World Cup Qualifying: Roy Hodgson's problem is that England are stuck between the golden generation and the new

Manager still turning to the same old faces while he waits for next generation to mature 

While the England players boarded a Football Association flight home in the early hours of yesterday, or the private jets provided by their clubs, the journey back for their Montenegrin opposition was a little different.

Many of the side who drew 1-1 with England on Tuesday night checked in at Podgorica airport yesterday alongside English fans on the way home, with neither group giving the appearance of having slept much the previous night.

The Montenegro captain, Mirko Vucinic, wearing rock-star sunglasses was having a coffee and chatting to Dejan Damjanovic, the goalscorer from the night before. Vucinic was on his way back to Turin but Damjanovic plays for FC Seoul and there are no direct flights to Korea from tiny Podgorica International. Simon Vukcevic, the former Blackburn midfielder, was with his partner and their daughter in economy on my connecting flight to Vienna.

It was a sharp reminder that Montenegro, England’s opponents in the last two qualification campaigns, is a country of modest means. It has a population of just 630,000 and a sprinkling of good-quality players who have spread far across the globe, to clubs of varying quality. The former Yugoslav republic, which only joined Fifa in 2007, now occupies a part of English football history. It is the only nation England have played more than twice and never beaten.

There is a vibrancy and a determination about this young country’s football team. They make the most of what they have and they do not expect the five-star treatment. Compare that with the FA’s insistence that Theo Walcott be accompanied by an official on a commercial flight home from Italy at the weekend, as if he was incapable of doing it himself.

Roy Hodgson’s team are not out of the hunt for World Cup qualification yet but, after six games, they have hardly got going. Three wins against the group’s two weakest sides, San Marino (twice) and Moldova, and three draws with Ukraine, Poland and now Montenegro. They are yet to suffer the defeat that would really spell disaster but it is hard to escape the feeling that they are sleepwalking, with the hope that at some point their luck will change.

As for Hodgson himself, he refuses to panic. Like a government minister trying to instil confidence in the markets, he realises that fear itself is one of the biggest dangers facing England. Confidence will play a key role in these final four qualifiers, three of which are at Wembley. If the home crowd becomes restless, the players will get skittish and then, as in the doomed Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, one could imagine England self-destructing.

“You were telling me [on Monday], that if we were to lose this game that we’d give ourselves a mountain to climb,” Hodgson said. “As it is we’ve got an important four to five weeks around the middle of September to middle of October, three matches at home and one difficult one away in the Ukraine so by at least not losing [against Montenegro] we keep it in our hands. We give ourselves a chance.”

But “a chance” is not what the other big European| nations have given themselves in 2014 World Cup qualification. Germany and the Netherlands are a racing certainty to be in Brazil next summer while Italy, Spain and Russia are all top of their respective groups.

Even when Hodgson took over in difficult circumstances last May, you felt that he was inheriting an England team caught between two epochs. One that still relied to a large extent on Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney and, back then, John Terry, while it waited for the next generation to establish themselves. It showed on Tuesday night when Gerrard had one of his poorer games, to the extent that you wondered whether Frank Lampard might have been a better option.

Yet Lampard, 35 in June, is hardly the long-term answer. Once again, the thought presented itself that Hodgson might have been better off sticking with Leighton Baines than switching to Cole. England are turning to the same old faces, but those faces are not what they once were.

As for the new guard, it could be politely said that they are taking their time. Danny Welbeck was excellent in England’s first half on Tuesday night but his goalscoring return – two in 34 games for Manchester United this season, five in 16 for England – is a concern. Jack Wilshere is the vanguard of the new generation but injury means he has played in only three of England’s last 22 games.

Hodgson has tried to bring through these new players and he will hope that his faith in the likes of Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling will be rewarded. Certainly, at some point England had to be weaned off their reliance on the older generation and there is a good chance that those two will one day establish themselves as England internationals. But Hodgson’s reckoning is coming in those four qualifiers, starting with Moldova at Wembley on 6 September, then Ukraine (away) and Montenegro and Poland at Wembley.

Sven Goran Eriksson got the so-called golden generation in their prime, when they were capable of results like the 5-1 victory in Munich more than 11 years ago, and he benefited from the early blooming of Rooney. Fabio Capello was around for the late flowering of those players, with Steve McClaren’s injury-jinxed regime caught unhappily in the middle. What exactly does Hodgson have left?

He persuaded Gerrard not to retire after Euro 2012 to be his captain. He lost Terry, who would have been useful on Tuesday night, to a mess not of the manager’s own making. This summer, an Under-21 team full of promise, including the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilfried Zaha and Raheem Sterling, will play the European Championship in Israel. Should they prosper there, could Hodgson risk some of them in the autumn qualifiers?

England’s future is not as gloomy as some portray. There are some in that Under-21s side who will have good international careers, if not as many as the talent factories of Spain and Germany produce. But will they come of age soon enough for Hodgson, for whom the imperative of World Cup qualification is not a question of years down the road? Rather it arrives in six months’ time, which in football terms is no time at all.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?