Roy Hodgson’s England future
International management is a peculiar job – you’re usually contracted for a two-year period, and yet judged almost exclusively upon performances within the final month.
With only around a dozen matches played per year, the majority of the job involves planning, preparation and groundwork. However successful that is, all the good work can go out of the window within the space of a couple of matches.
Roy Hodgson’s spell as England coach is a fine example. Throughout much of his tenure, Hodgson hasn’t received the credit he deserves. Initially regarded as a defensive-minded, tactically inflexible coach who would favour veterans, Hodgson has surprised. His teams have generally played positive football – the World Cup starting XI featured four attackers, and some of the football played during the 3-1 victory at Scotland last year was the best England have played for years.
There’s also been a surprising amount of flexibility in terms of formations, with 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and even a diamond midfield all used in the last 18 months.
And, more than anything else, Hodgson has embraced youth. He included the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling and John Stones in his plans before they’d truly established themselves at club level, fast-tracked Ross Barkley before there was media clamour for his call-up, and opted for Luke Shaw rather than Ashley Cole, probably England’s best-ever left-back, at the World Cup.
The qualifying results, meanwhile, have been good. The World Cup 2014 qualifying group was more difficult than many recognised. Ukraine, Poland and Montenegro might not have been European giants, but for various reasons (the former duo hadn’t played competitive games for Euro 2012 because they were hosting, so their FIFA ranking was lower than usual, while Montenegro were still rising up through the rankings having been formed relatively recently) encountering all three together was tricky. Anything other than top spot would have been failure, certainly, but finishing unbeaten was quietly impressive.
This time around, England have a 100% record in qualification for Euro 2016 – only one other country in the process, Czech Republic, can match that. Include friendlies, and it’s six victories in a row.
Yet the results at major tournaments have been disappointing. Euro 2012 was something of a free pass for Hodgson – forced to name his squad before he’d even taken charge of a single friendly. England were (technically) unbeaten beating the two weaker sides (Sweden and Ukraine) and drawing with the two superior teams (France and Italy) before exiting against the latter on penalties. The manner England were outclassed against the Azzurri, however, was a genuine concern – with Andrea Pirlo running the show.
Last summer, Italy again got the better of England, before another defeat to Uruguay eliminated England before the final game against Costa Rica. It was an embarrassment, and yet the performances in the first couple of games weren’t entirely bad. If anything, particularly against Italy, Hodgson and England got carried away with their attacking potential, and probably needed more balance with the use of an extra midfielder. It was, essentially, the opposite criticism of Hodgson to what we’d expected when he was appointed.
Football, of course, is a game of fine margins. In Hodgson’s seven matches with England at major tournaments, there hasn’t been a single game decided by more than one goal – 1-1, 3-2, 1-0, 0-0, 1-2, 1-2, 0-0. In that kind of situation, it’s logical for the FA to look beyond those results and at Hodgson’s England performance overall to judge his success or otherwise in the job, and they’re happy with the way he’s taken a keen interest in the youth teams and attempted to play a proactive style of football.
Inevitably, talk has turned to whether Hodgson’s contract will be renewed after Euro 2016. At this point, it seems likely he’ll stay on until World Cup 2018, particularly considering the lack of obvious replacements. Greg Dyke yesterday indicated they’ll have a discussion “in the next nine months to a year”, which seems reasonable.
However, it feels like Hodgson’s future should depend upon what happens at Euro 2016, the tournament it feels like he’s always been building towards. Another good qualification campaign followed by an underwhelming tournament wouldn’t be acceptable – three disappointing tournaments in a row are, ultimately, grounds for dismissal.
The preceding 23 months are considered irrelevant in the aftermath of the 24th month. England’s Euro 2016 performance which will decide whether Hodgson has been a success, and a final decision on his future should only be made at that point.
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March 26th, 2015 by Michael Cox