It's revolution time – but where are the new young recruits?
Manager talks of bringing in new faces for start of 2014 World Cup qualifying but talent is not in plentiful supply, writes Sam Wallace
Tuesday 26 June 2012
Roy Hodgson was talking about a revolution yesterday. England managers always do in the aftermath of elimination, when the nation demands a new-look team. Or, failing that, the faintest evidence that change is coming.
It was the same with Fabio Capello in South Africa two years ago when, asked what changes he might make after the disappointment of the World Cup, he suggested, to an incredulous press pack, Bobby Zamora and Owen Hargreaves. Hodgson, one hopes, can be more imaginative although he did warn that the "revolution" as such will involve August's friendly against Italy in Berne. Come the first 2014 World Cup qualifier, in Moldova on 7 September, he may have to be more circumspect.
For that game he will, he said, have to "mix the two together", meaning the old and the new. For now there is no suggestion that England are facing a series of international retirements. Steven Gerrard signalled his desire to carry on yesterday and Hodgson said John Terry, pictured, and Ashley Cole had made no indication they were preparing to quit.
It was once believed that the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 would hasten the end of the international careers of some of this group of players but then, as now, there was no great wave of youngsters to come in.
Of course, Jack Wilshere would be in the side were he fit and he was mentioned by Hodgson. But he also mentioned Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard. Chris Smalling and Kyle Walker, two injured young 'uns, were mentioned. Daniel Sturridge and Adam Johnson were on stand-by and in contention.
But, as ever, they will have to prove themselves more valuable than the old guard and with a number of them struggling to hold down a regular club spot that is unlikely.
There is no reason that more young players will not come through before Brazil 2014. Young talent does not obey the international calendar. Wayne Rooney had not made his professional debut by the time of the 2002 World Cup but he was England's best player at Euro 2004. Wilshere was an England regular by last summer although it was debatable whether Capello had heard of him 12 months earlier. As for a new Rooney or Wilshere, Hodgson confessed to rather more moderate ambition.
"I'm rather hoping one or two players will knock so hard on my door that they prove to be the right ones," he said. "We saw Germany in 2006. They went into that tournament with a new coach and a lot of new young players we didn't know much about and older ones who had failed in previous tournaments. We have seen how well they have kicked on since. We have to take heart from that. I would like to think there is reason for optimism. We have some very good young players coming through, who are doing quite well at Under-21 level."
The fact that Germany were blessed with good young players does not seem to correlate directly with England's situation, especially given that the Germans took very specific steps to effect change.
"What can you do except work, really?" Hodgson said. "What can you do except build on any good qualities you have in the team and then try to help the team get better at some of the areas where it's not quite so good? We haven't made excuses at this tournament and I'm not going to start making excuses now. But there were quite a few players left at home who were very good technical footballers who may actually have helped us out had they been here."
The obvious area for improvement is possession, a problem in Kiev. Statistics provided by Uefa showed 64 per cent possession for Italy, who completed more than twice as many passes. The top England passer, with 45, was Joe Hart. Andrea Pirlo completed 117 – more than Glen Johnson, Cole and Gerrard combined.
"I don't regard possession statistics as particularly important," Hodgson said. "But if you are saying, 'Could we have kept the ball better at times and could we have made more use of the good situations we got into?' I would have to agree. The players realise that too. That is an area where we need to keep working and improving."
As Hodgson talked, at the FA media centre in Krakow, a digital realisation of the FA's St George's Park football centre, due to open in two months' time, ran on a television screen in the background. There is no time to wait for that place to deliver. Hodgson needs a team, and one that can pass to one another, in time for 2014.
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