Tuesday, September 09, 2014

How do you solve a problem like Hodgson?

So the England national football team beat Switzerland in Basle last night thus recording their first three points in a competitive fixture since the 'Three Lions' overcame Poland in their final 2014 World Cup tournament qualification match back in October 2013.

England have now won back to back fixtures in the space of less than a week - in fact it was their first victories of any description since a couple of over hyped pre-World Cup warm-up wins back in March against Denmark and in May against Peru, both at Wembley.

England lined up against Switzerland with captain Wayne Rooney joined by Danny Welbeck, in attack, with Liverpool's Raheem Sterling behind.
A signpost for the future, Roy Hodgson has surely found a formation - with Arsenal's Jack Wilshere at the base of the diamond and Sterling at its tip.

Despite a nervy first-half and with vital defensive contributions from Gary Cahill and Joe Hart preventing the Swiss from taking the lead, England's bold approach and ability to counter attack at pace paid off. In the end it was a reasonably comfortable win, although a far from convincing performance. There still remain major question marks at the centre of defence, and with the holding midfield role.
Hodgson chose to play a couple of players out of position, a fad commonplace nowadays at club level as well. It will be interesting to see how Roy juggles the personnel next time out when England play San Marino on 9th October.

England have a crop of very talented youngsters at club level, some of whom still need blooding at international level, such as Callum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Ward, Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse, Luke Shaw, Jon Flanagan, Nathaniel Chalobah, Andre Wisdom, Will Hughes and Tom Carroll while the likes of Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Barkley, Townsend and Sterling have already made an impact or are currently injured or coming back from injury.

If Roy has a fully fit squad to choose from it will be a game about formations, systems and giving new players an opportunity to fit into 'Roy's Model' because you can be sure the England management team will not be having sleepless nights worrying about the opposition's footballing ability, more likely nightmares about whether a team made up of accountants, bank clerks, librarians, students, hospital workers and barmen are all able get the day off work!

What I am saying is let's not get carried away and hail a brand new England era, and that this victory will automatically act as a fulcrum for a major turning point in the fortunes of our national team in the next few years. As fans' we have been teased endlessly in the past and as a result we are used to disappointment, so if you expect nothing then anything more is a bonus!

The public know full well that England are simply not good enough to compete with the world's best teams – in terms of technique, tactical nous, nerve and, most damningly, hunger!

Hodgson may have on paper at least been instrumental in the victories over the 'Norewigan Vikings' last Wednesday and in last night's Euro qualifier win against 'The Swizz Cheese Makers.'
Incredibly in beating Switzerland he has has quite literally secured England a place in the Euros 2016 finals to be held in France after only one fixture - in a group of six teams with a further nine qualification games remaining.

The re-structuring of the European Championships, allowing a further eight European teams (almost half of UEFA’s membership) the chance to qualify for the 2016 finals means England are in one of the weakest tournament qualification groups I have ever witnessed in all the years I have followed our national team.
Let me re-iterate that in no way is that the fault of Hodgson, it lies solely at the feet of UEFA.
My worry is how 'Woy' going to get the best out of the England players when they are up against some of the worst teams in world football. San Marino (Current FIFA World ranking 208), Lithuania (103rd), Estonia (93rd) and Slovenia (39th).

Slotted in to prepare England for France in June 2016 are two friendlies against .......no not Germany, Italy, Belguim, France, Netherlands, Argentina or Uruguay, all ranked by FIFA among the top 15 football nations, but against Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, currently ranked 28th and 66th respectively in the world.

Roy Hodgson was incredibly lucky to retain his position as the senior man in charge of England, after a calamitous World Cup campaign in Brazil this summer. 

The managers of Italy, Iran, Côte d'Ivoire, Honduras and Japan all fell on their swords after their teams' failure to enter the tournament’s knockout stages in Brazil in the Summer. Luiz Felipe Scolari quit as manager of Brazil after the host nation tasted their first back-to-back defeats on home soil since 1940 during a humiliating World Cup, as they were beaten 3-0 by Holland in the third place play-off, having lost 7-1 in the semi-final five days earlier to Germany.

It is also interesting to note that the players that won albeit unconvincingly last night, though some may argue the result is all that counts, was not to dissimilar to the squad that 'Woy' paraded in his final warm-up match in May, prior to our worst World Cup campaign since 1958.
Glenn Johnson was the only player to feature against Honduras in Miami and not to be included against Switzerland last night, with the exception of the now retired Gerrard and Lampard, and the injured trio of Sturridge, Barkley and Lallana.
Hart, Baines, Cahill Jagielka, Henderson, Wilshire, Lambert, Rooney and Welbeck all played on 7th June while Milner, Stones and Jones were unused substitutes.
Make of that what you will!

Hodgson did not do a hell of a lot wrong leading up to Brazil and in Brazil itself. He chose a young squad, was bold in his selections, played to his strengths with a positive approach from the start and also managed to keep a feeling of solidarity amongst the players, thus resulting in a happy bunch of campers, something former England boss Fabio Capello failed to do during a major tournament.

Perhaps in the process of defeat and externalizing blame, it is not unsurprising that attention turns to the role of the football manager, as the team leader with ultimate responsibility for their performance. So what do we know about the role of football managers? What is there to gain or lose by making a change of manager and what benefits are there in holding our nerve and sticking with a longer term strategy, even in the face of a disappointing tournament outcome?

Research into leadership theory splits into different views on the role of the leader in organisations in general. Some schools of thought believe that the success of the organisation is less about the leader, whoever that may be, than it is about contextual factors such as the quality of its people, its resources and so on. In the World Cup context, this perspective would suggest that, whoever is in charge of the national team, performance will be more or less what you would expect given the quality of the players at the managers’ disposal.

There are also theories that highlight how different types of leadership approach are required for different situations. This raises the possibility that some styles of leadership may be better suited to succeeding in tournaments such as the World Cup, compared with succeeding as a club manager.

Alternatively, there is “individualistic” leadership thought. This is the belief that a visionary or transformational leader makes the difference. A leader who is passionate, good at spotting talent, skillful at managing and motivating his team, can raise the level of performance. Early individualistic approaches took quite simplistic views that particular characteristics made a difference. Research has largely quashed these ideas, but it is interesting how the vestiges of this debate linger in the belief that someone who is an extrovert and leaps around on the touchline is necessarily a more motivational leader, than a more introverted, considered, strategic leader, who might already be mapping out the next steps for the team.

Of course the reality is that no single style of leader is necessarily the right one and that the teams which the manager leads also comprise individuals who may need different approaches to get the best from them.

There is simply no English manager with the credibility to replace Hodgson!
After being stung by those mercenaries Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson, the FA are determined not to go foreign again.

However you can't see the FA appointing the likes of Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce, Stuart Pearce, Gary Neville, David Moyes or Alan Pardew as Hodgson's replacement, in the hugely unlikely event that they should completely change tact and fire him in the very near future!

What happens following the Euro's in France is a minefield - Hodgson will go either way, whether as a hero or a villan - in a lycra Superman outfit or bound, gagged and dragged off to an uninhabited island with a monster paycheck that he cannot cash, but with plenty of time to reflect on his time at the helm.

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