It is hardly a stretch to imagine Roy Hodgson, as a history buff, enjoying documentaries on the higher Sky channels that reveal the secrets to Tutankhamun’s tomb and pontificate dryly on the Persian Empire. Roy’s very raison d’etre – the chief reason he was originally employed over the more streetwise ‘Arry – is that he has a scholarly air that lends itself well to a squad in transition with a raft of promising young players breaking through and eager to learn.
So it’s hoped that once qualification was secured with two games to spare the veteran coach did not only look forward to a summer of possibilities but also took the time to look back.
There he would find a manual of mistakes and miscalculations, a ‘How-Not-To’ guide amounting to fifty years save for the odd semi-final flourish. And by leafing through the pages he could learn so much…
Both Gareth Southgate and David Batty deserve huge credit for putting themselves forward for the lonely horror of taking a penalty in shoot-outs that had the entire nation holding its breath. Southgate in particular is worthy of kudos for stepping up in 1996 while his supposed ‘Guv’nor’ Paul Ince was sheepishly staring into the ground hoping not to be selected.
But here’s the thing – neither had scored a professional penalty throughout their careers and while their bravery is commendable it almost inevitable resulted in heartbreaking exits. In the centre-circle on each occasion meanwhile, rubbing their tired legs, were two unused players who had.
Hodgson is not only wiser to opt for experience over willingness in this regard. He should also significantly factor in the probability of pens into any late substitutions he makes. In ’96 Hoddle brought off Scholes and Anderson in the 78th and 96th minute respectively. Both, you feel, would have drilled one home.
Roy has already ignored the warning klaxons from times past on this one by picking Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge, three players returning from injuries who you fear for every time they over-stretch for a ball. History has shown time and again that it can be a terrible error to rely on players distracted by the niggles of recuperation and it’s hardly a lesson exclusively reserved for the Three Lions.
But into the 23 they go so we must now at least right the blunders of 1982 in Spain where Ron Greenwood not only took a hobbling Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking but placed such emphasis on this usually magnificent twosome to get England out of a hole.
Take them by all means Roy and use them sparingly and shrewdly. But rely on the crocked at your peril.
Bar a ‘Gazza’ upgrade, the 1988 squad Bobby Robson took to West Germany was essentially a prototype of the semi-finalists of two years later who hauled England from the dark ages. Yet this campaign crumbled at the group stage with two dismantling defeats by the Soviet Union and Holland that ruthlessly exposed our limitations.
It all began though with a stodgy loss to Ireland as Robson played right into his opposite number, Jack Charlton’s, hands by allowing the game to become a typically British clash of long ball and bluster.
The game may have been decided by a magnificent Ronnie Whelan volley but that was at odds with an otherwise dreary encounter bogged down by unimaginative football meaning passion was always going to win out. Ireland had more of it and were always going to have more of it.
This is by no means a slight on Wales but Hodgson would be wise not to be drawn into an all-British battle on June 13th. It simply hands the weaponry to their opponents.
With Vardy and Kane sharing nearly fifty league goals between them debate has raged over the role Wayne Rooney will play this summer. Out wide perhaps? Dropping into midfield?
Well here’s an idea: Play your best players in their best positions and if two should share that space simply select the one most in form and drop the other.
Have we learned nothing from the drawn-out Scholes/Lampard/Gerrard conundrum that saw possibly the finest English passer of a ball in several generations shifted out to the left and made redundant? Apparently not.
From Gerd Muller’s close-range acrobatics in 1970 to Andreas Moller strutting like a preening cockerel on the Wembley turf in ’96 the fact remains that when it really matters Germany have a hex over our boys that just won’t quit.
As revenge goes for Hurst’s hat-trick it is prolonged, cruel and should be circumnavigated at all costs.