Being the England manager is a pretty thankless task. Everyone has an opinion, expectation levels are through the roof and inevitably you’re going to have to make some tough calls when picking a final 23 for a tournament.
Roy Hodgson has been England boss since 2012 and I’d argue his squad selection for Euro 2016 will be the toughest of his international tenure so far. In 2012 he’d only just arrived for the Championships after Fabio Capello resigned and no one really fancied the Three Lions in the build-up. The last World Cup was a total bust, but again few gave England much of a shot of winning it over in Brazil and here we go again, another tournament with Hodgson in charge.
This time though, he’s got some incredibly hard choices to make and there is a belief England can do something in France, or at least give a good account of themselves. I think the general public are slightly more optimistic than pre 2012 or 2014; they’ve got a favourable draw (arguably as good as it could have been aside from having Wales in the group), players in form and the tournament is taking place in a neighbouring country.
But this particular tournament doesn’t just give Hodgson his toughest squad selection, I’d suggest this is the hardest job any England manager has had for a long time. Gone are the stalwarts like Beckham, Terry, Ferdinand, Lampard and Gerrard, with Wayne Rooney almost a sole reminder of that period when a core of players were simply undroppable. Wilshere, Sturridge and probably Welbeck should be in that bracket but all are injury doubts ahead of Euro 2016, or at the very least Hodgson could voice legitimate fears over fitness and match practice as a reason not to include them.
Everyone has an opinion on the national team and in the build-up to and aftermath of his squad announcement the dissenting voices will be heard across the board, from pundits and ex-players and journalists/media types to anyone with Twitter and anyone in the pub. There is a thinking that expectations have dropped considerably among the England support, highlighted in this Telegraph article about Hodgson’s appearance on Match of the Day, and that may be so – but that will change as we get closer to Euro 2016. I’m a massively pessimistic England fan, but even I can’t help but think ‘what if?’ as we get closer to a big event in my weaker moments. And if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.
Granted, the choices he has to make are fairly good ones to have, in terms of there are a few players available for most positions. To come up with his best 23 he may well need some intense moments of clarity, the kind that only come a during a hallucinogen heavy spirit quest, but I doubt that’s Roy’s thing… and it could lead to the conclusion England have no chance whoever he calls on, we can’t risk that.
Anyway, let’s get down to his probably selection issues.
This is the one area that looks pretty straightforward; Manchester City’s Joe Hart, Southampton’s Fraser Forster and Stoke’s Jack Butland. Burnley stopper Tom Heaton will be unlucky to miss out but you can’t really argue with Forster’s form since his return for Saints – some will probably want him as first-choice ahead of Hart – and Butland’s been consistent, and at times excellent, for the Potters throughout the season.
Here is gets a little trickier for Roy, we may have a rough idea of who he will take – but his starting four are less certain. Luke Shaw’s injury keeps him out of the picture but there are a loads of options at left-back – Leighton Baines, Ryan Bertrand, Kieran Gibbs and Danny Rose. The two who miss out there will be unlucky, as will the one who ends up as the back-up.
If both stay fit Kyle Walker and Nathaniel Clyne will probably be his right-backs, but at centre-half Hodgson has some tough calls to make. His choice, or at least the justification for one of, has been made somewhat easier by Kurt Zouma’s injury at Chelsea. Zouma had taken Gary Cahill’s spot and I’m fairly sure Hodgson would have gone for the former Bolton man regardless of whether or not he was an automatic starter at Chelsea, but the fact he is now a regular again, albeit through default, makes it simpler.
Everton pair Phil Jagielka and John Stones will also probably go, but the final spot is harder to fill. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are seemingly battling each other for that place but Scott Dann and Ryan Shawcross should be a part of the conversation and West Brom’s Craig Dawson deserves a mention. That aside the bigger questions regarding his central defence will be on the first-choice pairing rather than the four he actually decides to take, and that debate will rumble on from the Euro 2016 kick-off until their elimination.
This is where Hodgson’s mindfuck really starts, with a rich pool of talent to choose from and a lot of it largely untested (in the most recent squad only one midfielder, Raheem Sterling, had reached 20 caps) . If fit, Jack Wilshere should probably go but with the form of others this term that’s going to rile a big section of the England fans even if he starts Arsenal’s next game and is a regular starter for the rest of the season. Other than Wilshere there aren’t any ‘well he’s definitely in’ type of players in midfield. James Milner probably is but would there be an outcry if he missed out? I’m not so sure. Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana have been in and around the squad for ages but they’re hardly battle-hardened mainstays just yet, and that not only opens the door it knocks if off its hinges when it comes to whittling down to eight or nine.
Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater has been quietly instrumental in their title charge but is there a place for him? He hasn’t had a look in yet and if he isn’t in the squad for the upcoming friendly games he almost certainly won’t get one regardless of what he does for the Foxes in the rest of the season. I’d argue he’s having a better year than some who are likely to be called upon and it is interesting to see what risks Hodgson will take. Dele Alli has forced his way in now can any other can do the same? There are a few tempting gambles for Roy out there in the midfield area.
While the midfield might be a conundrum, the striking choices are clearer – but that doesn’t make them any easier. There are calls from some quarters for Wayne Rooney to get the chop but I just cannot see that happening. For one thing, he’s Hodgson’s captain, he’s been capped over 100 times and he’s the all-time record goalscorer, those stats may inflate his current importance a tad but they hold more than enough weight to ensure he’ll be going. Rooney does owe us one and this is probably his last chance. I can envisage him going to Russia in 2018 but I can’t imagine him being viewed as a potentially talismanic figure by that stage if he is in that squad, if anyone still sees that in him now. For me he’s only really had one good tournament and that was his first, Euro 2004, he’s also only scored one World Cup goal in 11 matches. The romantic in me thinks he’ll want to put that right, the other 99.99% of me is preparing for another abject showing.
Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck would normally be automatic calls but there are huge injury doubts over the duo. Welbeck may have scored the winner against Leicester but let’s not get too carried away… those minutes were his first competitively since April and that goal was more about Mesut Ozil’s delivery than a back-to-his-best Welbeck at the top of his game. Sturridge is pure quality but his issues are more concerning, considering he’s come back and then disappeared again during his recovery, and until he’s had a good run of games can’t be counted on just yet.
What about Theo Walcott? Does he go as a forward or is he put in as a midfielder, if he goes at all. I suspect the Arsenal man might go in as a midfielder, which adds to the difficulty in that area for the boss. If Rooney, Welbeck and Sturridge are deemed fit and selected it could lead to a straight call between Spurs man Harry Kane and man-of-the-moment Jamie Vardy.
If it does boil down to this; this is one of Hodgson’s ‘good choices’, but an incredibly tough one. Like being told you can take a free shot and punch either Piers Morgan or Donald Trump full on in the face, but you can’t smack both. I’ve not even mentioned Troy Deeney or Jermain Defoe but can either be completely ruled out? I don’t think so just yet, although I doubt they’ll be heading to France personally.
This is already far too long so I’ll leave it here. With injury issues, and uncapped in-form players making statements Roy Hodgson has got more thinking to do than he’s ever had as we await that final 23 for Euro 2016.
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