendar. Wayne Rooney had not made his professional debut by the time of the 2002 World Cup but he was England's best player at Euro 2004. Wilshere was an England regular by last summer although it was debatable whether Capello had heard of him 12 months earlier.
As for a new Rooney or Wilshere, Hodgson confessed to rather more moderate ambition.
"I'm rather hoping one or two players will knock so hard on my door that they prove to be the right ones," he said. "We saw Germany in 2006. They went into that tournament highly unfancied, with a new coach and a lot of new young players we didn't know much about and older ones who had failed in previous tournaments. We have seen how well they have kicked on since. We have to take heart from that. I would like to think there is good reason for optimism. We have some very good young players coming through, who are doing quite well at Under-21 level."
The fact that Germany were blessed with so many good young players does not seem to correlate directly with England's current situation, especially given that the Germans took very specific steps to effect change.
"What can you do except work, really?" Hodgson said. "What can you do except build on any good qualities you have in the team and then try to help the team get better at some of the areas where it's not quite so good?
"We haven't made excuses at this tournament and I'm not going to start making excuses now. But there were quite a few players left at home who were very good technical footballers who may actually have helped us out had they been here."
The obvious area for improvement is England's lack of possession, which became a problem in Kiev the moment Andrea Pirlo took control of the game, midway through the first half. The statistics provided by Uefa showed 64 per cent possession for Italy, who completed more than twice as many passes as England. The top England passer, with 45, was Joe Hart. Pirlo completed 117 – more than Glen Johnson, Cole and Gerrard combined.
"I don't regard possession statistics as particularly important," Hodgson said. "But if you are saying, 'Could we have kept the ball better at times and could we have made more use of the good situations we got into?' I would have to agree. The players realise that too. That is an area where we need to keep working and improving."
As Hodgson talked, at the Football Association media centre in Krakow, a clip of a digital realisation of the FA's St George's Park football centre, which is due to open in two months' time, ran silently on a television screen in the background.
There is no time to wait for that place to deliver. Hodgson needs a team, and one that can pass to one another, in time for 2014.
England's defeat: in numbers
45: Most completed passes by an England player – goalkeeper Joe Hart
117: Number of completed passes by Andrea Pirlo
39: Attempts on goal by Italy. England had 13
23.2m: Peak audience in the UK – the biggest such audience for a football game in 12 years