The appointment of Roy Hodgson as manager of the England squad was supposed to be a statement, a blessing for a country in dire need of help. The Football Association (FA) thought they were being clever by allowing all the “Redknapp to England” rumors fly loose until they found their actual man. Then the dreaded moment came: Hodgson’s appointment became reality. The ‘magic’ of Harry Redknapp would not be helping England overcome their blatantly dismal displays since … ever.
I was optimistic though. Good ‘ole Harry has absolutely no experience at an international level, despite the fantastic turnaround at Tottenham whereas the grandfatherly-like figure of Hodgson has steered national teams into tournaments they would dream of performing in. Perhaps that’s why he was chosen. After all, England’s pathetic campaign in South Africa was so bad that the then manager, Fabio Capello, jumped at the chance of terminating his contract.
Before the announcement of the 23-man squad traveling to Euro 2012, my mind was racing. I actually believed Hodgson would ditch those so called “Golden Age” players for the future of the country but how wrong I was. I’ve had to live with it and interpret what his next “great plan” would be. More importantly though, how would England lineup against an imposing French side?
The friendlies against Norway and Belgium were far from impressive. Hodgson’s preferred lineup seemed to be Joe Hart as keeper, a back four of Glen Johnson-Gary Cahill-John Terry-Ashley Cole, another four of James Milner-Scott Parker-Steven Gerrard-Stewart Downing in the middle and Ashley Young tucked behind the lone forward, Danny Welbeck. One would look at this sheet and see a star-studded lineup. Another would see a team who are lacking pace and would struggle to pressurize the opposition. That’s where I come in.
Hart’s inclusion is unquestionable. His goalkeeping duties are phenomenal and he is no doubt one of the best the planet has to offer, besides Iker Casillas and Manuel Neuer.
However, the defense needs a little tweaking. The players may have the much-needed experience but honestly, they are just too slow. How on earth are they going to cope with the finesse of France that is arguably playing some of its best football in a long time? The enigmatic Karim Benzema and the superfast Frank Ribery will cause nightmares, especially to right back Johnson. I would automatically swap him for Kyle Walker, the most promising right back in global football…but he’s injured. Hodgson’s backup is Martin Kelly of Liverpool. Although lacking experience-wise, his performances for club have been admirable. I could go as far to say that they’ve been far superior to his teammate Johnson, who also plays for the Merseyside outfit.
I realize Kelly’s maturity but selecting Johnson (who has lackluster performances under his belt) and ultimately catching attention for the wrong reasons is bewildering. Let’s hope Kelly plays against France or is allowed to showcase his promise in the remaining group games, instead of his counterpart.
As for center back, who will replace the injured Cahill to partner Terry? My choice would be Phil Jones, again another youngster, instead of the experienced Joleon Lescott, who looks set to play in the position. Jones compromises Terry’s slow nature and, alongside Kelly, would add much-needed depth in terms of pace. They would also be able to keep up with the typically fast-natured French players and keep them at bay. The same cannot be said for Hodgson’s original back four; the French wreaking havoc and ultimately winning.
Terry and left back Cole are invaluable as there are no other options to replace such experienced and tactically-clever players. Kelly and Jones are the newcomers.
The midfield also has slight problems. It’s again too slow and will be torn apart with the quick passing style that the French have come to terms with. I do think a Parker-Gerrard combination is great though. Parker’s never-say-die attitude and his infinite engine united with the utter class pass ranging of Gerrard should work efficiently. But where’s the offensive side of it?
So far, the team consists of Milner and Downing on the flanks yet none have done particularly well at club level. The latter hasn’t even scored or assisted at his time at Liverpool (cringe … another Scouser in the team) so what’s to say he’ll do it internationally? This is where Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain arrive. They are made to play in that position unlike Milner, who has recently been converted to a central midfielder. The presence of Walcott and “The Ox” will add the important attack factor to allow a potent England attack.
Parker and captain Gerrard continue their roles as well as Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain debuting.
Referring to the playmaker role behind the striker, Wayne Rooney would be an instant no-brainer but because of his suspension, Young fills the void. Ever since his debut in the position, he has claimed it as his own by creating goals or scoring them. Young is quite possibly England’s key man, so if he doesn’t perform then the entire team doesn’t tick.
However, the forward role is something which has troubled England for some time now. It’s either Rooney or someone inept at filling in for him. Nevertheless, ever since his breakout last season, Welbeck has performed incredibly. Alongside his Manchester United teammate, Young, he plays even better. For this reason, Welbeck should be the first choice. He’s tall and full of strength - so he can be utilized as a big center forward – and this can enhance England’s ‘long ball passing’ style.
Young remains the playmaker and Welbeck the first choice forward ahead of Andy Carroll.
It’s time Hodgson relies on a mix of youth and experience combined with an attacking-mindset and pace. These are the factors that have been lacking in the past matches, hence the measly 1-0 victories. Therefore, I’ve come up with this team but still keep Hodgson’s preferred formation of 4-4-1-1.
Hart would start in goal, with a back four of Kelly-Jones-Terry-Cole supporting him. A more offensive line of Walcott-Parker-Gerrard-Oxlade-Chamberlain would follow and Young would support Welbeck.
(The writer is an intern at Al Arabiya and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)