Could St George’s Hold Key to Future Success?

Bringing success to England’s national football team has long proved to be an almost impossible task. Many managers have tried and failed to replicate England’s finest moment when Sir Alf Ramsey guided them to their first, and only, World Cup in 1966.

Trying to discover the winning formula now lies with Roy Hodgson.  Undoubtedly a proud Englishman, Hodgson cannot be accused of taking the job for his own financial gain (although, the multi million salary must have made signing the contract that little bit easier), which is an allegation that has been thrown at many of his predecessors.

After being thrown in at the deep end just a month before Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, Hodgson made a mixed start to life in the hot-seat. There were certainly positive signs, such as the attacking threat shown against the Swedes in Kiev, but even the most avid Englishman would struggle to argue that the Three Lions were comprehensively outclassed by the Italians in their latest quarter final defeat.

So where does Hodgson and the nation go from here? The opening of the new National Football Centre could hold some of the answers.

Anyone that has watched England play over the years will know that the English are technically inferior to the majority of their opponents. With rare exceptions in the shape of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and the like, England do not currently produce players of the same technical ability as their counterparts on the international stage.

But the problem stems from the very top. Other European nations have invested heavily in coaching, with Italy, Spain and Germany all possess over 20,000 coaches who hold either a UEFA B, A or Pro Badge. England has just under 3000. This just shows the ground that the English have to make up to be competitive once again.

St George’s Park offers a ray of hope. Here, Coaches from all over the country will come to learn their trade and set England on their road to recovery.

Football betting experts will know that England have a long way to go, and it could take many years before they are challenging for honours once again, but at least this project shows that the FA are prepared to invest in the future of the game in this country. Many will hope it’s not too late

John Terry: A Career

If you’re reading this expecting some kind of eulogy, then I’m afraid you need to look elsewhere. In purely footballing terms, Terry will be remembered as one of the better central defenders who played for England, but I’d put him on a par with Dave Watson (13 fewer caps and two fewer goals when England were really terrible) rather than Bobby Moore.

However, Terry will not be remembered in purely footballing terms. Just after the 911 terrorist attacks, Terry – along with four other Chelsea players – was fined for harrassing American tourists whilst he was drunk. Just under a year later was charged with assault and affray outside a nightclub and was given a temporary ban from appearing for England by the FA but was cleared after a court case.

Since then, he’s been fined for parking his Bentley in a disabled bay, allegedly had an affair with Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend (at which point Capello took the England captaincy away from him) and was in court once again this summer following the ‘incident’ with Anton Ferdinand at Loftus Road last October.

So if anyone’s made his position ‘untenable’ it’s hardly been the FA has it? My personal opinion is that Terry is the embodiment of pretty much everything that’s wrong with the elite group of contemporary English footballers: arrogant, overpaid, having no moral compass, seemingly incapable of expressing genuine regret or remorse for any of their actions and – following his laughable display at the end of last season’s Champion’s League final – a bit of an all round dick.

I’ve no doubt he’ll be lauded elsewhere, but I’m actually quite glad he’s decided to retire from the England team. In a couple of decades time he’ll be one of those balding, overweight has beens that Sky Sports dust off to tell us about their ‘glory days’: at first you won’t recognise him…but then it’ll slowly dawn on you…is that John Terry?

Ukraine Almost Pull Off A Shock Win

Let’s not kid ourselves, that wasn’t anywhere near as good a performance as was expected

It’s all very well having low expectations, but I think it’s fair to say we were lucky to get away with a point last night. With other results going against us, England are now in second place in Group H on goal difference and it could have been worse. Without wanting to sound too alarmist, this group may come down to who scores the most goals against San Marino, in which case we may be lucky it’s our turn to play them next.

Of course, you could also argue that if Steven Gerrard had to be suspended for one game after picking up a stupid red card, San Marino would be the one most people would pick. As a kid in the early seventies I remember an FA crackdown on ‘the tackle from behind’ and although that would have been a decade or so before Gerrard was born, I’m a little bit surprised that he doesn’t know those tackles are illegal. As for Danny Welbeck’s attempt to win a penalty, that proved a couple of things: my eyesight is better than Andy Townsend’s and that Welbeck and Ashley Young have obviously been exchanging notes about diving in the penalty box.

