Drawn with Uruguay and Italy, it will be difficult for England, but succeed and they may just go on an unexpected run
There’s an image that continues to haunt Liverpool fans — a hapless Roy Hodgson rubbing his face like a magic lamp after a late Joey Barton goal for Newcastle in 2010. This was one of many chastening defeats the Merseyside club suffered under his brief stewardship. Unfortunately for Hodgson, no genie emerged to rescue the situation. His spel l at Liver pool unfai rly earned him a reputation for tactical conservatism given his preference for an antiquated and rigid 4-4-2 formation in the face of the far more f luid and dynamic styles that were gaining popularity in global football. Yet a little more than three years after his Liverpool debacle, the 66-year old coach announced one of the most exciting young squads named by an England manager. By way of explanation, he hailed the performances of England’s youngsters in recent months, confessing that their scintillating play made his decisions easy. “They’ve played so well, been so effective, that they have imposed themselves and imposed their ability on my thinking,” he said. The squad has only six survivors from the team that was humiliated by Germany in South Africa four years ago. Ironically, his England team looks distinctively Liverpudlian—a team now known for swashbuckling, attacking football and a far cry from Hodgson’s dysfunctional, long-ball unit that languished in the lower reaches of the Premier League. One of Hodgson’s biggest calls was to leave out experienced left back Ashley Cole in favour of Everton’s Leighton Baines and Southampton’s 18-year-old Luke Shaw. It is a decision that has drawn criticism, given the lack of experience in England’s defence. The backline will li kely comprise Bai nes, his Everton teammate Phil Jagielka, Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Liverpool’s Glen Johnson, marshalled by Man City’s Joe Hart in goal.
Drawn in the proverbial group of death or at least one of the toughest groups, England’s defence looks far from watertight. The 33-year old Cole could have added much needed nous to this rear-guard.
Yet there is much logic in Hodgson’s thinking. “How do you get experience? You get it by getting the opportunity … It’s a catch-22 … But the balance is good. Everyone is inexperienced until they get the chance to do the job,” he explained.
While Liverpool may have laid an exciting blueprint, it remains to be seen how Hodgson’s England lines up in Brazil. Wayne Rooney will be a certain starter; so will Steven Gerrard, who servers as a ball-playing defensive midfielder for Liverpool.
For the sexagenarian, who has managed sixteen different teams in eight countries, this is by far the biggest tournament of his career. At West Brom, away from the limelight of Liverpool, he rebuilt his reputation. On a shoe-string budget, he achieved severa l i mpressive results with the B a g g i e s , i nc lud i n g d e - feating his former club at Anfield for the first time since 1967. When Fabio Capello resigned, Hodgson was not the popular pick to succeed him as England’s new coach, with many fans and sections of the media rooting for former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp. The FA ultimately chose Hodgson, rewarding him for several well-travelled years in management that included two stints at Inter Milan and a spell in charge of Switzerland. It could very easily end in an early f light home for England’s young stars, especially if Hodgson is unable to get his band of attacking talent (Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxalade-Chamberlain) to gel. It’s a tough ask, drawn in a group that includes Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica. Emerge from this group and England may just go on an unexpected run.