World Cup 2014: It is time to ditch ‘Club England’ nonsense and get back to … –

Hodgson is the unluckiest of lucky England managers. Unlucky because he was
drawn in a group with Italy and Uruguay, who are battle-hardened and have
the nous to manage a tournament, and with the coltish, energetic Costa Rica
who thrived on the conditions and their underdog status. It meant that Greg
Dyke, the FA chairman, was right when he made that throat-slitting gesture
when the draw was made.

Lucky? The 66-year-old Hodgson has already had one ‘free pass’ of a
tournament, after being parachuted into euro 2012 after Capello’s sudden
departure. He duly took England to the quarter-finals, a creditable
performance even if the team played poorly. The consensus was that it was
not Hodgson’s fault, which seemed reasonable even if the football was
turgid. He was just picking up the pieces, or so the argument went.

Then for Brazil 2014 Hodgson instigated – or went along with, depending on who
you believe – the desire to give youth its head and overhauled the England
squad to a radical extent. The FA and the nation were delighted that he
chose 20-year-old Ross Barkley, 18-year-old Luke Shaw and 19-year-old Raheem

While he only showed true faith in the latter when it came to the tournament,
the selection of these young talents dampened expectations that England
would make a significant impression in Brazil.

However, there are no more free passes now. Hodgson’s next meaningful match is
not against Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday but in Switzerland – who
he took to the 1994 World Cup – on Sept 8, the opening qualifying fixture
for the 2016 European Championship and there is no need for sentiment. He
has to hit the ground running. Too much time is being wasted.

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard will retire from international football after
this tournament so they do not need to play against Costa Rica. Neither do
Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines or even Wayne Rooney – who, despite his goal
against Uruguay, absolutely failed again on the world stage – unless Hodgson
really believes that he will be vital to him in two years’ time, which has
to be a doubt.

This is not an overreaction. England have been woeful in Brazil, and were
frankly pretty ordinary in their warm-up matches against Peru at Wembley and
then in Miami against Ecuador and Honduras.

For all the time and attention paid to their preparations, the brutal truth is
also they fell short in that department. Why did England go to Portugal? Why
did they spend time at St George’s Park and then Wembley and then Miami,
before finally arriving in Rio de Janeiro?

How much of that itinerary was commercially driven? It was also questionable
that they chose to billet themselves in the most picturesque circumstances
in Rio de Janeiro, opting to have just one training pitch by the beach while
other nations had proper camps.

England also took their biggest-ever backroom staff to this World Cup – which
is fine, but still there were too many corporates and sponsors and
image-aware suits who got in the way.

Why were England on Twitter sending pictures of Rooney’s kit prior to the
Uruguay game? What other nation chooses to adopt such a razzmatazz approach?
The claim is made, from within the FA, that it is the media who choose to
obsess about the star names, but maybe they are.

Someone needs to slow this circus. The ‘Club England’ tag should be ditched,
for a start: let us drop the gloss and the glamour and the PR puff and get
real. LET us have a ‘matt’ approach. Pare down and toughen up.

With all that said, there is a good young nucleus to that squad. There is
Sterling, Shaw, Barkley and there is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Daniel
Sturridge and Adam Lallana, albeit slightly older at 26. And there is Jack
Wilshere – if he is ever fully fit (which is a big if) and Theo Walcott and
John Stones, who did not make the cut this time but will the next.

And neither was it the young players who let England down. It is painful to
write that this proved a World Cup too far for Gerrard – but it did – while
Jagielka and Baines struggled. So, too, did Danny Welbeck and Glen Johnson,
while Joe Hart simply has to calm down and stop letting his emotions affect
his performance.

International football is about small margins. England are improving and they
lost both games by only the narrowest of scorelines – even if they never
looked like keeping a clean sheet in either match. But the most damning
indictment of all is that the threats that were so obvious when the draw was
made: for Italy, Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli and, for Uruguay, Luis

For Hodgson, a man whose reputation has been built on pragmatism and
organisation, that is the greatest criticism. He should have marshalled his
resources better. He should have had a plan. And for all the arguments that
improvements are being made there is a counter one that he actually managed
the team better two years ago.

Whatever the analysis there is one undeniable truth. There are no longer any
free passes, there are no longer any excuses for Hodgson or his assistants.
There will be particular focus on Gary Neville who, it must be said, has
lived a charmed life as both coach and TV pundit. He has to decide he is one
or the other.

However, that also goes to the heart of the English identity crisis. What is
English football? Is it Sky TV with little more than 25 per cent of English
players in the Premier League and a wham-bam multi-billion-pound product? Or
is it a nation that is trying to have a strong domestic league while
competing on the highest stage in world football? It can be both.

Right now it fails in the latter. Again and again.

World Cup 2014: It is time to ditch ‘Club England’ nonsense and get back to … –

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