It’ll be fascinating to see how Roy Hogdson reacts to the subtle change of circumstances. Four of the starting XI last night are over 30 and with neither of the youngest players looking particularly impressive last night it’s time to dust off the clichés about this team being ‘in transition’ or ‘a work in progress’…but you have to wonder if the current team will be anywhere near the finished article in two years time or whether some of the new faces will still be in contention if England qualify for the World Cup.

England have two further rolls of the dice before the end of the year, although you’d be hard pressed to find any value backing us to win the group or finish in the top two – you’d be better off taking a look at casino odds if you fancy a flutter – but England’s price to win the World Cup in Brazil began to drift after last night’s game finished. Not surprisingly, Brazil remain favourites.

Another England Win On The Cards?

After Friday’s stroll over Moldova, it’s Ukraine again tonight for the second time in less than three months. Since May 2000 they’ve played here three times and lost all of those games, scoring only one goal (Andriy Shevchenko’s equaliser in the 2-1 World Cup qualifier win in April 2009) so Roy and the team will be looking to pick up another three points in their quest to reach Brazil in less than two years time.  With Montenegro and Poland having drawn 2-2 on Friday (the Poles took the lead in Podgorica but fell behind at half time: they equalised just before the hour), after one game England are already two points clear at the top of Group H.

Another England win would be very useful indeed – I can’t see Poland losing to Moldova and Montenegro shouldn’t have any problems in San Marino this evening – as an early lead in the group before going into a home game with one of the weakest sides in Europe next month would be an ideal position before arguably the toughest game in the group.

Ukraine’s away over the last year hasn’t been particularly impressive: they’ve beaten Estonia and Israel but lost their other four road trips and seem to be having goalscoring issues, especially now that Shevchenko has retired and chosen to take up a career in the minefield that is Ukrainian politics. One goal in their last five games isn’t particularly inspiring and the two recognised strikers in the current squad have scored a grand total of three times in 27 combined appearances – although Marko Devic would have had another if it hadn’t been for the incompetence of the fourth official back in June. Unusually these days, almost all of the Ukraine team play at home: only reserve goalkeeper Andriy Dikan and captain Anatoliy Timoshchuk play abroad, although only Timoshchuk plays in what we used to call ‘Western Europe’.

We’re missing a few players for tonight’s match: Ashley Cole and John Terry are injured while Theo Walcott has been ‘violently ill’ after picking up a bug…I doubt if it’s the Stella Flu though. Raheem Stirling of Liverpool, Spurs’ Jake Livermore and Adam Lallana of Southampton have been called up but I’d be amazed if any of them got off the bench tonight. I must admit I like the way that Hodgson is not afraid to draft in younger players: even if it’s just for the experience, it shows them that they could be a part of the England setup if they continue to make progress with their clubs. The problem for Southampton is that international recognition for Lallana probably means he’ll be leaving them at some point, but as long as he doesn’t end up at Liverpool he could have a promising international career.

It’s an 8:00pm kick off this evening, although if you’re a masochist Clive Tyldesley and all his chums will be on air on ITV1 at 7:30pm – so that looks like a good time to go to the chip shop to me. Battered sausage for me please.

The Long Road to Rio starts with Moldova

It begins tonight. The road to Rio and a chance for Roy Hodgson to begin his long term England plan, starting with Moldova in front of what is more than likely to be a hostile crowd in the Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau.

The pitch hasn’t impressed the backroom staff or players and Ion Caras’s side are likely to put up a stubborn defense, but there can’t be any excuses if England don’t grab three points tonight.

And so to the team. No Rooney, of course. Ashley Cole, Andy Carroll and Adam Johnson are also injured. Johnson injuring himself during training and will now be watching the game on TV or playing european roulette. Cole hopes to be fit for Tuesday’s qualifier against the Ukraine and Carroll is out for at least six weeks with a ham string injury.

Leighton Baines is set to start for the first time in a competitive game. Hodgson is well covered for wide players with James Milner, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck can also play wide. Senior players Terry, Lampard, Carrick and Gerrard also figure in the England set-up.

