Switzerland vs England comment: Don't blame Roy Hodgson – it's about the players, and always was

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The Independent Online

So it’s all Roy Hodgson’s fault. He is a limited, outdated old fart out of touch with modern mores and unsuited to the demands of coaching the major power that is England on the international stage. And now he doesn’t know how to behave. He swears. He’s got to go. Ye gods.

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Where have all these dissenters been? Have they not checked the win column lately? The last and only time England won anything was in our own house almost half a century ago. And even by then the cat was out of the bag that the mother country might no longer be the agenda-setters in the global arena.

The glorious Golden Team of 1950s Hungary administered the wet-fish-across-the-chops treatment more than a decade earlier, alerting our generals that there was more than one way to play this game. Monumental thumpings home and away rudely disabused the nation of any lingering hauteur.

You could argue that the World Cup triumph in 1966 was the last, defiant act of empire, after which the world raced by, redrawing the football map along radically different lines.

Yes, England were disappointing in Brazil, but no more so than they were in South Africa four years before. There, you might recall, the team was led by the über coach, the best technical brains money could buy – and at £6.5m a year Fabio Capello’s intelligence did not come cheap.

Capello identified what he saw as a confidence deficit. The white shirt weighed heavily, he said, and this was a problem. Good spot, Fabio. He was right but was no nearer his predecessors to solving the riddle of malfunction.

 

We know about the structural problems afflicting the game in England, how the influx of foreigners on the back of an absurdly successful Premier League has stifled domestic opportunity for young English lads. We also see, on a weekly basis, young Englishmen with talent doing extraordinary things.

Tell me Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley are leaden-footed plodders who can’t play. At Under-17 this country has produced the best team in Europe – champions, no less.

Hodgson has not been slow to recognise talent. He has blooded Sterling, Barkley, Lallana, Luke Shaw, made Sturridge his first-choice striker, given a shot to Jay Rodriguez and most recently Fabian Delph, who looked half-way decent, by the way.

For a spell in the World Cup against Italy Hodgson’s team resembled for the first time in recent memory a Premier League outfit giving it a go on a Saturday afternoon. On the previous occasion they met the same foe, two years earlier in the European Championship, England had shaped like rugby players who had happened across the wrong field by mistake. They were playing a different game.

The Norway match wasn’t great. England might not set Basel on fire tonight, but that is not yet the fault of Hodgson.

On Friday he stopped a training session to lambast his players. He wanted greater intensity. He wanted more pace on the ball. And he wanted the players to see this for themselves, to think on their feet, to work it out.

He was right. The players come to him not as apprentices but as professional footballers. They don’t need instruction on how to trap a ball or hit a pass, shoot, tackle etc. Hodgson’s job is not to tell them how as much as to make them believe they can.

He knows what has gone before is not good enough. He doesn’t like it any more than we do. And if he has missed anybody out in the selection process, give him a ring. He’d love to know.

The old hands are disappearing from the scene. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole gone the way of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, all on Hodgson’s watch.

We have been in this torpor long enough to know it is not about the coach but those on the pitch. It is time they showed us that playing for England still means something. They tell us it does. OK, prove it, or it might just be time to accept the age of the England national team is over.

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