WELL, I’ve had the chance to take the piss out of old Roy this week. The “Hodgecast” has gone down a storm such is the willingness to lay into Hodgson, erstwhile Liverpool manager and known fraud of this parish for some years.
But, there’s a serious side to the damage Roy Hodgson has done to the England national team; at least for those who care. Believe it or not, I do want to see England do well. I’m no Anglo-Saxon, but the prospect of an England team winning a World Cup in my lifetime, however remote a prospect that seems right now, still excites me. It did in the past, particularly during Italia 90, and it may do so in the future, hopefully in Russia.
What Hodgson has done this week is the true manifestation of lowering those expectations. Yes, there was a comedic element to England’s Euro 2016 exit, but there was also an air of it being normal; just a continuation of a “wretched record” in tournament football.
There was the familiar “groundhog day”, state of the nation, call for root and branch enquiry and searching for the soul of English football. But inside I’m still screaming — it was bloody Iceland! As much as Roy is so skilled at the “not me guv’nor” blame shifting, this defeat was a new low. Don’t dump this one in with the rest.
You simply can’t compare such Icelandic tragi-farce with losing to Germany on penalties, going out in quarter finals to Brazil by the odd goal, after a classic encounter with Argentina, or pulsating hours of football against a Portugal side that would whip the arses off this year’s semi-final compatriots.
There’s been 50 years of hurt, and there’s always an inevitable exit day. But, we haven’t always been utter shite. We haven’t always been unable to trap a ball, or keep a set piece out of Row Z.
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Growing up in the seventies, there was much angst of over the state of English football when defeats in qualifiers to Poland (who came third in 1974) and Italy (who came third in 1978) meant we missed out on the finals. There was genuine shock — with 1966 still relatively fresh in the memory — at those losses. In those days you needed to top your qualifying group to reach the finals proper, in which just 16 teams competed for the World Cup.
Once England rejoined the world party, performances at the 1982, 1986 and 1990 World Cups were more than respectable. England exited undefeated in Spain, were died by Maradona’s Hand of God in Mexico, and suffered the original penalty calamity in the semis at Italia 90. They were heady days really. England had good players and generally performed well before a narrative of a brave, albeit sad departure began to write itself.
In more recent times, Glen Hoddle at France 1998 and Sven Goran Eriksson — at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and Euro 2004 — mirrored those near misses. After each one, although each exit was heavily lamented and England’s luck called into question, there were big calls to investigate why we couldn’t emulate the French in building a national academy, or replicate Spain’s pass and move, or match the Germans for efficient team play and tournament savvy.
We would always want and strive to do better and refuse to accept “we’re just shite” or it was just “typical England”. And rightly so. England has always produced good footballers and still does. Pundits and fans laud the Premier League and its foreign stars, but seem content to deride the talent of the best English players at its core. On another day, England could and should murder countries ranked alongside Iceland. Wales’ progression thus far, with a mainstay of British players operating at levels lower than the Premier League, is testament to the standing of our game.
For England, choosing 23 names from among the best clubs in the country, with seasoned European campaigners throughout the squad, the quarter-finals of major tournaments should always be merely par for the course.
This current group of players has its faults — freezing to the point of complete breakdown on Monday evening being one of them. Our Premier League and its leading lights aren’t at the level of the contenders from six or eight years ago when English clubs regularly reached European Cup finals.
However, with even the most moderate of management, the crop of young talent at Hodgson’s disposal in France, should progress nicely into the World Cup qualifiers.
There should be no calls for national enquiry, critique of academies and 10-year plans to target world domination via a copycat program delivered successfully elsewhere. The plan should be to appoint a competent foreign coach (Arsene Wenger would be fascinating), deliver some reality checks, and ban Dre-Beats headphones so that players have to actually talk to each other and get cracking.
On a serious note, un-clutter young minds, promote self-expression and remove the fear that Hodgson instilled. Then, England can compete.
Hodgson deserves to be slaughtered. Not for losing to Iceland, but for convincing so many of us that it’s all part of the expected England circus. It isn’t and never should be acceptable to see an England team perform so poorly and for heads not to properly roll.
Roy contentedly fell on his own sword but when the new man takes over, the barometer for future England standards should not be the disgrace of France 2016 but the more valiant efforts of yesteryear.
England enthusiasts deserve a proper manager, a different mentality and a complete overhaul of what the England team represents in this country. At a time when the country is moving — it seems enthusiastically — away from Europe, our national team needs continental stewardship to forge a new identity in its football and its values.
“England expects”, as the old saying goes, and there is absolutely reason for fans and pundits to expect and demand better than we saw this week. I
It’s time for expectations to be managed but on a more ambitious upward curve.