England v Republic of Ireland: Roy Hodgson ready to put faith in Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney
Published 29/05/2013 | 11:09
Not since 1985 has an England manager beaten the Republic of Ireland, when Liam Brady scored in a 2-1 defeat for the Irish at Wembley and Glenn Hoddle was a late substitute for the home team. There have been only four games since then, plus the match abandoned in Dublin in 1995, and the capacity for the Republic to embarrass and frustrate is well-established.
Failing to win would be less damaging for Hodgson, in terms of the prestige of the opposition than stumbling against Scotland in August but either way with World Cup qualification by no means assured he does not want a hostile, restless Wembley in the autumn. Three of the four remaining qualifiers are at home and with Uefa group H so close, the England manager needs an optimistic home support.
As was pointed out to Hodgson, there are 14 Championship players in the Ireland squad. That aside, there is enough at stake to make the game a decent preparation for those qualifiers against Moldova, Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland that will define Hodgson's future.
The scope for experimentation is limited. What Hodgson really needs is to fine-tune the team he will deploy in the qualifiers. Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere are absent, which makes that difficult but he can still have a good look at his striking options, even without the injured Andy Carroll.
In truth, relying on Carroll's availability is dangerous given his irregular form and propensity for injury. As ever, Hodgson will look to Wayne Rooney, upon whom he has pinned his hopes ever since he took the job a year ago. It was Rooney whom Hodgson insisted went straight back into the team midway through Euro 2012 once his suspension expired.
What of the perception of Rooney a year on? His standing diminished at Manchester United, his future uncertain, there is no doubt that he will start. Hodgson dislikes questions about Rooney's situation at United but, for now, his belief is unchanging.
"You're asking me to comment on club football and his [Rooney's] status there. I can talk about him as he is when he joins up with me, and how he behaves in our get-togethers, and I find his desire as strong if not stronger than when we first met. I have nothing but the greatest faith in him.
"I know he'll be really desperate to get out and show how good he is. But good players can have bad games and bad players can have good games. It's not an exact science. My faith has never wavered."
There is still anger at the way in which Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham shoehorned overseas post-season friendlies before this international break. Today Chelsea announced a third summer tour, this one to the United States, after their trip to Asia in July. In a year's time, qualification permitting, Hodgson will hope to take many of these players to Brazil to try to win a World Cup.
Daniel Sturridge could figure alongside Rooney. The Liverpool striker scored 12 in 16 games at the end of the season and has a great opportunity to lay a claim to that No 9 role with Danny Welbeck not fit. "He's very confident at the moment," Hodgson said. "We're hoping he comes in, in the same way as Danny Welbeck, and brings us something with his incredible pace, footwork and technical ability to help us win matches."
As ever he repeated that the nature of the modern Premier League means he may have to pick players who are not regulars in their club sides. He did not expect to be saying that about Rooney so soon into the job.