An endless nightmare

England's manager Roy Hodgson has been overly pessimistic since the team's early exit.-AP

Many other countries, even supposedly smaller football ones such as Costa Rica and Colombia, not to mention England’s conquerors Uruguay with their tiny 3.5 million population, seem quite capable of not only unearthing talent, but of putting it to good World Cup use. By Brian Glanville.

On the eve of England’s meaningless match against Costa Rica, Roy Hodgson, their experienced manager, seemed to sound a note of despair. It could, he said, take up to six years to get the best out of the current crop of England’s young players. “All we can do,” says Roy, of the talented young players, he believes to have been in his squad, “is hope that when these players are reaching their best years, at the age of 28 or 29, the work shows some dividends.” As one who had known, liked and admired Roy over many years, who believes that he should have been given the England role away in 1974, when against all the odds he took Switzerland to the USA World Cup, I find such implicit despair distressing.

The fact is that so many other countries, even supposedly smaller football ones such as Costa Rica and Colombia, not to mention England’s conquerors Uruguay with their tiny 3.5 million population, seem quite capable of not only unearthing talent, but of putting it to good World Cup use.

Moreover, I believe that far too much negative emphasis has been placed on the defeats of just 2-1 which propelled England out of the competition. If statistics tell all, which surely they don’t, then it was depressing that for the very first time England — since 1958 — should be ejected from the tournament at the first hurdle. But compare and contrast what happened to England with the utter humiliation of Spain, that actual World Cup holders, thrashed 5-1 in their opening match against the Dutch: whom they actually and deservedly beat in the previous World Cup final. Or remember how France, then the World Cup holders, went out of the subsequent World Cup in South Korea/Japan in 2002, beaten in their opening group by little Senegal.

Not to mention the utter debacle of the French in South Africa, when their rebellious team turned on its manger the hapless Raymond Domenech and, an undisciplined mob, were all too quickly and deservedly on their way home. I happen to believe that England would not have won their solitary 1966 World Cup anywhere but at home and at Wembley where they played every one of their games. It is surely arguable that even under the driving and inspiring managership of Alf Ramsey, they didn’t truly play well until the semi-final against Portugal. Even then they were hanging on desperately to their 2-1 lead in the closing minutes. But Ramsey, making the best out of a team hardly awash with talent, would never have expressed the pessimism of Roy Hodgson. The beauty of soccer surely is that you never quite know what is around the corner. Remember how little unfancied Greece, in Portugal, actually won the European Championship, against all odds and all seemingly superior opposition?

Besides, how young are Roy’s present group of youngsters? They are hardly teenagers. Hardly 17-year-olds, such as Pele was, when he excelled in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden with all his goals. The Football Association have now decided that Roy will remain as manager.

You cannot in the old adage make a silk purse out of a cow’s ear and in Roy’s favour it has to be said that the personnel available to him left a very great amount to be desired. Not least at centre back, where Phil Jagielka in particular, even if he did make that splendid save off the line from a lob by Mario Balotelli, and Gary Cahill to a substantial extent, was simply not dominant enough or resourceful enough. Some including the former Arsenal and England centre back Tony Adams, a formidable competitor in his playing days, have blamed Hodgson for not calling on Chelsea’s John Terry, after he was told by the Football Association that he could so if he wished.

But Terry had already said that he did not wish to be recalled. This after the FA had tried and suspended him for allegedly insulting the then Queens Park Rangers black-player Anton Ferdinand. The case came to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court, where Terry was discharged without punishment. Till quite recently, that would have been that, as far as the FA were concerned, since previously their rule had been that any decision made in a court of law cannot be challenged. But that rule had been abandoned, and Terry was found guilty of racial abuse, fined and suspended. At which point he was automatically excluded from being chosen by the national team and in due course even when that suspension ended, he decided he didn’t want to be picked.

I am far from exonerating Terry for his behaviour on the field, but it was surely wrong of David Bernstein, then the FA Chairman, to suspend him from the England team, as he did, even before his case came up in Magistrates’ Court. Should Roy have tried to persuade Terry to go to Brazil? It might, in retrospect, have been worth trying, but what guarantee was there that Terry would comply?

It should also be taken into account that Roy was without several important players. Theo Walcott, far and away the most effective and dangerous English right winger, who can score spectacular goals for his country on his day, had been out of action for more than half the season. The young Oxlade Chamberlain, son of a former England right winger, can play impressively and dashingly thereon in central midfield, but he was injured en route to Brazil. And Roy faced a particular dilemma over the England captain Steven Gerrard, now a veteran, no longer able to play his old storming game in midfield, and alas as we saw against Uruguay when he was culpable in both Uruguayan goals, far from solid in defence. Should he have been dropped from the first XI? It would have been a bold decision, but one that might well have been taken after the defeat by Italy.

Moreover, how was it that arguably the sole England player capable of making the ideal, unexpected pass, to “invent the game” as the Italians have it, Jack Wilshere, never even got on the field against Uruguay? What does seem sadly plain from Roy’s recent somewhat despairing statement is that he had lost his old bygone drive and belief. Yet who could replace him? Another foreign coach? Both Fabio Capello and Sven-Goran Eriksson were failures. Best perhaps, is to flank Roy with Manchester United’s ex-skipper Gary Neville, who has been playing a subsidiary role and promote Neville when he has had time to mature as a coach.