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English Talent Is Wasted Under Roy Hodgson

David Kennedy argues that Roy Hodgson is the wrong man to get the best out of the riches at his disposal as England manager.

Greg Dyke says he won’t be sacked. Hodgson says he won’t resign. The FA yearn for continuation, but at what cost?

The 38-year managerial career of Roy Hodgson reads like this:

Success: Malmo, Neuchatel Xamax, Switzerland, Fulham.

Failure: Blackburn Rovers, Internazionale and Liverpool.

And now England.

Exiting the World Cup at the first stage for the first time since 1958 should fall into the second bracket – yet the 66-year old seems set to be given the opportunity to see out his contract and lead his country in their Euro 2016 campaign. Until then, it’s probably unfair to cast a definite aspersion on Hodgson’s tenure as England manager.

Nevertheless, the general pattern of Hodgson’s career seems to be being maintained, with his current difficulties all too-familiar to those who watched him at Anfield (which in turn was similar to the debacles at Inter and Blackburn). When the stakes are high and Hodgson is expected to win the majority of games, he hasn’t been able to do so ever since leaving Malmo in 1989.

This is in stark contrast to his impressive time at Fulham and West Brom where he was generally seen to have overachieved.

When you consider the style of football Hodgson employs, it makes sense. A stoic 4-4-1-1 man for most of his career, Hodgson obsesses over shape and has always favoured direct, reactionary football, a formula generally best-suited to teams going into games as underdogs.

“We work on it every day. Every day in training is geared towards team shape on the match-day coming up. I’ve been working with the manager three years now and every day is team shape, and it shows… I don’t want to give any secrets away, but he gets the 11 that he wants on a match-day and he drills everything in that he wants. It’s certain drills defensive, certain drills attacking, and we work very hard at it. There are no diagrams. It’s all on the pitch with the ball, nothing unopposed.”

– Simon Davies to Jonathan Wilson in the Independent, 2010

When the onus is on his teams to play a bit more and take the game to the opposition, Hodgson is out of his comfort zone.

His England career has been a bit odd. After a hugely defensive Euro 2012 that was seen as something of a write-off due to the late nature of his appointment, Hodgson varied his system throughout World Cup qualifying, usually employing a straightforward 4-2-3-1 that became a 4-4-1-1 with two banks of four when out of possession, but also occasionally trying a 4-3-3 that was rather out of keeping with the rest of his career. He most certainly reverted to type for tough away games in Montenegro and Ukraine but was praised for the positive football played in the final two qualifiers at Wembley against the Montenegrins and Poland and for thrusting key attacking responsibility upon inexperienced Tottenham winger Andros Townsend.

In the build-up to the World Cup, Hodgson continued to delve into the talented crop of young English players emerging in the Premier League. Southampton trio Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert were called up for friendlies against Chile and Germany in November while Liverpool’s in-form trio of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson joined their clubmates Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson for the win against Denmark with Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw also winning their first caps.

Hodgson’s final squad included Shaw at the expense of veteran Ashley Cole (despite the Chelsea left back holding the number three shirt for most of qualifying) as one of ten players aged 24 or under as he again defied his track record by seemingly placing his faith in youth.

A changed man, perhaps?

Alas, cracks started to appear. Public criticism of Barkley for conceding possession too often in a 2-2 warm-up draw with Ecuador despite a sparkling display from the 20-year old was indicative of Hodgson’s conservatism and despite a decent performance in Manaus in their opener, England went down 2-1 to Italy.

Wayne Rooney was shoehorned into the side on the left wing as Sterling starred in the number ten role before the youngster was moved to the flank for the final half hour and barely contributed. Leighton Baines was exposed defensively by a lack of cover and rarely forayed forward into attack to showcase his most valuable attributes – overlapping and crossing. Gerrard and Henderson played in a midfield two together in a competitive game for the first time since Liverpool’s disastrous first half at home to Aston Villa in January and were predictably outnumbered by the talents of Andrea Pirlo, Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi.

Against Uruguay on Thursday, Hodgson kept the same eleven with Rooney moved centrally at the expense of Sterling, allowing Egidio Arevalo Rios to man-mark him without having to stray from his zone at the base of the South Americans’ midfield diamond. Sterling was in turn marginalized out wide. Gerrard was picked up in the manner many expected Pirlo to be in the previous outing by Edinson Cavani, one of the hardest-working front players in world football, to great effect.

Luis Suarez scored two good goals, Costa Rica beat Italy, England are out.

The problem with this England side is essentially that the 11 of the 20 outfield squad members play for one of Liverpool, Southampton or Everton, three Premier League sides who have had great seasons playing similar football to each other – football that is in stark contrast to what Hodgson favours.

Surely someone of the manager’s persuasion is not the man to best find use for the considerable talents available to him?

In Sterling and Barkley, England possess two of the best young footballers in the world and the likes of Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Luke Shaw aren’t bad either. The five mentioned are daring, proactive footballers under the stewardship of a safety-first, reactive manager.

The formula is as unlikely to yield results in France in two years as it was in Brazil this time around.

David Kennedy, Pundit Arena.

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