The role of England manager has never been more of a poisoned chalice. Roy Hodgson faces a situation where he simply cannot win.
England’s so called golden generation limped out of the World Cup in Brazil with a whimper. A nationwide post-mortem declared a gulf in class and a gulf within the squad. The elder statesmen had peaked and the young guns were yet to impress.
Roy Hodgson had inherited a squad with too few players at the peak of their talents and the role of England’s manager is set to live up to its “Poisoned chalice” reputation.
England were yet again handed a relatively straightforward qualifying group. They are joined in Group E by Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, and San Marino.
Having overcome what was arguably their toughest fixture in defeating Switzerland away from home, a side ranked 10th in the world; Hodgson’s men have cleared a path straight to qualification. The home leg may prove tricky, however the remaining teams are ranked by FIFA as such:
Slovenia – 53rd
Estonia – 81st
Lithuania – 103rd
San Marino – 208th
FIFA’s ranking system is far from perfect but without a game that could be considered “difficult”, England enter into a situation in which they simply cannot satisfy.
Should England cruise through their group, winning each game the fans and media alike will bemoan an easy group that never really tested the merit of the squad. However, should they slip at any stage and drop points against considerably lower ranked teams the same people will condemn the squad for being woefully poor.
In this sense; short of winning each game by three or four goals the English fans will be disappointed. Thus far Hodgson’s men have taken nine points from nine, scoring eight without conceding. Despite this, social media was lit up by complaints of underwhelming performances from fans and pundits including Gary Lineker.
England are in a transitional period. They exited the World Cup with two losses and a draw and saw Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard replaced with Jack Cork and Fabien Delph. The much lauded ‘golden generation’ has faded but the expectation has hardly diminished. A sense of realism must be retained.
Certainly England have a better team than any other in their group, however their players are handicapped by the level of pressure and expectation heaped upon them. A culture of naivety is produced in England by which young players such as Wilfried Zaha, and Jack Wilshere are convinced they are ‘the next big thing’ for club and country.
In the run up to the World Cup, ITV aired a number of short features with Jack Wilshere being presented as England’s future captain and eventual salvation. He played a minimal role for England and had actually lost his starting place when they faced their opening game against Italy.
The future of English football has since shifted onto the shoulders of 19-year-old Raheem Sterling who will have to remain grounded and focused to avoid succumbing to the same pitfalls.
Brendan Rodgers and Roy Hodgson’s recent dispute has highlighted the weight of importance put on such a young man at club and international level. Sterling is a fantastic player but as with many young English players he may struggle to remain humble and focused with the overwhelming culture of creating individual figures of expectation ever-present.
England will qualify from their group but should not take it as a given. Instead of retaining a misplaced sense of importance or a nostalgic idea of pre-determined talent, they should act like the 18th ranked team they are and go about building a decent squad as well as restoring their status as one of Europe’s elite sides.
It is only when realism is universally acknowledged that Roy Hodgson can go about doing just that.
Jack Cahill, Pundit Arena.