Little more than a month has passed since Roy Hodgson was somewhat surprisingly named as Fabio Capello’s successor as England manager ahead of Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp.
He leads the Three Lions into Euro 2012 with few giving them any chance of making it out of their group, let alone progressing to the final.
So with England due to land in Poland this afternoon and their first game of the tournament on the horizon, GMF takes a look back at how Hodgson has done in his short time between being named England boss and taking his team to Poland and Ukraine.
First things first, how did he deal with the attention of becoming England manager?
Considering he wasn’t the man that the media nor the supporters wanted, Hodgson did pretty well -although given the low levels of expectation surrounding England he didn’t have to do much.
The former Fulham man defended himself well when asked about his time in apartheid-torn South Africa – his first indication of the beast he now faces for the next three years. He even had a nation unite behind him when the Sun ran with a headline mocking his speech impediment.
So all is well off the pitch then?
Yes, and Hodgson earned rave reviews for his choice of coaches. Ray Lewington, his right hand man at Fulham, was the first on board to the delight of those in the know, while Sky pundit Gary Neville was also named as part of Hodgson’s team to provide a link between the players and management.
Respected goalkeeping coach Dave Watson was also appointed to Hodgson’s team, bringing with him a reputation for getting the best out of those between the sticks.
And, on the pitch?
Well, on face value two victories over teams selected to replicate the challenges England face at the Euros, something Hodgson was keen to point out, bodes well, but to watch the performance of England in both games will hardly inspire confidence.
A fine goal from Ashley Young aside, England were flat against Norway. Against Belgium, a talented team but one which hasn’t qualified for a major tournament since 2002, they were dominated at times, and in front of a presumably embarrassed Wembley crowd. A fine Danny Welbeck effort spared their blushes however, meaning England’s last five wins have all been via a 1-0 scoreline. Hodgson himself admitted England needed to 'get between the lines' more often to create chances.
So England have their house in order ahead of Euro 2012 then?
Almost, but the omission of Rio Ferdinand simply won’t go away. While Hodgson is somewhat unfairly facing criticism for leaving out Michael Carrick and Micah Richards despite the fact both men said they didn’t want to be bit-part players and ruled themselves out, Ferdinand’s absence will be a major talking point when the boss speaks to the media on Thursday.
When announcing his 23-man squad for Euro 2012, Hodgson made great play of leaving Ferdinand out for ‘football reasons’, saying it was nothing to do with the fact John Terry, who had been selected, will soon stand trial for racially abusing his brother, Anton.
That was generally accepted until Gary Cahill was injured against Belgium, prompting Hodgson to call up….Liverpool’s second-choice full-back Martin Kelly.
Hodgson was frustrated with the constant questioning about Ferdinand when he named his squad and hit back when one question too many was asked regarding the Manchester United centre-back.
Aside from Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion, was his squad as expected?
Essentially yes, although the facts about Michael Carrick’s absence only became clear later on, leading to much derision at Jordan Henderson’s inclusion on the stand-by list.
Some made a case for Adam Johnson to be included ahead of Stewart Downing, who came to represent the very worst of Liverpool’s failings last season, while Peter Crouch can claim to be hard done by after being left out while Andy Carroll, another Liverpool player to have endured a poor season, was included.
The inclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went some way to appeasing the crowd, however.
But fringe players aside, England’s core is as it should be?
No, not anymore, injury means England will be significantly weakened. Kyle Walker, Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill, Gareth Barry, Jack Wilshere will all miss out while Danny Welbeck and Scott Parker continue to struggle with injury. Darren Bent missed most of the season through injury and would have likely made it on to the plane as well had he been playing regularly. Wayne Rooney's supsension hardly helps.
Right, so against the attacking flair of France they stand little chance?
Essentially yes, but there is still some hope they can walk away with something.
France are unbeaten in 21 games, beat Estonia 4-0 last night and boast a wealth of attacking talents, but they are vulnerable defensively – their 3-2 win over Iceland exposed that.
The injury to key man Yann M’vila means they are struggling for a holding midfield player, with Arsenal centre-back Laurent Koscielny forced to play there against Estonia.
In England’s warm-ups they have looked limited going forward but solid at the back, and they’ll look to repeat that against Les Blues. Think of Chelsea’s Champions League charge and you have the right idea.
On the eve of his first competitive game as England manager, how has Hodgson done so far and what are his prospects at the Euros?
He has done well, but the doubts about the real reasons behind Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion has exposed cracks in his veneer and given rise to doubts that he isn’t telling the whole truth. The last thing he needs at the moment is the fans and media turning on him on the eve of a tournament.
Action on the pitch has meant he has kept the wolf from the door as much as he can, and low expectations mean he has an element of freedom to work with.
However he is soon to get a taste of managing England at an international tournament and soon all that has gone before will be forgotten, and talk will turn to past triumphs for underdogs Denmark and Greece.
Few expect miracles but most want England to at least play with some pride and verve – they will get the first but not the second.
The damage that can be done at Euro 2012 is limited given the brief time he has been in charge but he can give England some momentum going forward looking ahead to the 2014 World Cup. It is an interesting position few England managers have been in before and it will be fascinating to see how he plays it in the coming weeks.
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