4 years after it initially failed, Hodgson should put his faith in youth again

4803439There are many criticisms we can level at Roy Hodgson, after all going into Euro 2016 it’s hardly been the most inspiring four years under the England manager.

The national side’s performances at the last two major tournaments have been particular sticks with which to beat the manager, from the underwhelming displays in Euro 2012 to the inept ones of last Summer’s World Cup. Hodgson has stumbled along like a Leicester fan at an end of season party. There’s not even an end in sight to the former Fulham and West Brom manager’s reign as the dinosaurs at Lancaster Gate seem bereft of any better options.

Hodgson was given the job over the more popular ‘Arry Redknapp arguably because he was the safer option, a man who could build solidly for the future, he may not have the razzmatazz of the former Spurs boss but he had the experience to move the national side forward without the drama and police investigations that seemed to follow Redknapp around.

Euro 2012 was a tournament Hodgson was practically given a free pass in, after all he was new to the job taking over from the disappointing and disgruntled Fabio Capello, there was the fallout from John Terry-gate to deal with and a group of youngsters coming through who had little or no international experience. The likes of Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones made up the young nucleus of players Hodgson could introduce to the England squad and hopefully build a team around in future tournaments.

Welbeck and Carroll both made impressions in the Ukraine scoring and showing enough quality to make fans believe there was more to England’s forward line than Wayne Rooney. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was given a start against France in the opening game then became something of a fringe player, which is exactly how Henderson spent the tournament, while Phil Jones failed to kick a ball in anger. If England’s performance at the tournament was another case of ‘what might have been’ as the curse of penalties struck yet again, at least some of the seeds of future glory had been sown. Hopefully.

Four years on from Poland and Ukraine the five players who looked destined to play a big part this time round are down to one with only Jordan Henderson making Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad. Injury put paid to Welbeck’s and Oxlade Chamberlain’s hopes, while one could argue its lack of fitness that’s cost Carroll rather than ability. Only Jones and Henderson from the quintet of Three Lion cubs of Euro 2012 remained available and Jones has played so few games this season it would be lunacy to take him anywhere other than on holiday this summer- even that’s debatable following his recent shocking hair dyeing debacle. Perhaps a good place for Jones to go this summer would be back to the barbers followed by a trip to Ramptons to think about what he’s done.

Henderson stands as the last fully-fit, match ready, player available to Hodgson from the youngsters he took to the Euros four years ago and his place in this summer’s squad has been roundly debated following a somewhat lacklustre campaign for Liverpool.

It’s not very often I’d pity a man who’s overseen two below par tournament performances, has the charisma of a bag of horse manure and was unwilling to make tough choices regarding England’s old guard. For once though Hodgson has my sympathies as the groundwork he laid in 2012 should now be bearing fruit yet instead it’s been rendered almost meaningless. The question is will the 68 year old be willing to give youth another chance this time round? Marcus Rashford is a lot younger than any of the players Hodgson took to Euro 2012 yet in many ways his youth could be his biggest asset. Rashford seems completely unfazed by expectation and is almost an unknown entity to many of the players he’ll face. Harry Kane will almost undoubtedly go on to amass at least another 60-70 caps for England, while if Raheem Sterling can stop believing his own hype and play for the team instead of his brand now and again, he could become an England great. To be fair to one of the most hated men on Merseyside his recent England performances have shown a nugget of maturity and willingness to involve others that’s been missing in the past. Dele Alli appears to have the makings of something truly special and like Sterling, if he can keep himself grounded and avoid serious injury he may be the type of player where Bryan Robson comparisons don’t seem as ludicrous as they did a few weeks ago. John Stones, Eric Dier and Ross Barkley are three young players who could each command fees upwards of £30 million – in the case of Barkley and Stones it’s arguably more than £40 million.

Hodgson may look back on 2012 and think “why did I bother with the any of the youngsters?” But that would be a mistake, after all no one could have predicted the injuries the likes of Welbeck, Carroll, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jones would endure and had they stayed fit then there’s a good chance England would be reaping the rewards of the manager’s trust in youth this summer. It would be easy for Hodgson to play it safe and pick Milner over Alli or Sturridge over Rashford and most people would argue that’s exactly what he should do. Unless you’ve been living in a tent by the canal all your life you may have noticed England have failed at every single tournament in the past fifty years. Yes, we made the semis twice but let’s not pretend beating the likes of Belgium and Cameroon and Spain on penalties were some form of glorious campaigns. England haven’t won a tournament or even made the final of one since Sir Geoff Hurst was plain old Geoff. It’s not good enough and ‘more of the same’ is only going to produce more of the same ends – disappointment.

Should Hodgson give the young players in his squad a real chance, start with an XI of say: Hart, Walker, Smalling, Stones, Rose, Dier, Alli, Barkley, Rooney, Sterling and Kane/Rashford, then maybe the experience the young players get could help the national side move forward in the long term. More than that even, maybe giving players too young to fully appreciate the weight of expectation on their shoulders could cause something of an upset in France.

You can’t win anything with kids, a pundit once declared, we all know that sometimes – you do.

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