As Roy Hodgson walked into the conference room after England’s shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Iceland, everyone knew it was over. Delivering a pre-prepared statement, he spoke of his pride at a “fantastic journey” but in truth it has been far from that. One victory across the past two tournaments is a disgraceful record and England fans will not remember Hodgson fondly. So why did the promise that we saw in the build up to the tournament evaporate? Where did Hodgson go wrong? And where does the English national team go from here?
In the aftermath of a World Cup in 2014, one that saw us finish bottom of our group without a win, many England fans were calling for Hodgson’s head. Yet the FA resisted these calls and backed Hodgson, championing continuity and a long-term plan in spite of England’s failings. In the build up to Euro 2016, it appeared that this had been a good decision. England won ten games out of ten during qualification, beating a solid Switzerland side twice and boasting the best qualification record. Despite a defeat to Spain, victories over an out-of-sorts French team and Germany left many feeling that this could be a successful tournament. Young players including Dele Alli and Eric Dier were showing genuine class at international level and were being effectively moulded around an experienced backbone of Joe Hart, Gary Cahill and Wayne Rooney. In spite of a tailing off in quality in the friendlies building up to the tournament and worries of burnout, bookmakers and pundits alike believed that a semi-final was well within the realms of possibility. Yet just one victory and an exit in the first knockout round followed.
There was no plan, no system and no tangible relationships between players.
The blame must be primarily laid at Roy Hodgson’s door. Man for man, England were significantly better than every team they played, yet he made error of judgement followed by error of judgement. In the first game against Russia it became clear he still did not know his best starting XI, starting Wayne Rooney in central midfield for the first time. The decisions on starting XI were poor throughout the tournament; starting the ineffectual Sterling thrice and making six changes in a must win clash against Slovakia. The draw that followed denied us victory in the group and placed us in the half of the draw that included Spain, Germany, Italy and France. The substitutions were also, for the most part, abysmal. Regressive changes cost us a victory against Russia and Hodgson appeared unable to change the game off the bench against either Slovakia or Iceland. To give credit his attacking substitutions worked against Wales, but it took a 93rd minute winner to secure our only victory of the tournament and it was a victory acquired not through tactical genius but through chaos. Indeed, Roy was not only unable to pick his best team, he was unable to get them playing in a cogent unit. There was no plan, no system and no tangible relationships between players. After four years as England manager, there was still no evidence of Hodgson’s imprint on the team or even the groundwork for his style of football.
The players must also be held accountable. Of the nineteen players who represented themselves in France, only Dier and Marcus Rashford can leave with their heads truly held high. Dier was England’s best player, anchoring the midfield effectively and scoring a sumptuous free-kick against Russia whilst Rashford, a man with nothing to lose, looked lively in both his cameos. The negatives, however, were overwhelming. Hart was at fault for goals against Wales and Iceland and his place will be under genuine threat in the new regime. The defence was rarely tested but when it was it was it came undone: Kyle Walker, Danny Rose and Nathaniel Clyne showed promise but the same cannot be said for Smalling, Gary Cahill or Ryan Bertrand. The midfield were similarly disappointing, with Jack Wilshere clearly unfit, Sterling bereft of confidence and the rest largely ineffectual. As for England’s strikers it is difficult to know where to begin. Harry Kane looked a shadow of the man who scored 25 Premier League goals last season and England fans will have nightmares about his set pieces for many years to come. Vardy and Sturridge, who scored a goal apiece, were arguable not given enough of a chance, but hardly shone when on the pitch. As a squad, there appeared to be no spirit or passion. When the going got tough, there was no sign of players stepping up and this above all will be devastating to the fans watching both in France and at home.
So where to we go from here? The two favourites for the job currently are Gareth Southgate and Glenn Hoddle. It’s a depressing state of affairs and both managers would disappoint England fans. Eddie Howe would be my appointment of choice, but whether he would be interested is another matter entirely. The next two years will be about shaping this young England team in the build up to 2018 in Russia but for the moment fans would be forgiven for mourning a humiliating collapse which has provided the cherry on top of the cake in one of the worst weeks in modern English history.