We knew it was coming, and we all (I thought), after some initial kicking and screaming, had come to accept the inevitability of it. Yet, still Roy Hodgson’s overtly pragmatic approach to the game against France has shaken awake its fair share of detractors. What were these people expecting?
As an England fan I have become more than accustomed to the tragedies played out in tournaments. I’ve derived great pleasure from the drama and suffering of others at our hands, but never readily come to terms with the situation when the roles have been reversed. I have never learned to properly rationalise the emotional turmoil that the major tournaments evoke* and so I have never fully experienced the catharsis that the tragic ending of the great tragedies is purported to impart. This, I believe, is because England teams and managers never appear to learn from their mistakes. No-one, fans included, is nourished by the valuable lessons learned along the way.
(*To a degree, emotional immaturity is an intrinsic part of being a football fan. The cyclical nature of football – “resetting” at the start of seasons and tournaments – means we are presented with a lot of the same repeating obstacles, issues and themes throughout; we never really tire of them (maybe some), or learn to deal with them in the “grown up” way we might do were we faced with a persistent problem in “the real world”)
Whatever Roy Hodgson has had thrust at him to this point, he has articulated himself in an assured and (as) dignified (as possible) manner seldom seen by an England manager in recent memory. As every manager, not just those entrusted with managing the national team, has come to expect, he has had to face a barrage of attempts to claim his scalp; more so as the memory of the last time the press successfully stuck his decapitated head on a spike, at Liverpool, still lives relatively fresh in the memory. He’s been sternly tested, having to field difficult questions on subjects from Apartheid, to the exclusion of players, such as Michael Carrick, who had already declared themselves unavailable before he even got the job. He hasn’t appeared overtly ruffled by any such attack as of yet. However, the palpable discomfort of the continued questioning over the selection of the defence has seen him look more vulnerable; in my eyes he has remained relatively calm and collected. He will, no doubt, regret using the words “footballing reasons” (a term he has used in the past) whilst attempting to address the issues surrounding the Rio/Terry selection pantomime, but having successfully navigated that particular distraction (sticking to his very plausible version of events) he has got on with what he has always made patently clear throughout is his priority: preparing his team, physically, and just as importantly, mentally, for what lies ahead.
It’s not my intention to suggest that Roy will (or needs to) attempt to ape the mildly maligned achievements of the Greece squad, that grasped victory from the jaws of football in winning Euro 2004, but having them as a reference point for what is attainable with very little, can surely only serve as an inspiration of sorts. The similarities with that Greece squad and this England squad is for me in the very apparent awareness of it’s own capabilities (strengths and weaknesses), as impressed on it by the management. The harshest of England critics would struggle to suggest, with sane mind, that that Greece squad weren’t technically inferior to even this England squad.
After just one proper game under Roy, I’m feeling positive that wherever this particular tragedy ends, it will prove vitally important in the development of the younger players in the squad: the next generation. I have never known an England team so existentially aware and I’m captivated by the possibilities that presents. We know we can’t win a tournament during the group stages. Conserving our resources and energy is valued over empty triumph early on. We know we can’t simply throw everything we’ve got at a team and cross our fingers that their superior players have an off day. We don’t have to attend every on-field battle we are invited to during the early posturing of the tournament.
Unfortunately for Roy, as he’s fully aware, injury (and the long Premier League season) has perhaps robbed him of the overall quality you need when it really matters – this time around. Also, having spent such a short time with a squad, still carrying a shadow of its former ego, he has to deal with what appears to be, from the general body language of some, a serious lack of alacrity.
When Hodgson and his team come face to face with their tragic end, I will feel satisfied that we’ve applied ourselves correctly and that we have genuinely learned something of value that we can take forward to the World Cup qualifiers. However, having said that, despite believing as the teams kicked off that we would be lucky to be still in the damned thing by the time we had Rooney back available, as daft as it sounds, I now think that if Roy can super-impose a fully engaged Rooney over what I’ve seen so far, then the final act of this particular tragedy may see Roy, against all odds, emerge triumphant.