England have provided us with one of their most embarrassing results to date, capping an extremely anti-climactic stint at the Euros. As Roy Hodgson masterminded this pitiful attempt at a serious European challenge, never before have the pub-uttered words “I could do better than him” held so much truth.
Roy, who has had 2 years following the extremely underwhelming World Cup performance of 2014 to prepare for this competition, entered it without knowing his best team. And I think it’s fair to say that he is still none the wiser, following our underwhelming exit. Questions were asked upon the announcement of the squad for the tournament. How has Sterling made the team following his disappointing season? Why was Wilshere selected after 20 minutes of football all season, whilst Drinkwater who was as good as ever-present for League Champions Leicester City left out? Why were players such as Noble, Townsend and Antonio, who had endured promising individual seasons with their clubs not given a chance? They were asked in the hope that Roy could justify his selection through performances, but in the end, we’ve just been left even more clueless.
There were surprises in the team selection for the first match against Russia, as Lallana and Sterling, who didn’t look to be first choice players in the three friendlies leading up to the Euros, both started on either wing. Sterling gave us an ineffective performance on the left, whilst Lallana showed us how he isn’t a natural winger, nor is he a natural finisher, from the right. Our first goal came when Eric Dier scored England’s first free kick since David Beckham vs Ecuador in 2006, following a string of unsuccessful set pieces from Spurs striker Harry Kane. Despite this, Roy was reluctant to change his preferred free kick taker, and for the next three and a bit games, Kane and Rooney shared set piece duty between them, unsuccessfully. Despite Dier’s decision to step up and take responsibility, seemingly against the judgment of Hodgson, he wasn’t to take another set piece all competition. Roy got himself into more trouble, when his substitutes Milner and Wilshere combined to give the ball away in the corner, just moments before Russia’s late equaliser.
Despite the unconvincing opening performance, Roy maintained the same team in the second game against Wales. He made not a single tactical change, despite coming up against a Wales team that were so obviously going to play with five at the back. He persisted with a single striker, and it was evident very early on that Kane was going to struggle against the three Welsh Centre Backs. Lallana and Sterling were perhaps even less effective than they were against Russia, and the entire system looked slow and outdated. The 4-3-3 we used was extremely questionable, seeing as it has gradually been replaced by the 4-2-3-1 in the Premier League. Barcelona and arguably Spain still enjoy some success through this system, as it suits midfield-orientated play, and the technical, short passing of tiki-taka. This may suit the culture of Spain and La Liga, but it certainly isn’t a strength of England and the Premier League. However, Roy could not see this.
Joe Hart’s mistake gave Wales the lead via a Gareth Bale free kick, and England looked to be incapable of braking down the strong Wales defence. The introduction of Vardy and Sturridge at half time did go on to win us the match, however this seemed to be more down to luck than judgment. Roy brought these strikers on, but continued to play the same system. There was no tactical change behind these substitutions, it was more down to Hodgson simply throwing on as many strikers as he could in the hope of a goal, further added to by Marcus Rashford being brought on. Despite Vardy’s fortunate goal, he only completed four passes the entire half, suggesting that this system doesn’t favour any striker, starving them of support and supplying them with a lack of chances. Sturridge’s late goal only came because he had drifted from the position he was brought on in, further showing how Roy really got away with one this match.
