Will Hodgson be the ray of hope for the English?
English team is all set for Euro 2012 voyage under their newly appointed boss. How much are they prepared to conquer the European crown? Krishnendu Sanyal brings the insights
Going into the Tournament:
England’s preparation for Europe’s premier football tournament can be at best described as ‘not ideal’. So the expectations from this English team to end their barren run of 46 years without a major trophy, is very low.
Add to that Fabio Capello’s exit following FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy for allegedly racially abusing fellow England and QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. The pre-tournament hype was around who would take the Italian’s job.
Roy Hodgson’s appointment by the FA came as a surprise to most football experts of the British Isles. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was the overwhelming favourite and the British media was backing him to the hilt.
Hodgson, who knows five languages and has coached in eight different countries, is a tactically astute coach and has a great reservoir of experience to draw from. What will suit Roy Hodgson this time is that nobody really expects England to do too well in the tournament, so the weight of expectations will be off his shoulders. He might not give sensational headlines for the British media to salivate about, but this is a coach who deserves this chance to manage the national team.
England’s journey in the tournament is further protracted by Wayne Rooney’s suspension for the first two games of the tournament for a red card he picked up against Montenegro during the qualifiers. He will miss the games against France and Sweden.
Capello, during the last stages of his reign, brought in an enthusiastic bunch of youngsters and promoted youth to the first team. Players like Joe Hart, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck flourished during this period. Hodgson will also look at the experienced stars like Terry, Steven Gerrard and Rooney, once back from his ban, to provide the much-needed steel to progress in the tournament.
Big Stage Fright:
England has always been the ‘enigma’ team of Europe- filled with very good individual players but has rarely performed on the big stage. Their last notable performance came at the 1996 Euros, held in England. England gave one of its finest performances in the group stage by defeating the Netherlands 4-1, with Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham scoring 2 goals each. After beating Spain in the quarter-finals on penalties, England’s journey came to a halt in the semi-finals. This time beaten on penalties…..you guessed it right…….. by Germany (1990 World Cup semi-finals rings a bell?).
After the Euro 1996 euphoria came the ‘Golden Generation’ euphoria, which surprisingly didn’t include Paul Scholes, possibly the best English mid-fielder of his generation. David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney- it’s a stellar star cast that has failed to give a single hit when playing together.
England has always failed in the big stages. From the World Cup to the Euros, they have lost them all – be it in the 1998 World Cup or Euro 2000 where they failed to qualify after Romania beat them. They have been beaten by eventual champions Brazil in the 2002 WC quarter-finals; they lost to Portugal in the penalty-shootout in Euro 2004 and were disappointing in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Their big players have failed to rise to the big occasions when required. Ego clashes, wrong managerial appointments, wrong tactics, failure to adapt to the more continental style of football, bizarre team selections- England has a long history of problems that has led to the deteriorating state of the national team.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Robert Green (West Ham United), Jack Butland (Birmingham City)
Defenders: Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), John Terry (Chelsea), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Leighton Baines (Everton)
Midfielders: Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur), Ashley Young (Manchester United), James Milner (Manchester City)
Forwards: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United), Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)
Probable Starting XI:
England would have loved to take Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker, who was voted the PFA young player of the year, as their first choice right back, but he has been ruled out due to a toe injury. Glenn Johnson as the right-back will add something to the attack, but his defensive solidity is questionable.
Manchester United’s Chris Smalling was a certainty as one of the centre-backs but for a groin injury, that has ruled him out of the tournament.
England is also sweating on Scott Parker’s Achilles tendon, which might eventually rule him out. He is one of the first names on the team-sheet and will be a big miss if he is unable to travel with the squad to Krakow.
At the international level, Roy Hodgson has managed Switzerland, Finland and United Arab Emirates. He took Switzerland to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup. Under him, Finland achieved its highest ever FIFA rankings of 33. He had a disastrous spell with Liverpool last season and was sacked after only 31 games. He managed to restore his reputation by taking over as manager at West Bromwich Albion and saving them from relegation.
Player to watch: Ashley Young:
After signing for Manchester United from Aston Villa, Young had a strong first season and managed to replicate his domestic form in the International stage. One of the better performers of the Capello regime, the team will depend on him to provide creativity in the absence of Rooney, against France and Sweden. He has scored 4 goals for England in 2011 and netted against Holland in the friendly defeat in February at Wembley.
Surprise Package: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
2011-12 was a breakthrough season for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Signed from Southampton by Arsenal for a reported £ 10 million fee, the 18-year old didn’t waste any time to become a fan favourite at the Emirates. With his purposeful play in the wings, delightful technique and an eye for goal, ‘The Ox’, as some Arsenal fans call him, has wowed fans and pundits alike. He is the rare teenager who can ignite this kind of reaction after being substituted, after all.
His numbers shouldn’t startle you – ‘The Ox’ has scored 2 goals in 16 league appearances, scored once in the Carling Cup (against Shrewsbury) and Champion League (Olympiakos). But numbers don’t actually tell the kind of impact that ‘The Ox’ has had on Arsenal’s season.
He was superb against Manchester United and AC Milan, two of the greatest European Clubs. He provided the assist for Van Persie’s goal that brought Arsenal back on level terms against United at the Emirates. It is this ability to perform at the biggest stage that suggests that this is talent that isn’t fading out with time.
Alex might not get too many first team opportunities for England at the Euros, but he could be that impact substitute that England will need in tight matches and might bring that ‘Owen 98’ moment to this year’s Euro.
Group Matches: June 11, 2012 (Monday) v France (18:00 CET in Donetsk)
June 15, 2012 (Friday) v Sweden (20:45 CET in Kyiv)
June 19, 2012 (Tuesday) v Ukraine (20:45 CET in Donetsk)
France has improved and has gained the required momentum under Laurent Blanc and are favourites to progress from this group. England’s build up to this tournament has been marred by the uncertainty surrounding who will lead them into the Euros. That, compounded with Rooney’s suspension for the first two games, means the best they can hope for is the second qualifying position in the group stages. That will most probably mean that they will face Spain in the quarter-finals and despite their shock win over them in the November friendly, Vincente Del Bosque’s team is most likely to beat them and end the English hopes at the quarter-final stage, again.