So the group stages are over and Gerrard’s men remain in Euro 2012. Given the lack of blind optimism which is usually attached to any England campaign in a major international tournament the media seems somewhat unsure how to act.
England have topped a group playing effective if unglamorous football. What’s more, there have been relatively few scares along the way.
Now no doubt the hype and pressure will increase as Hodgson’s men prepare to face Italy in what looks like a very winnable match.Of course as the tournament is hotting up England will, one assumes, inevitably crash out after a brief flicker of entertainment. But rather than twisting ourselves into a frenzy of blazing excitement in the hope that the team may be able to continue to surpass expectations, or wallowing in the pits of despair at how naive a desire this is, we should take a moment to reflect on what Hodgson has got right.
Yes, that’s right, it’s time to consider praising an England manager (and therefore presumably give him the kiss of death). His modesty and realism can at times appear pessimistic – he’s hardly a Brian Clough or Jose Mourinho – but he’s honest and deserving of much more respect than he got from fans in Liverpool’s famous Kop.
In fact, in the illustrious list of past England managers the one who best seems to mirror Roy is the fictitious Mike Bassett. Like Bassett, Hodgson goes for the simple over the complicated. Ok, he may not have the same colourful langue as Smith and Sprackling’s straight talking Northerner but Hodgson is, in essence, playing a traditional “four four f***ing two”.
Hodgson’s approach is refreshing; his tactics and his choice of players seem almost sensible. Rather than gambling on an untried 17 year old or struggling to speak the language, Hodgson has been able to communicate effectively with his squad.
And it is paying dividends. England do not have the world’s most technically gifted players but they are well drilled and if things aren’t going to plan, as was the case against Sweden, Hodgson is clinical in his substitutions.
Perhaps the best indication of the Hodgson effect is that Steven Gerrard is flourishing. Finally made national captain it is evident that even now he is a class apart from his teammates, Rooney excluded. Gerrard and his Scouse compatriot are, and have been for the last few years, the only truly world class players which England have.
At last there is a manger who recognises this and who is giving Gerrard the principle role. His legs may be slowing but the quality of Gerrard’s delivery remains apparent, as demonstrated in two man-of-the-match performances in the three group games.
Listening to ‘Three Lions’ it is blissful to imagine this year could be the one. Watching the team, this idealism is quickly shattered. But Hodgson deserves credit. Why? Not because England are playing like Spain or Germany, nor because we really envisage a tournament triumph akin to Greece’s 2004 escapades, but because he has acted humbly and honestly with the players he has. He has, in effect, done a Mike Bassett.
Ollie Guest – Sports Co-Editor