Hodgson’s decision to rest 6 players was met with plenty of criticism, as England missed out on first place in the group with a 0-0 draw to Slovakia. Although the decision to keep some players fresh (Most notably the full backs, who seemed to offer more of an attacking threat than the ‘wingers’) is justifiable, it definitely didn’t prove to be beneficial. Clyne was and exception, proving how he is an extremely capable back-up for Walker, whose marauding forward runs caused the opposition a lot of problems in the previous games, however, Bertrand’s conservative approach meant we lost some of the threat that Rose provided down the left. Henderson was steady at best, and certainly didn’t offer what Rooney could, and Wilshere completed more passes to Slovakian players in his 58 minutes, than he had to Arsenal players in the last year. Sturridge again showed us that he isn’t a winger, with a below par performance from the right, and Vardy was anonymous for 90 minutes, barring a 1 on 1 which he probably should have scored. The performance was solid proof that this system was not going to work, especially against teams that are happy to sit back and let us have the ball. We lacked the creativity to break down deep-lying defences, and this led to more baffling changes by Roy Hodgson. He brought Kane, Rooney and Alli on, leaving us in an unorganised formation, with no left winger for most on the half. Alli looked dangerous getting forward (something that he’d been restricted from doing in the centre of midfield as opposed to playing off of Kane like he does for Spurs), almost scoring with his first touch, and trying to beat players at every opportunity. However, there was no game plan in place, much like the Wales game, and it seemed to be another case of playing as many attackers as we can until one of them scores, which didn’t happen.
After scraping through in second place, we were given a favourable draw against Iceland. The fact that the system had failed in the last two games, leading to Roy making desperate changes, wasn’t enough cause for a change it seems. Sterling was back in the team, and did make an immediate impact, scampering onto a through ball and winning a penalty. This didn’t seem to improve his general play however, with him and Sturridge both slowing down numerous attacks and wasting several potential chances by trying to cut back on their stronger foot, or just making poor decisions. Kane again looked isolated, and Alli, who formed an exciting partnership with Kane during the season, was again restricted to a central midfield role, limiting his opportunities to connect with Kane, and create chances for either himself or others. The fact that Roy selected both Kane and Alli, but didn’t once play them together in the same way that gave them both success at club level is almost criminal. Sturridge was also a victim of being ‘misplayed’ as a result of Roy’s reluctance to start two strikers.
Roy’s lack of passion and involvement from the sidelines was as evident in this match as any. I’m not expecting him to be hugging and high fiving players every 5 minutes like Klopp, or kicking balls away and climbing dugouts like Conte, but the lack of motivation from the touchline really was depressing. On a night where even our most experienced players in Joe Hart and captain Wayne Rooney were struggling due the pressure and importance of the match, the game really was calling out for a form of leadership from somewhere. And as the underperforming players continued to trundle towards an embarrassing defeat, Roy sat there, head in hands, offering no support whatsoever. His demeanor was almost careless, and his decisions were even worse taking off Sterling for Vardy, and seeing us go over 20 minutes with a two strikers and a right winger, with no one on the left. Sturridge continued to occupy the right flank with little joy, and our left side was almost uninhabited as a tired Rose attempted to cover the entirety of the flank. It took until the 85th minute before Hodgson made the painfully obvious choice of bringing Rashford on, who carried and led United’s attack for the last part of the season, as opposed to Sterling who ended it on City’s bench. Rashford did more in his five minutes than Sterling did all game, taking on his man two or three times, getting him into good positions where he came close to making chances. You can’t help but imagine how much more success he’d have had if he was brought on half an hour earlier.
After the match, Hodgson announced that he’d be resigning, which was probably the best decision he’d made for England ever since he took over. He told us that the players ‘did everything that was asked of them’, which really does make you wonder what kind of things he was asking, aswell as telling us that he would look back on his England tenure with pride. This statement perhaps suggests that Hodgson may be out of touch with fans and expectations, as I doubt many fans would claim to be proud of finishing bottom of their group with just one point in the World Cup, and disastrously crashing out of the Euros at the expense of an Iceland team managed by a part time dentist.
It’s truly tragic that a modern team, full of exciting, hungry young players, with the potential to really go far in this competition, had to be managed by a man with tactics so outdated that I’m surprised the £3.5million pounds a year he earned wasn’t paid to him in shillings.
The hope we had for a successful footballing Summer may have ended prematurely, but we do now have a young generation of individuals with a lot of ability, potential and now experience. We may not miss Roy, but he has readied a few Lions to be taken to the next level. Here’s hoping that the next man to take the job can do that.
By Dan Grimes, TFN Columnist on 28/06/2016 at 10:09
Follow Dan on Twitter @False_CB