England receive welcome dose of realism

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England's latest recruit, Gary Neville, has called for England fans to temper expectations this summer.

The England coach wants fans to be realistic about their teams chances - but by and large, fans are already pretty pessimistic about England's chances.

Speaking to reporters, Neville said: "It's now about managing expectations slightly differently and probably being a little bit more realistic about what we are and where we've been.

"It's about showing that humility to say 'Spain are there, France did win World Cups, Brazil are there'. We are trying to get to them rather than thinking we are there already just by qualifying for a tournament."

But, for the first time in a long time, expectations are already low going into a tournament. Semi-finals have been the stated target in the past, but this year that would be considered a bonus. Many wouldn't be surprised in England didn't get out of the groups.

Only a failure to qualify from the group stages would provoke criticism of Hodgson, giving him a free pass this tournament as long as it meets this basic criteria.

Injuries have partly tempered expectations, while the sudden resignation of Fabio Capello has also helped. Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard are already out. Admittedly, Barry did not hold the key to England's success but Lampard's withdrawal is a much bigger blow.

The Chelsea midfielder has enjoyed an excellent season, demonstrating all the attributes that make him a world-class central midfielder, not to mention the resilience to bounce back from a Villas-Boas benching.

Even though his European Championship would likely be restricted to appearances off the bench, England's midfield without question will be poorer for his absence, and that's before you take into account who's replacing him.

Jordan Henderson has endured a patchy season at Liverpool. Grouped together along with Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing, Dalglish's big-money signings have borne the brunt of the abuse from the Kop. But yet all three could feature for England.

It's a strange outcome, but it's not all doom and gloom for England. The Three Lions will still have the fourth youngest squad at the tournament at 27 years old. Only Poland, Denmark and Germany have younger, and with the inclusion of Jordan Henderson, England would drop into third.

Looking back to the 2010 World Cup squad is enough to make you think that maybe England are heading in the right direction. That year Shaun Wright Phillips made the team, as did Aaron Lennon, Joe Cole, Jamie Carragher, Matthew Upson, Ledley King, Stephen Warnock, Emile Heskey and David James.

In their place come Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Theo Walcott, Andy Carroll, Gary Cahill and Jack Butland. 2010 felt like the end of the line, the last chance for a squad on its last legs.

At least, on this occasion, England can look past this tournament and envisage some level of consistency in selection, and maybe even success, in competitions to come.

Of course, some of the old guard remain. Steven Gerrard and John Terry are unlikely to be playing major roles in Brazil - should England qualify, while Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard would have taken their place had they been fit. Any transition involves evolution, not revolution, and England have a good balance between young and old this year.

Looking beyond this squad even, there are young players who were unlucky to miss out. Jack Wilshere and Danny Sturridge will surely play key roles in England's future, while Chris Smalling, Kieran Gibbs and Ryan Bertrand will all be pushing for places in the years to come.

In the past, England supporters have expected their team to compete because 'the Premier League is the best league in the world.' Whether or not that's actually true, the fact remains that English clubs have performed well against European opponents in the Champions League.

Logic follows that these same players should be doing likewise at international level. But clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United adjust their game for European football - they don't play the same way as they do in the Premier League.

United utilise 4-5-1 in difficult fixtures, and are prepared to stick Wayne Rooney - England's one world-class outfield player - on the left wing for the benefit of the team.

In contrast, England play Premier League football, or attempt to, and fail miserably when it comes to organisation and tactics. Hodgson could change this, but it's likely to take time. Neville's welcome dose of realism is encouraging and should mean the manager is given the breathing space to implement a more long-term vision.

Luckily for Hodgson, time, and the country's expectations, should be on his side.

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