So England bowed out of Euro 2016 in spectacular, yet inevitable, fashion this summer. But what hope did Roy Hodgson really have, falling victim to an international coach’s worst nightmare following a qualification campaign that bore ten wins from ten, 31 goals scored, 3 conceded, and a system tried and tested:
- Injuries / poor form to numerous players integral to qualifying.
- Average players playing well in a winning team / system (Leicester).
- A group of young players having an impressive season / last 3 months.
- An English media that demanded the above to be included.
I hadn’t considered Roy to be a weak manager before this summer but one thing Euro 2016 made abundantly clear is that when it came to making difficult choices and standing by his methods, Roy melted like a Solero. For ten games Roy played with a system he liked, and it worked. People may moan about having favourite players (Wilshire, Henderson, Milner etc.) but with that team, he won them all. If you look at the players that started that qualifying campaign and were stalwarts during (including dynamic sub appearances) yet played a minimal or zero role in Euro 2016 its clear to see that it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing; Jagielka, Clyne, Baines, Shaw, Jones, Delph, Milner, Townsend, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Barkley, Walcott, Welbeck.
Whilst some of these exclusion were due to injury, Roy still had enough choice to continue to play his system with minimal fuss, the likes of Walcott, Townsend, and Stirling flanking Rooney or Kane up front with workhorses Milner and Henderson and Roy’s golden boy Jack Wilshire behind. The defence would be fine with Cahill and Smalling between Clyne and Bertrand with Joe Hart
ever-dependable between the sticks. And what a bench and opportunity to change systems we had – Bring on Drinkwater and Vardy, sit a bit deeper and hit stronger teams on the counter. Then we have Delle Alli – a genuine prospect. First season in the premiership, playing without fear, looks a great option to bring on if you need a bit more creativity than Henderson and Milner. And Eric Dier, centre back, right back, defensive shield, a perfect utility player to have on the bench or to utilise if you need to sit back or neutralise a Pirlo or Payet. Things shouldn’t have been so bad.
Unfortunately, the world and his dog had got a hard-on for Jamie Vardy by now, a man who’s game is 80% based a 60 yard ball pinged over the top for him to chase and finish. Yes, he scored lots of goals, but not in the system Roy had spent 2 years perfecting. As media and public pressure built, the outcry to include and start all of these amazing new England players proved to be too much for Roy to fight. And whilst we’re at it, you better start Rose and Walker as they play with Kane and Alli a lot, oh and don’t forget to take Marcus Rashford too – an 18yr old kid who has played about 10 first team games in his entire career. Because if you don’t, we will destroy you.
So what we ended up with was a muddle of a system, warped by stats like a 16 year old’s Sun Dream Team. For the first time in a competitive game Roy played with a defined ball winning midfielder in Dier instead of the defensive playmaker in Wilshire he prefers, meaning he had to find deep midfield creativity elsewhere. Luckily for him the press had already dictated how Alli and Kane have to play off each other up front so Rooney was now free to drop deeper than the Titanic to satisfy his Nike contract clause of never being dropped to the bench in an England shirt.
For width, well Roy still had Stirling – A man dropped by his club for the last 3 months and void of confidence, and for the other side…. oh fuck, he forgot to bring 2 wingers. That’s okay though, Lallana can play there, having never scored a goal for England, and if that doesn’t work we’ll stick Vardy on the left to hug the touch line like he has done for approximately 22 minutes of Leicester’s 38-game championship winning season.
Whilst the loss to Iceland was unpredictable, the underwhelming results before and early exit were not. I forget the last time England had a settled side and a boss willing to manage the team more like a club side. The starting line up for Euro 2016 included 7 different players from the starting line up of the 2014 World Cup. And that included 6 different players from the line up for Euro 2012. How many players do you think Germany or Spain have changed in that time? I can guarantee that England are not producing 6 new world class players every 2 years so what’s happening? Picking a squad / team based on short bursts of form and basing a system around those individuals at the detriment of the team. It has to stop.
International tournaments are equivalent of the last games of a season where you’re chasing silverwear. If, with ten games to go this year, Leicester were given Aguero and Iniesta would they have won the league still? I doubt it. They had a style and a system and to suddenly ask Vardy to partner Aguero, or Drinkwater to play with Iniesta, it just wouldn’t have the same effect. Don’t get me wrong, stick them on the bench, bring them on to change games, but don’t change your entire team to accommodate them – Something the media and Big Sam needs to realise now.