England Should Be Drinking from the Fountain of Youth

England's Rio FerdinandHaving been controversially overlooked by manager Roy Hodgson in favour of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand has voiced his opinions on England’s Euro 2012 efforts and questioned the involvement of senior players.

The Manchester United defender has 81 caps for the national side but despite earning a wealth of experience since making his debut back in 1997, Ferdinand believes England should’ve used the tournament to blood the latest crop of youngsters and not been so cautious. Given the controversy surrounding his omission from the squad, Ferdinand comments may seem like a combination of hindsight and sour grapes but does the defender have a point?

After all England entered the tournament with lower expectations than any of their previous squads and had the perfect opportunity to give the next generation their chance to shine. Instead Hodgson played it safe and while his cautious approach has earned praise in some quarters, the defensive manner of the sides exit has left Ferdinand wondering why there wasn’t more emphasis on possession football. He told the Sun:

“The only time we really kept the ball properly was when Danny Welbeck dropped short to collect it and linked the play but, usually, he was having to stay up and wasn’t allowed to drop too much because we had set out a certain way with a 4-4-2 which didn’t offer a great deal of flexibility.

“It’s OK saying we were very good defensively and hard to beat but if you set out to be defensive then that’s your first priority.”

England’s reliance on defence was the foundation they built their game plan around and despite making them hard to beat, it stifled the team’s attacking freedom. The pessimistic acceptance that the side would be unable to play possession football was fairly defeatist and instead of prioritising defence, Ferdinand believes the team should’ve been filled with more attacking flair. Rather than sitting back and waiting to concede, Hodgson could’ve given more game time to attacking players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, injecting a new dimension into side while keeping an eye on future tournaments.

“If you take the youngsters to a competition like this, you should get them out there and see what they are made of.

“I am a fan of The Ox and I wanted to see more of him but in the end he finished up as a spectator.

“I’d love to see us running at other teams. I want to see Alex and Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson, who I thought should have gone too, causing problems instead of worrying about covering back as the first thought.”

Given the lack of preparation afforded to Hodgson, clearly his negative tactics were a case of needs must against sides that were more confident in possession but now the team has been knocked out, what have they really achieved?

A penalty shootout defeat in the knockout stages is par for the course when following England so why give the golden generation one last hurrah when there’s an opportunity to blood youth?

Whether or not beating Sweden and Ukraine by a single goal constitutes overachievement remains to be seen but thanks to low expectation, Hodgson’s men actually received praise for their efforts. Belief in the side was so low that fans have reacted positively to a fairly underwhelming tournament and Ferdinand believes it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to give stars of the future like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Phil Jones genuine International experience.

“What did we learn about Alex and Phil at this tournament?

“Do we know how much influence Alex can have on a game at the finals? He did fairly well against France, so why not persist with him and let him grow into it?

“As for Phil, we will now have to wait until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, provided we qualify, to see how good he can be at the highest level. Expectations were low so the manager had a free shot to find out about our youngsters and I feel it was a missed opportunity.”

Ferdinand’s comments illustrate the dilemma faced by Hodgson when he took over the reins of the national side. His appointment was tainted by mass hysteria questioning why the FA favoured him ahead of Harry Redknapp and he needed to make an instant impression. Would he have been accepted if he’d admitted the squad he inherited from Fabio Capello was incapable of playing attractive football, especially given the players at his disposal?

Hindsight makes it’s easy to say Hodgson should’ve started afresh with a new squad and built towards the next World Cup but Steven Gerrard and John Terry were England’s standout performers during the tournament. Had he opted for youth and been knocked out in the group stages then the knives would’ve been out questioning why the nation’s best players weren’t involved.

Having traversed the tournament with his reputation still intact, Hodgson is now in a position to stamp his authority on the side. While he’s earned the backing of his peers, his failure to promote the next generation means Ferdinand is not the only one left wondering whether or not his young side will gain enough experience to prepare them for 2014 World Cup.

Should England have given youth a chance at Euro 2012? Will the next generation of talent be ready for 2014 World Cup?

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