James Lawton: No easy feat for Hodgson to sort this mess out
You can only be staggered at the scale of the job he faces from a standing start
As Roy Hodgson and the "bantering" Gary Neville conducted their amiable training session in the Manchester sunshine before flying off to Oslo it didn't do a whole lot of good speculating on how much further down the road were the likes of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
More encouraging, surely, to note that among all the England manager's inherited problems exaggerated expectations are not one of them – or at least not until a possible victory over France in the opening game of the European Championship returns them to their traditional bogus status of champions-in-waiting.
Hodgson is bequeathed the ultimate evidence of the national team's long, desperate ride to inconsequence, the failure of the FA to stitch together for a few months some kind of working compromise with their former £6m-a-year employee Fabio Capello.
Hodgson was forced to start his major tournament assignment this week with some basic suggestions on quite how he would like his England to play, which apparently includes a long ball to Andy Carroll, yes, that's right, Andy Carroll, who for the moment at least seems to be England's strongest attack option until Wayne Rooney serves his two-match ban.
Meanwhile, Spain's most popular nobleman, the first Marquis Del Bosque, who spent most of his life as plain Señor Vicente of Salamanca before guiding Spain so patiently to their first World Cup success two summers ago, works on a little fine tuning of one of the most beautiful teams in football history.
This doesn't present itself as the most daunting chore when you remember that Spain, the reigning champions, coasted into the Euro finals with 10 straight qualifying wins and a goal difference of plus-20.
Germany's Joachim Löw will also feel that he is involved in nothing so much as a little superior tickling and primping after his team's imperious march through qualifying, which also left them with 10 wins out of 10 and a goal advantage of 27 – encouraging enough evidence, you might think, that they can step beyond their stunning impact in the last World Cup, when after eviscerating England in Bloemfontein and Argentina in Cape Town they lost to Spain in a semi-final.
The Netherlands didn't do too badly in the qualifiers, racking up a goal advantage of 29 while winning nine games of 10 and if their coach Bert van Marwijk can come up with something better than the grotesque, brutal parody of Dutch football he delivered in the World Cup final, who knows, he too might find himself with serious runners.
Whatever you think of Hodgson's triumph in the two-man race to succeed Capello – and hardly anyone has questioned his solid experience in international football – you can only be staggered at the scale of the job he faces from a standing start.
You look at the Spanish and the Germans and the Dutch – and even the French seemed to have pulled themselves together to some degree under the formidable Laurent Blanc – it is plainly to delve into a more serious culture. There is a battle for cohesion, an understanding of the need to provide continuity and the kind of authority that comes from men like Del Bosque and Löw.
Capello went in a huff after the stripping of John Terry's captaincy but whatever side of the moral issue you chose there could be no denying that the affair had been poorly, even arrogantly handled and that the result is now the most flimsily prepared team ever assembled by England since the glory of the 1966 World Cup win.
However, it isn't to say that Hodgson doesn't have the wit and the essential knowledge to work something approaching the extraordinary in the next few weeks. Who knows, Carroll, so dormant until the last weeks of the season, might indeed come racing to some kind of glory. Greece stunned Europe eight years ago, as did unqualified Denmark in 1992 after stepping into the place of war-ravaged Yugoslavia.
Carroll might like to know, certainly, that 46 years ago in the city of his trial tonight another England striker, admittedly of rather more established potency, made an irresistible claim on Sir Alf Ramsey that he should start the 1966 World Cup. It was Jimmy Greaves, who had languished out of the Spurs and England teams after a bout of viral illness, and he scored goals that were nothing so much as a joined-up statement of the most emphatic will.
It was, Sir Bobby Charlton recalls, one of the most persuasive performances made by a footballer fighting for a place at the top of international football.
Charlton reports, "Jimmy scored four goals in the 6-1 defeat of Norway and each one of them seemed to say something different about his unique scoring ability. It was as though he was saying to Alf, 'Yes, I know I have been out of things, I know the one area of the team you are really worried about is striking, but, really could anyone do it better?"
The latest contender may lack the range of Greaves' armoury – the great man raced half the length of the Oslo pitch for one goal, got up on his toes to head another, and produced a classic rapier thrust for one of the others – but then the memory of some of Carroll's best work could hardly be much fresher.
If Hodgson needs any intimate charting of it, he could speak with Terry, one of the principal victims in Carroll's raw-boned renaissance at the end of a season which had threatened to diminish him from start to finish.
Could it possibly be, Carroll the saviour of England, the striking arm of a team who came from nowhere?
It is a huge reach, no doubt, but then what has Carroll to lose? Or, when you think about it, Roy Hodgson? It is maybe only the chains that come with a job which has to be deemed impossible. Well, almost.
It's a scandal that QPR seem to be stuck with Barton
We are getting the strongest indications that Queen's Park Rangers will find it simply too expensive to tear up the contract of Joey Barton.
One legal word is that getting a red card, as Barton did when he engaged in serial assault at the Etihad Stadium, cannot be deemed a breach of contract because of gross misconduct. A red card, we are told, is one of the hazards of a professional's life.
This leaves QPR owner Tony Fernandes, an extremely rich man, with the option of coughing up £11m – which is what Barton, believe it or not, is due over four years from the club he let down so grievously – for the good name of his club.
On the other hand, he could do what the always combative Bill Shankly always threatened if he thought he had someone on an arguable point of law. "I'm going to hire the most callous lawyer in the world," he would trumpet.
Delight that West Indies have found an old glint in battle
It is no hardship, unless you are Jimmy Anderson producing a couple of sublime deliveries shortly before the climactic moment, celebrating the third Test century of Marlon Samuels at Trent Bridge yesterday.
At 31 the West Indian has long been placed in the category of under-achievement. Yet if it is really true that the team that once dominated world cricket so profoundly are coming back as serious competitors, Samuels can surely claim a place of honour.
His century was far from flawless – as Anderson inevitably pointed out from time to time – but it was a monument to a fighting instinct and had moments of beautiful touch – including an off-drive that was one of the final assaults on his adversary's conviction that there is simply no justice in the world.
The Windies do seem to have found again an old glint in battle. That they should do it against the world's No 1-ranked Test team is for cricket surely the best of news.
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