The bookies currently have England as fourth favourites for winning this summer’s European Championships, a price no doubt influenced by people using their hard earned cash to back Roy Hodgson’s side for victory in France. Two clichés spring to mind for me: “a fool and his money are soon parted” and “you never see a poor bookmaker”.
Despite the best efforts of the ITV commentary team to build this England side up as the second coming of the Brazil 1970 team, anyone who watched the two friendlies against Turkey and Australia and decided to bet on England winning the Euros deserves to lose their money. Maybe I was being generous describing it as ‘watched’ those friendlies, perhaps endured would have been a more fitting description because, even by International friendly standard, they were dire.
Over the past decade, Roy Hodgson has morphed from respected coach into a comedic figure, whose coaching principles and philosophy are now seen as archaic. His mannerisms and facial expressions have become a figure of fun, whilst watching his teams play are anything but that. The fact it took an offside Harry Kane goal and a bizarre own goal from the Turkish goalkeeper, that was somehow credited to Jamie Vardy, to overcome a very poor Turkey side should have been a warning sign. Instead, the struggle was ignored and the defence that collaborated to gift Turkey their goal was lauded.
Their scruffy victory over an even worse Australia team was equally as unconvincing. Whilst the full-backs looked better, the centre-backs were far from convincing and if Chris Smalling is first choice in the tournament, I’d fancy him to get sent off at some point. Hodgson’s decision to select only three centre-backs is a bizarre one and if he thinks Eric Dier will do the job there, then it’s an extraordinary risk from a naturally cautious manager.
In another key area of the pitch, Dele Alli has the talent to make an impact, but the rest of the midfield do not offer the defensive cover required and lack the match control that the better sides possess. Initially picking Fabian Delph was odd, gambling on Jack Wilshere’s fitness strange and although Danny Drinkwater has had a good season, he doesn’t look like an international footballer.
In Harry Kane, England do have an in-form striker who has a knack of being in the right place at the right time and gets goals. If fit, Daniel Sturridge offers another top quality finisher with the technique and movement to match, though his fitness when under the stewardship of Roy Hodgson remains a concern. Jamie Vardy has had a great season with Leicester and deserves his place in the squad and should be a very good option from the bench. The emergence of Marcus Rashford has seen him fast-tracked to the main squad and in contention to be at the Euros. His goal against Australia continued his astonishingly rapid rise, but expectation is in danger of getting out of control; his first touch, decision-making and movement are not there yet, as you would expect from a player so young and inexperienced. His talent is unquestioned, but some are getting carried away and just three months into his career, he doesn’t need unnecessary pressure. Rooney is a conundrum, although he took his goal against Australia well, he’s unlikely to be afforded 20-30 yards of space on the edge of the box this summer. His domestic form hasn’t warranted his place in the England team, but his goalscoring record in friendlies and qualifiers arguably does; his tournament record is poor though and England will need to him to finally deliver on the big stage if he is going to play in that deeper role.
Getting out of the group is far from a formality, Russia are unpredictable and Wales will be incredibly motivated; the prospect of Gareth Bale running at the England defence could cause Hodgson to have sleepless nights. The England squad contains some very good players and some very average ones, with a manager who is, at best, average. The ITV commentary team may fancy England’s chances, but Germany, Spain, Belgium and France all look much better bets; even Portugal and Italy. The 50 years of hurt for England fans will continue this summer as the bookies cash in.