As the final whistle sounded to confirm the remarkable three goal comeback in Germany last Friday night, the sense of elation was palpable.
It may have been a friendly, and the Germans would be highly unlikely to throw away a two-goal lead in a tournament setting, but in many ways this wasn’t about them. This was England’s night.
In the ultimate vindication of selection based on merit, this win was built by those who had been making the headlines all season long. Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Jamie Vardy – none of whom had a massive part to play in qualification but whose brilliance in the Premier League this year has surely forced manager Roy Hodgson’s hand when it comes to selecting his starting lineup in France this summer.
For this has to be it now, this must be what Hodgson’s England looks like. Forged with the structural effectiveness of Maurcio Pochettino’s Tottenham, aided by Jamie Vardy (and perhaps Danny Drinkwater) of Leicester, players who are unburdened with expectation and are allowed to express themselves freely as they have been doing since August.
They take on the Netherlands tonight and the rest of the squad – the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Drinkwater and Ross Barkley – will all get a chance to impress, but the nucleus of Hodgson’s Euros first eleven will surely have started against Germany.
The worry, however, is that Hodgson will have learned nothing from Friday night’s win.
England looked more like a team than at any other point in his reign – in fact it’s hard to remember the last time they were as cohesive – and yet one gets the ominous sense that all of that will be undone as soon as Hodgson does something very silly…
There is just no possible formation that Wayne Rooney can slot into and not disrupt the flow of the team. If Hodgson decides that the presence of his declining captain is more important than team balance then so be it, but it would undo so much of the goodwill that is being passed his way following his team selection in Munich.
Hodgson’s comments in the wake of that win suggest that Rooney’s place is simply being kept warm for him by those who started on Friday:
“I have to repeat Wayne is our captain and he has captained the team extremely well in the past two years,
“It doesn’t please me too much that it is suggested now that the moment he is injured and doesn’t play he gets jettisoned in some way.
“He doesn’t deserve that.”
Except it’s not about jettisoning Rooney. The call for Kane and Vardy, with Ali in the number 10 role, to be England’s starters in Euro 2016 is not meant to be a punishment for Rooney, it’s about rewarding the main English contributors to what have been the two best teams in the Premier League this season.
Kane and Vardy have averaged a goal every 1,5 and 1.6 games respectively; Rooney’s ratio is around 3.1. It’s about picking the players that will allow for the greatest chance of success, and an out-of-sorts, half-fit Rooney simply does not fall into that category.
But again, while it’s not a vendetta against Rooney, leaving him out of the starting lineup does raise the level of positive energy being shown towards England. For better or worse, Rooney is the last dying ember of the so-called “golden generation” of the mid-2000s – made up of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand – players who, though supremely talented, were fundamentally hard to warm to.
They were seen as the sneering, unlikeable face of English football at the time. A collection of players more interested in their own self-worth than the team as a unit – that they even bothered playing for England at all should apparently have been enough to have the paying public constantly hero-worshiping them.
It led to a general feeling of unpleasantness surrounding the national side – and if their own public could not in good conscience get behind them, they why should any other nation have respected them?
This current incarnation has (for the most part) none of that. They are young, they are hungry, they have the utmost respect and belief in their teammates. They have taken the unrelenting fearlessness from their club sides and applied it at international level. That is all fans want to see, for the players to look like they actually care about being there.
England are not among the favourites to win Euro 2016 (nor should they be) but they should be willed to win the tournament on the same footballing principles that typify Leicester and Tottenham, and on the same values that gained Borussia Dortmund so many new followers in the early part of this decade.
England are the underdogs, the dark horses – lacking in superstars but making up for it with doggedness and will to win. Their beating the behemoths of Spain, France and Germany to claim the European Championship title would be just as good for football as the current Premier League top two tearing down the financial wall in England and competing with each other for domestic glory.
Football needs more of this. Germany took a chance with youth at the World Cup in 2010 and reaped the rewards in a big way four years later – not to suggest England are on the exact same road to greatness, but Hodgson deserves kudos and support for letting the youngsters fly. It may not work, but it is worth the risk.
Just as long as he can be brave when it comes to starting Kane and Alli (and possibly Vardy) ahead of his captain.
Read More About: ashley cole, dele alli, England, eric dier, Euro 2016, frank lampard, Germany, harry kane, jamie vardy, john terry, leicester, mauricio pochettino, netherlands, Premier League, rio ferdinand, roy hodgson, Steven Gerrard, Top Story, tottenham, Wayne Rooney