James Lawton: Hodgson's choices are paying off

Manager has got to grips with a team formerly run like a celebrity club


England and the vanquished Swedes performed an extraordinary feat here on Friday night. They made a compelling match of something that most of the time looked as if it had wandered in from another decade, indeed another century.

This was extraordinary, not least for the likely reward of a quarter final against Spain, the exquisite masters of the football of today.

But then if such games are not supposed to happen in the finals of the European Championships, which down the years have given us winners with the natural born sophistication of Andres Iniesta, Zinedine Zidane and Marco van Basten, this one had some extremely impressive redemption.

Theo Walcott re-established himself as a potent contributor and Andy Carroll seized one moment of untouchable power which should always buoy him against the sneers which have besieged him for so long.

Most significant of all, though, is the fact that even while he has been lamenting the absence of England's most talented player, Wayne Rooney, Roy Hodgson has systematically dismantled the idea that he, too, is a man out of place as England manager.

The circumstances of his appointment were atrocious and for many he represented a point of bleak compromise, even a failure of nerve in the wake of Fabio Capello, who arrived with such an awesome reputation for getting the best out of players at the highest level of the game. That was seen as one defeat. For some another was the FA's almost contemptuous refusal to consider the claims of Harry Redknapp after four years of largely brilliant work at Tottenham.

Hodgson's greatest strength, some of us suggested, was that he was a much better fit for an FA blazer than the Cheeky Chappie from the East End. There were no dubious antecedents, just a solid record of professional competence across the football world.

Here Hodgson, who ran such a gauntlet of mockery during his brief reign at Liverpool – he just wasn't big enough for the job, the Kop chorused – provided something rather more substantial and biting. He produced a piece of crisis management which £6m-a-year Capello would have happily borrowed in England's catastrophic appearance in the last World Cup.

First, his reading of the Swedish defence, and the mayhem Carroll might inflict upon it, proved wonderfully astute. There were some gasps when the Liverpool striker emerged at the forefront of team speculation before a game that England had to win after the underwhelming opening draw with France.

Carroll is, of course, not the kind of gamble you can consign to the margins. You can't tell him to feel his way into the action. He is going to come off or crash horribly. In the event, he simply terrified the Swedes with his stupendously powerful conversion of Steven Gerrard's ravaging deep cross.

At 2-1 down, and England performing the starkest impression of a team falling apart, Hodgson gave Walcott half an hour to remind his critics about the best of his game. It was more than enough, and when he first scored, spectacularly, and then burned off the entire left side of the Swedish defence before playing in the winner for Danny Welbeck, Hodgson did another small, celebratory dance.

No-one needed to tell him coming into this tournament that his regime might easily be broken before it began.

There was one imperative behind the loss of men like Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill, the pungent smoke of the Rio Ferdinand affair and the absurdity of having his best player, Wayne Rooney, missing for the first two group games through suspension.

It was to draw everything available from resources that when compared to those of the leading nations would have looked pitiful enough even without the Premier League's latest TV bonanza, a development which can only stoke the cynicism about where the new largesse will go.

The best bet, of course, is even greater investment in foreign players – and development systems – and profits for the agents.

Hodgson, however, is showing the touch of a man unfazed by the sight of a wine glass only half-filled.

Without Rooney, he has gleaned the best out of Welbeck and Carroll, made a winning wager on Walcott's residual power to reinflict his talent, given Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a significant taste of the international football for which he is clearly destined. He has also given Ashley Young the chance to prove a competitive instinct that, unfortunately, has yet to blaze in this tournament.

This isn't some magical transformation of England – certainly not on the evidence of some long and critical phases of the latest game – and the hard view is that they are still pretty much half the length of the Ukraine away from a serious challenge – either here or in anything like the near future.

But then you have to start somewhere, and the where Hodgson has chosen is in the psychology of a team which for so long was run pretty much like a celebrity club. He has accepted the inevitability of Rooney's return, and is welcoming it with some considerable enthusiasm, but it seems reasonable to believe that is not unconditional.

Carroll made a huge impact but he is unlikely to reappear, at least at the start, against Ukraine in Donetsk on Tuesday night. Welbeck will survive for his compatibility with Rooney's game, while Young will return to the shadows following his insipid work against Sweden.

One knock on Hodgson was that he might lack a certain hard edge in dealing with players who have persuaded themselves they are top performers. For the moment all the evidence is refuting that theory. Indeed, he seems to be wielding something rather more intimidating than a whip. It is a sharp understanding of who, all reputations aside, should be doing what – and when.

Somewhere along the road, even Wayne Rooney might be wise to take note.

newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
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?