For the second time in a week, England have managed an ignominious exit from Europe and Roy Hodgson, much like the hapless politicians, oversaw it without any cohesive plan.
The humiliating defeat to Iceland was Hodgson’s final act as England manager and summed up his handling of this tournament. Yes, England did not have the best squad of players heading into Euro 2016, despite the hype, and their ceiling was probably a semi-final at best, but the way they were managed was awful. That does not excuse some of the more experienced players struggling with the basics – Joe Hart was culpable in three of the four goals conceded, with him seemingly having chocolate wrists on two of them. Wayne Rooney found it difficult to pass to team mates and the defensive duo of Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling looked like they met each other for the first time at this tournament.
Others that failed to do themselves justice included Harry Kane, looking like a lost child in a supermarket; Raheem Sterling starting games well but fading quicker than the taste of cheap bubblegum; Dele Alli losing his mojo on a platform that was supposed to showcase him, but instead exposed him, and Jack Wilshere desperately short of fitness and any match sharpness.
Full-backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker started the tournament quite well, but had their defensive frailties exposed when the pressure was on. Jamie Vardy showed flashes of the danger he can threaten in behind, but lack of technique cost him scoring one-on-ones against Slovakia and Iceland. Adam Lallana demonstrated his technique and how hard he works off the ball, but also his lack of incisiveness. Daniel Sturridge is England’s best striker and despite being their most creative player, was largely wasted by being played so wide. Eric Dier was a mixed bag, he had some lapses, but also showed signs of England finally finding someone capable of fulfilling a defensive midfield spot. In their solitary appearance, Nathaniel Clyne was excellent, but Ryan Bertrand looked out of his depth. Youngster Marcus Rashford surely has a bright future ahead of him and he showed some encouraging flashes during his brief run outs, but selecting him ahead of a winger in Hodgson’s system was an odd move.
That brings things nicely onto the manager because whilst some fans will inevitably bemoan a lack of passion, desire and effort, that was never the issue, the basics of good management were what was missing. There was no effective game plan, no evidence of preparation in a squad lacking balance. These are the basics, a manager should either pick a team to suit a desired system or pick a system to suit the players and England had neither. That is a huge failure by Hodgson, a man who said systems do not win football matches. There can be no arguing that England had more talent than the Iceland team, but Iceland turned up to Euro 2016 with a formulated game plan. The Iceland management team are aware of the limitations of their players, so picked a system that best utilised the players at their disposal and all the players knew exactly what they had to do in that system. That basic planning, preparation and organisation, coupled with a bit of tactical nous gave Iceland’s players a confidence in their game plan and its execution, helping them to overcome adversity and compete with stronger opponents.
Roy Hodgson didn’t seem to even know what system to use, let alone what his best team was, so how were the players supposed to know implicitly where they needed to be and what they needed to do if the manager wasn’t sure? It’s his failings amplified.
So, Roy Hodgson and the England players will rightly receive criticism for another tournament failure, but it’s high time the FA started to shoulder some of that blame too. After all, they were the ones, in their infinite wisdom, that decided to appoint a manager with a track record of mediocrity and pay him a King’s ransom. You should only pay top dollar for proven quality. What they do next will be interesting; will they chase a winner, gamble on a young coach or handicap themselves by insisting on an experienced Englishman to lead the team? Of some of the names already linked, Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce did nothing at a lower level to indicate they could handle this job. Appointing a former player with no experience, but lots of passion could be calamitous given how important tactical awareness is in maximising the abilities of a squad. The likelihood is that English football will not have the patience to get behind a good young coach like Eddie Howe and will look abroad unless they are fixated with the manager being English. Don’t be surprised to see Harry Redknapp given a mention at some point over the coming months.
Beyond this appointment, the FA and English football have a difficult conundrum to solve because the Premier League is not conducive to being a hot bed for developing British players and managers/coaches. The Premier League is only interested in the Premier League and how they can further grow the brand that generates so much money. It’s about the here, the now, the hype and the money. Until the national team takes any kind of consideration and English football is prepared to undergo the kind of root and branch investigation and restructuring that German football undertook 15 years ago, keep expecting more disappointment.