Roy Hodgson leaves England open door for No.10
Saturday night felt a long way from those days when David Beckham was last part of an England World Cup squad and Sven Goran Eriksson tried unsuccessfully to persuade his captain to play right-back against Ecuador.
In the end, Owen Hargreaves was shunted out there and England – lopsided, compromised – staggered onwards to be beaten on penalties by Portugal in the quarter-finals.
The former England captain was in a private hospitality box at the Sun Life Stadium on Saturday to watch the Honduras game, now embroiled in local Miami politics trying to get a football stadium built. Eriksson is in China and a good deal more honest about England's real standing on the world stage, judging by recent comments. Hargreaves, sadly, is no longer a professional footballer at the age of 33.
As for the 2014 generation of England players, at least you can say the old rules of the untouchables that existed in 2006 are gone. In those days, Eriksson seemed to rule more by negotiation.
Then at the last World Cup finals Fabio Capello would not compromise with anyone.
Now there is Roy Hodgson, whose reign will inevitably be demolished in four years' time by his former players if things go badly. That is one of the immutable laws of being England boss. There has been a sunniness about the mood of squad and manager over the past week but we have been here too many times to hang a hat on that. Eriksson's calm was just what was needed after Kevin Keegan, or so we thought until things started going wrong.
Steve McClaren was refreshingly English. Then he was just not sophisticated enough. Capello's authoritarianism was perfect to wake the "golden generation" up from their complacency. Now there is Hodgson and his relaxed "call-me-Roy" style of management. Hindsight tells us that judgement is best reserved.
But at least Hodgson has not allowed himself to become beholden. Beholden in the same way that Eriksson was to Beckham, desperate to pick the player even when he was not completely fit. Capello became beholden to Wayne Rooney, unwilling to drop him in 2010 even though he was clearly way off the pace. Every England manager since Rooney broke through in 2003 has felt that way to a lesser or greater extent.
This time, however, Hodgson has laid the groundwork for a different approach to Rooney, and the team in general, as England begin their preparation in Rio de Janeiro today. Moving Rooney to the left against Ecuador demonstrated that he is not simply a fixture at No 10. Now Hodgson has to perm a front four from Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck, Rooney, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Danny Sturridge, with the safe assumption that Sturridge is a certainty to start.
Of the remaining players, it is Hodgson's view that, broadly speaking they can play anywhere across that trio of positions. The injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cuts down his options by one but even now, five days before they play Italy in Manaus, England's team for that game could evolve in a number of different ways. Rooney central, with Sterling and Lallana either side. Or Welbeck instead of Sterling on the right. Or even Sterling or Barkley central with Rooney on the left.
Hodgson said after the Honduras game that he had previously hoped to give the suspended Sterling time in the playmaker position behind Sturridge, one that the teenager has occupied for Liverpool this season. Instead, after Rooney it was Barkley who performed that role as a substitute in the second half – again showing great promise along with the occasional naïvety that might make Hodgson think twice for Saturday.
"There is the boy we haven't seen yet [in the No 10 position], Raheem Sterling," Hodgson said. "There is a good chance he would have played in that position had he not been sent off. It is not purely Barkley or Rooney, we have got Danny Welbeck who can do it, we have got Sterling. If we are going to play whatever you call that role we have got a few people who can do it.
"I hope I shall resist the temptation to earmark [players into positions] too much. When you have got players who are capable of playing in different positions it is bit dangerous to say 'Well, the only way you're going to play is if this happens.'
"I really want to leave things a little bit open but my frustration, apart from the frustration of having to watch that game, was the frustration that Raheem Sterling couldn't take any part in it because he's been excellent in training."
Hodgson said that just because he is not prepared to disclose his line-up for the Italy game. He described the accusation that he does not know his best side as "a bit of sophistry", a classic Hodgson line that gives the full scope of the vocabulary at his disposal. Far more wide-ranging than the pool of English talent he has to choose from.
The Football Association will open up their Urca training ground for the first time today, with 1,100 locals invited to watch the squad train so less chance to work privately on systems and formations.
If Hodgson has already made up his mind, the players can at least take comfort in knowing they all had a chance..