Maybe my pessimism was actually realism. I predicted that England wouldn’t get past the group stages whilst everyone else thought we would easily win Group D. But I did think we would do better than picking up just one point. So what went wrong for Roy’s boys in Brazil?
Firstly, our defence looked nervous in every game, something which cannot be the case when you are coming up against top strikers such as Mario Balotelli and Luis Suarez. I still believe that John Terry should have gone to Brazil, but it has to be remembered the Chelsea captain retired from international football, so it was not up to Hodgson to plead with him. The exclusion of Ashley Cole however is a different matter, and the now free agent is one player I believe Roy made the wrong decision. His experience in the defence would have been vital, whilst Leighton Baines was a threat going forward but he turned into a liability defensively. Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are solid centre-backs in the Premier League, but it didn’t seem to quite click for them in Brazil.
As you move up the pitch, further problems arise in the holding midfield role. Steven Gerrard was surprisingly poor in the tournament and was stranded and exposed just in front of the back four – a position he played so well in for Liverpool last season. there were gaps between the holding midfielders and the front four. A 4-3-3 with an extra midfielder, Ross Barkley or Jack Wilshere, would have been more conservative but restored the balance and supported Gerrard better.
The attack on the whole was very good, with Raheem Sterling the one England player who it could be said had a vaguely impressive tournament, whilst it was a relief to see Wayne Rooney score his first World Cup goal, albeit a tap in. The Three Lions on the whole seemed to have one setting, which was all-out attack. If England are to improve in tournament football they will need to fuse the old model of staying cautious at the back with the new one to create a better balance. The system showed no flexibility and Hodgson had no plan B when attack after attack did not work.
So what needs to happen now?
Well firstly, I believe Roy Hodgson needs to go, but that’s for a future blog post.
On the pitch, the right mix of youth and experience needs to be found. The correct blend is yet to be completed, with the defence especially needing a thorough mix-up.
Joe Hart remains England’s undisputed first-choice goalkeeper but he must learn to keep his emotions in check. His fist-pumping and rabble-rousing of England’s fans before kick-off against Uruguay showed someone almost over-hyped and it was reflected in a frenetic performance, particularly early on. Hodgson must also decide on the long-term England futures of Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson and the Everton pair Phil Jagielka and Baines.
With it likely that Steven Gerrard will retire from international football soon, a new captain also needs to be found. The very obvious candidate will be Rooney, who is 28 years old, influential as a player and closing in on Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 England goals.And when he has faced the media in Brazil, Rooney has been mature and is considered a spokesman for the squad. He occasionally bristled at questions about his place in the team but otherwise he has been impressive off the field and one of England’s best performers on it. Joe Hart has also been touted as the other candidate but would it be wise to have him as England captain? He is also a very emotional personality and I think it is better to leave him to concentrate solely on his own game.
So the likes of Hart, Rooney and Gary Cahill provide the experience, meaning faith in youngsters will also be needed in the squad. It is clear Hodgson has inherited a very talented group of young England players. He must develop with them and ensure he is relevant to them. I think it was right he made nine changes against Costa Rica to ensure as many players as possible tasted the World Cup at first hand because Ross Barkley will be central to his plans for Euro 2016, as will Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and John Stones. Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Liverpool pair Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge are also the future.
Here’s how I think England should line-up in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, with Rooney as captain…