Hope for Hodgson

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets

Few really gave much hope to Roy Hodgson when he took over the English squad following years of inertia under the dogmatic Fabio Capello. Firstly, Harry Redknapp seemed to have secured public consensus and almost seemed destined to fulfil the vacancy left by the Italian. Secondly, he inherited a team literally bursting with internal upheaval. But somehow he has managed to juggle the demands of petty partisan squabbles and initial unpopularity, with a 2-2 draw against Brazil in an international friendly, indicating that the English squad may be starting to emerge from an era of prolonged international dormancy.

England were without their inspirational captain Steven Gerrard on the weekend, and it’s doubtless that they would have benefited from his recent spate of strong international form. Hodgson has managed to cultivate the best from both Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the England jersey; players who for too long had not managed to replicate their incredible club form on the bigger stage. Hodgson’s short stint at Liverpool obviously gave him the opportunity to build a working relationship with Gerrard, and it seems as if the senior players are taking far more responsibility under Hodgson for the development of the team than before.

Perhaps the most contentious issue to permeate the Hodgson reign thus far emanates from Rio Ferdinand’s retirement. I feel that his decision to exclude Rio from the Euro’s last year, no doubt precipitated in no small part by the entire John Terry - Ashley Cole race war, also made sense on a footballing level. Rio had lost his edge, and I truly never believed that he would return to the sort of form that saw him become a fixture in United’s title winning campaign. However, he did and Roy offered him the chance to return to the national fold on the basis of his excellent performances. In response to this, Rio promptly retired from international football, with the mysterious fitness regimen he has at United cited as the basis. I feel that the ultimate loser in that bizarre episode was the United centre-half, who perhaps could not deal with a legitimate appraisal of his form last year, and Hodgson dealt with the issue in the only way that he really could.

I have also been impressed with the rigidity of the English defence. Their scrambling in particular has showed a tenacity and defensive discipline that is undoubtedly the foundation for any international team. There also seems to be an exciting blend of youth and experience in the squad which seems to further distil the pragmatic approach of Hodgson; development tempered with stability. The exciting prospects of Wilshere and Chamberlain are slowly being integrated into the manifold of the team, while Wayne Rooney’s cracker against Brazil showed that he is definitely the side’s number one man going forward. Hodgson was criticized following their disappointing 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland for regressing to the 4-4-2 formation that England has espoused so unsuccessfully for the last few legs. He amended this against Brazil with a more dynamic 4-3-3 formation that looked to exploit the pace of Walcott and the determination of Milner, and they looked far more potent when that combination started to work.

Perhaps more than statistic or tactical index, it is the personality of Hodgson that has started to have a positive bearing on the squad. His Englishness is obviously critical here, helping him to patch together a squad from players of disparate and often warring club sides. But it is his ability to communicate with the players openly which separates him from some of his predecessors. He seems to also have a good balance in his countenance between amicability and disciplinarian, which seems to also distance him from the robotic visages of Capello and Eriksson. This is also evident in his no fuss approach to the other vagaries of the job, such as dealing with the media. England are by no means the finished article, but I believe in Hodgson they seem to have found the ideal foil to a national template that has long underperformed.

Losing on penalties to Italy last year in the Euro quarter-finals definitely suggested that England were starting to develop under Hodgson, even if they hadn’t quite managed to shake off the curse that has blighted English football for some years now. Now, with some crucial World Cup qualifiers to come, Hodgson has the chance to underline his status as the right man for the job, and with the response that he got from his players in the second half in Brazil, it seems as is English football fans may have something to get enthusiastic about.

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