Following the announcement of his 30-man England squad to face Denmark, Roy Hodgson’s recent comments about Andros Townsend and Ashley Cole seems to suggest an inconsistency in his selection policy.
In an uncharacteristically bold move, Hodgson picked Townsend for the two crucial October World Cup Qualifiers and was rewarded handsomely. The young Tottenham Hotspur winger scored a stunning strike on his debut in the 4-1 victory over Montenegro before following that up with an encouraging performance in the 2-0 win over Poland which secured qualification.
Since then however, Townsend has somewhat fallen off the radar and down the pecking order for both club and country. Struggling with a hamstring problem since December, the winger has been unable to consistently break into the new look Tottenham side under Head Coach Tim Sherwood.
Hodgson’s selection of Townsend in his latest squad was undoubtedly a throwback to the promise the player demonstrated in those qualifiers rather than his recent performances. But the England manager has warned the player that he needs to play regularly and consistently well for Tottenham if he is to secure a much coveted seat on the plane to Brazil this summer.
Hodgson has thrown down the gauntlet to the winger by saying that “now he has got to repay my faith in amongst this 30 and in the next couple of months by playing well for Tottenham.”
A reasonable enough request of an England manager to one of his players. But hold on, what did the England manager have to say over the competition in his squad for a spot at left back?
Ashley Cole, the 33 year old proud owner of 106 caps for his country, faces a battle to make the World Cup squad let alone the starting eleven. It is the first realistic challenge that he has had to the position in the past decade.
At Chelsea, Cole has found first team opportunities limited, as Jose Mourinho has often preferred to select Cesar Azpilicueta at left back. With the “little horses” currently progressing strongly on all fronts, this situation looks unlikely to change anytime soon.
Cole has, in all likelihood, already been usurped in the first eleven by long-term understudy Leighton Baines. The Everton player has continued to flourish under Roberto Martinez’s management, with the Spaniard encouraging Baines and Seamus Coleman to attack at almost every opportunity.
However, the form of Southampton’s 18-year-old full back Luke Shaw has prompted question marks over whether Cole will even make in on to the plane to Brazil, let alone the pitch.
With Hodgson urging Townsend to play regularly for his club in order to be selected for his country, surely the same message should apply to Cole, right?
Wrong. Speaking upon the matter, Hodgson did admit that the Chelsea left back is likely to now be the understudy rather than the first choice. But this didn’t stop the England manager from selecting Cole to start against Denmark. Hodgson refused to rule him out on the basis of a lack of playing time, saying “I certainly wouldn’t write Ashley Cole out of any plans because he isn’t playing in his club team.”
Cole and Townsend are obviously at very different stages of their careers, but it is still massively hypocritical to deliver such contradictory messages to his players. The England manager will obviously have his favourites, but it cannot send a positive message to the dressing room that some players are so clearly enjoying preferential treatment to the detriment of their colleagues.
Whilst Hodgson has only publicly espoused this view about Cole, it is likely that it applies to at least a few other high profile individuals in his squad. For example, players like Tom Cleverley, Frank Lampard and Danny Welbeck aren’t regulars for their clubs but will likely still be included in the boarding party for Brazil.
Every manager will inevitably have his favourites but it is wrong to place such contrasting requirements upon his players. When it comes down to the matter of playing time, Hodgson should determine whether it is important or not for the selection of all of his players.
Reputation and international pedigree aside, a consistent approach to the matter is what the England manager requires.