When the FA announced yesterday that current West Bromwich Albion manager Roy Hodgson had agreed on a four year contract to be England manager, it was one of those ho-hum moments where we are neither happy or sad, neither angry or calm. After the ups and downs of the Fabio Capello era where such budding promise ended in total chaos, England fans like myself have become somewhat immune to events like these, opting for more of a “wait and see approach”, but today, in typical England manager fashion, Hodgson showed us that we are already heading down the wrong track.
I’ve come to the conclusion over the past 15 years or so, that the England managers have had precious little to do with the success of the national team, and almost everything to do with all the failures. Despite boasting that the English Premier League is one of the best Leagues in the world, England players are generally not regarded in the same light and appear to not have the same level of talent as their Continental European adversaries. Consequently, we have struggled mightily in major tournaments such as the World Cup and the European Championships. What I see as the most important criteria is who the manager picks to play, a fairly simple question if you assume that quite naturally, any manager always picks the best players. Now that is true for club managers as they tend to control which players they have in their squad, but not necessarily for national team managers as they are stuck with a limited “player universe” that they have to work with.
If we go back to the World Cup of last summer, it was perfectly clear, at least to me, that something was badly wrong with Capello’s squad as England lurched through it’s pre-tournament friendlies against Mexico and Japan. The players looked tired, disinterested and lacking any spirit, and yet we were consistently told that “everything will be fine on the night. Well, we all know how that turned out. After the humiliating draw with minnows Algeria, I had written on WorldCupblog.org about how we should fire Capello and the crusty veterans after the tournament was done and go with youth, even as far to admit that we would not expect to contend for Euro2012, in the interests of nurturing our young players through the ranks into the senior squad. Since that day, I have maintained that belief, that the only way forward is to dispense with the services of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, James Milner and any other old donkey in the squad that proved to all the fans that they had no stomach for international football anymore.
Prior to Hodgson’s appointment, I really had no preference on who should get the job. I understood the need to make sure that he was English, and that he was someone who fans and players could get behind. To me, there were four clear candidates: Hodgson, Harry Redknapp, Stuart Pearce and Alan Pardew. Frankly, I could have cared less who they picked out as I was adamant about having someone who would strike through the names of the so-called “Golden Generation” failures in favor of going young, so imagine my horror today when I read that Hodgson’s first order of business was to patch up the rift between John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. Quite unbelievable. Obviously, these two old farts will be Hodgson’s first choices or he wouldn’t even be talking to them. Here we are, two years from South Africa and nothing’s changed. We haven’t learnt a damned thing from the Germany hammering and we’re headed down the same road again in favoring reputations instead of talent.
I was once a fervent England fan who lived on the edge of my seat for every game. I have trekked to the old Wembley Stadium from Northwest England for World Cup qualifiers and even friendly matches, but the current atmosphere surrounding the England set-up continues to upset me and it seems that the Hodgson era won’t be any different.