Roy Hodgson may have jumped before he was pushed, but the outgoing England manager was only ever warm-up material for a bigger punchline.
Hodgson has done the only thing he could by stepping down after England crashed out of Euro 2016 to a genuinely magnificent Iceland team that probably won’t get the credit they deserve, but the 68-year-old will surely be furious with those he entrusted throughout the tournament. (That is, he will in private, despite his suspiciously scripted post-match murmurings about them “doing everything they were asked of”.)
The ex-Liverpool manager’s reign has been largely pitiful, that much is sure, making a mockery of the £3.5m-per-year contract he was handed in May 2012, despite no previous major successes and a very long road of development for his team ahead following Fabio Capello's reign. (In context: France’s Didier Deschamps earns £1.3m; Chris Coleman £200k before his new deal.)
Hodgson quits after Euro exit
Questions and indecision
Hodgson never seemed to confidently know his best team or system, and it showed. During his tenure he stayed loyal to those whose form didn’t warrant it, frequently seemed risk-averse, and never inspired his team into being serious contenders.
But despite all of the above, how deeply, deeply disappointed he will be. England were barely threatened at Euro 2016 yet conceded four goals to relatively weak opposition – two of them certainly down to individual errors from Joe Hart, perhaps even three – but all completely avoidable and vindicating pre-tournament fears about a terrifyingly unstable backline.
England were so bad, though, that all of this seems to have been forgotten; lost in a storm of why Raheem Sterling was picked to start three of the matches, or why Harry Kane was on set-piece duty.
Against Iceland, hopeless individual performances plagued England all over: Wayne Rooney crippling under the pressure of his own game, let alone captaincy; Daniel Sturridge frequently slowing down attacks; Kane’s social media-exploding dead-balls. Basic passes pumped out of play from 11 strangers kicking a ball about together. No ideas? No matter: just have a go from range and see what happens.
Combine individual blunders with the above and you are left with the basics. Hodgson can be blamed for a lot of this mess, but it would be grossly unfair to lump him with his players’ catalogue of personal blunders.
Still, England were speculative throughout Euro 2016; hopeful without a cause. “It looked like Roy was making it up as he went along,” blasted Alan Shearer post-match – and it was difficult to disagree.
Hodgson’s team made hard work of Russia, whom Wales later cruised past 3-0. Then it took a last-minute winner to break down Coleman’s side. England couldn’t score past Slovakia, who Germany completely dismantled with a step-by-step guide to getting things done against a deep-lying side (with a fluffed penalty chucked in for good measure).
England’s brightest player against Iceland was Marcus Rashford, the 18-year-old who got five minutes of regular time and did more than most of his team-mates combined.
Hodgson deserves to go. He just about got away with it in 2012 with barely any preparation time and a fairly weak squad. In 2014, England were bitterly disappointing – if a tad unfortunate – but at least had hope in the form of Ross Barkley and Sterling for 2016 and beyond.
That year has arrived, though, and this summer Barkley didn’t even get a kick in France, Sterling was maligned from the start and the Three Lions’ crop of bright young things looked desperate for a leader to steer them in the right direction.
England were rudderless on and off the pitch. Rooney played so badly against Iceland that he could only try to concentrate on his own game, while those around him shrank from receiving possession and toiled on the French Riviera. Hodgson needed a guiding light on the pitch, but there were only the blackened wisps of a snuffed-out candle to be found.
Seriously: what now?
The worst part is what’s next. Where do England realistically go from here?
Hodgson leaves behind what looks to be a bright collection of players for the future – the youngest squad at Euro 2016, remember, and one whose members perform to a very high level in the Premier League every week.
They are supposed to be a technically proficient crop, but that did not show in four matches of speculative football. In games against deep-lying teams you need players who can move the ball quickly, and use individual craft to unravel the opposition’s tight weave. England showed neither of those things, not just as a one-off but in four very similar matches of safe possession and potshots.
The post-match ire was immediately directed at Hodgson, who’d already shuffled away before the worst of it arrived, but really there is absolutely no cause for celebration on that part when the candidates to replace him have scarcely been less enthusing.
Gareth Southgate will surely get it for no reason other than having managed the under-21s since August 2013, during which time he failed to get them out of the group (they finished bottom) in 2015’s European Championship and recently won the Toulon tournament with a team one year older than their closest rivals.
Alan Pardew is close by in the bookmakers’ odds by virtue of being English and a manager who hasn’t suffered the ignominy of a recent relegation, despite overseeing Crystal Palace’s run of just two wins from their last 21 league games. Eddie Howe follows for similar reasons, but will probably find himself too inexperienced to be seriously considered.
Fourth in the running is Glenn Hoddle. Sixth is Alan Shearer. No more words are required here.
Lessons in Iceland
Once again, then, the England national team is left to ponder where on earth it turns next in the dugout. For the last 15 years the FA have flip-flopped between foreign and homegrown, and only under Hodgson has there looked a clear pathway towards a better future.
And yet under him England have sunk to what feels like their lowest ebb, beaten by a country whose population is 0.5% of theirs; whose players come together from various middling European clubs; whose goalkeeper made films as his No.1 job for nine years; who will soon be permanently managed by a dentist.
But Iceland, here, are the inspiration. England can’t suddenly rid themselves of players without the mentality to rid themselves of this heavy curse, but the new manager can at least aim to make a proper team of this obviously-talented group. Until next time.
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