England vs Switzerland, Euro 2016 qualifier preview: Roy Hodgson sets learning curve for 'young team'

England manager wants inexperienced side to grow up in public before Euros

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The Independent Football

It is a year to the day that England faced Switzerland in Basel when, it would be no exaggeration to say, Roy Hodgson’s future was on the line. The failure in Brazil was fresh in the memory, the Euro 2016 qualifiers began with the trickiest game of the group and just about every Football Association official who had been party to his appointment had either left or was on their way out.

There was no explicit agenda at the FA then to see Hodgson out of the door little more than two years before his contract was due to expire but then this is an organisation that is known for its tendency to bend to the public mood. Hodgson needed a result and he needed it in the country he had led to the World Cup 20 years previously. It was then that those close to him say that he defied his reputation as a  conservative coach.

Hodgson picked a diamond formation with Raheem Sterling at the tip, Jack Wilshere at the base and surprised the Swiss. He took a gamble on Fabian Delph and gave him his international debut. He picked John Stones at right-back and insisted that his team hunt down the Swiss with a high-tempo, high-pressure game with the new season barely having begun and it worked perfectly.

The two goals from Danny Welbeck, whose aggression and hard-running typified that England performance, earned a victory Hodgson and his staff celebrated like it was a tournament win. While there can be a mood in the country that qualification often masks England’s fundamental vulnerabilities, there is no denying that a year on, with Switzerland the visitors to Wembley, Hodgson has not looked back from Basel.

 

By Christmas he had four wins out of four in qualifying and was able to embark on holiday knowing that the job was as good as done. One year on and he has qualified already for Euro 2016 while the likes of the Netherlands and Russia, who sacked his predecessor Fabio Capello, can have no such guarantees. Now at Wembley, Hodgson will be able to shake the hands of the Swiss Federation members, whose appreciation for him is unwavering, and enjoy the moment.

“We’re a young team, a relatively inexperienced team,” he said at the team’s Hertfordshire hotel. “There’s no short cut. No amount of words or coaching sessions will compensate for getting the experience. Do I want to be optimistic and believe in these players, and think they can improve more and be a bigger threat than they are at the moment? Or do I want to see potential negatives like a lack of experience? I would like to think that the exceptional technical and physical abilities these players have compensate for a lack of experience.”

You can tell Hodgson still carries the burden of England’s misadventure in Brazil. He qualifies his optimism more than he did before the summer of 2014. He even refused to specify what he will ask of the Premier League clubs to help his players to prepare this summer, although the likelihood is that it will concern the post-season tours that are now becoming the norm. Those discussions will begin after the draw for Euro 2016 on 12 December.

During Euro 2016 England will stay, the FA has confirmed, at the Hotel Auberge du Jeu de Paume in Picardy, north of Paris, and train at the Stade des Bourgognes, home of the amateur side Chantilly. As ever a new pitch will have to be laid and no expense will be spared, despite the £30m cuts at the FA driven by chairman Greg Dyke that will cost 100 jobs at the organisation.

The FA hopes that Chantilly will not become synonymous with failure in the same way that innocuous towns such as Baden-Baden, Bafokeng and Urca have become over the years – simply for hosting the England squad at a major tournament. Beyond Switzerland this evening and the two remaining qualifiers against Estonia and Lithuania next month, the real tests wait, with France and Spain in the two November friendlies, the latter to be played in Alicante.

Wayne Rooney, whose 50th goal for England may yet come tonight, spoke yesterday for the first time in a while about his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson, whose attitude towards his former player seems to have softened. “I don’t know if anyone knows [the truth about] how things ended [between us],” Rooney said. “I still see Sir Alex quite a bit at games, and he travels away to European games with us. We had differences [of opinion]. That’s normal.

“Ask Roy: he’s had differences with other players. That’s part of football. I’m not the only person who had differences with Sir Alex Ferguson, but I can still sit here and say he was the greatest manager of all time. It’s not that we don’t like each other. We just had differences. That’s normal.”

As for the game, Hodgson is without Michael Carrick, who has a calf injury that first developed in the warm-up before the San Marino match and is now back at Manchester United. Otherwise, Hodgson can afford to enjoy the mood at Wembley, although he knows better than most how quickly things can change.

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