The question is this; will failing to cull older players and allowing a younger team to gel at the beginning of the campaign turn out to be a mistake? Experience over youth, youth over experience – the ole’ chestnut.


A Look At ‘New’ England

Guest blogger Lee Clarke runs the rule over Wednesday night’s friendly victory over an experimental Italian side.

England 2 Italy 1 – If only this was a result from a certain major tournament two months ago.

The Three Lions defeat to The Azzuri in Kiev back in June was still fresh in the memory as England took to the pitch to face the team that had caused national heartbreak only 52 days ago.

Even if you are more interested in Premier League betting, you would have noticed that the two sides looked completely different from the Euro 2012 quarter-final in which England were denied a last four berth thanks to a penalty shootout.

Roy Hodgson handed debuts to no fewer than five players in Berne, with the stand out performance of the debutants being second half substitute John Ruddy. The Norwich custodian looked like a 50 cap player when he took to the stage for the second half.

What was really refreshing about Wednesday night’s game was that Hodgson was not afraid to try youth. Albeit mixed with some experience, but we can cope with that.

Jack Butland began in goal becoming the youngest goalkeeper to play for England by some margin. What a summer the young Birmingham goalkeeper has had. League Two with Cheltenham, to third choice England keeper, Olympics and now this. Talk about Roy of the Rovers stuff!

Everyone following Manchester united news will agree that Michael Carrick was a pleasing addition to the starting line-up for the strangely timed friendly in Berne. Carrick played in the position so often occupied for England by the much over-rated Gareth Barry.

Barry is, for me, not fit to lace Carrick’s boots, certainly on the last season and a halves form anyway.

The former West Ham and Spurs man was incredibly easy on the eye during Wednesday night’s game and rarely looks like losing possession when in control of the ball.

Indeed England certainly look to be getting to grips with the new three man midfield which Hodgson likes to employ. Tom Cleverley was the man sitting just behind Andy Carroll against Italy and with more game time at Manchester United he will only continue to improve. You half expect this season could be make or break for the youngster however.

Kyle Walker was a cert for the right-back berth at the Euros before injury ruled out the Tottenham star, he again proved his worth with a solid display, so too did Phil Jagielka. Always a steady performer it was nice to see him step up to the plate on the international stage and cap a fine performance with a first half goal.

One thing is certain about England under Roy Hodgson is that we are now much more difficult to beat and opponents are no longer easily able to grasp our bland style which was so blatantly obvious under Fabio Capello.

With more game time for the Three Lions mix of youthful exuberance and experienced steel we will only continue to get better. Only time will tell just how far the ‘new’ England can go.

Hodgson Names Puzzling Squad for Italy Friendly

It’s still very disconcerting to have to play friendlies before the domestic season has begun, especially when the game is against a team that knocked us out of Euro 2012 and when some of the squad have just returned from Olympic Games duty with Team GB. Nonetheless, the campaign to qualify for the next World Cup in Brazil is underway: guest blogger Richard Smith of takes a look at what might best be described as a developmental squad.

With two 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine coming up next month, England manager, Roy Hodgson, has named a rather puzzling squad to face Italy in a friendly in Switzerland this week that would appear to be more about players proving their England futures rather than a group of new and young players becoming the nucleus of the team that will form the team’s future and World Cup aspirations.

Hodgson has recalled both Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick and both look like starting in central midfield againstItaly, despite both being in their 30s. Lampard in fact has been named as captain, which would appear to confirm the long standing fear of most England fans that the manager finds it almost impossible to select a side that does not include both Lampard and the officially appointed captain Steven Gerrard.

It seemed that Hodgson, now having got Euro 2012 out of the way, would set his stall out with a squad that had a youthful bias, interspersed with experienced players such as Gerrard who remain at an age to make it all the way through to the World Cup of 2014. However, the inclusion of Lampard and Carrick suggests that the “old guard” still feature prominently in current thinking although he has left out, somewhat mysteriously, John Terry.

Also included in Hodgson’s squad are Jermaine Defoe and Andy Carroll, neither of whom look likely to be playing first team football this season as it stands. Carroll is clearly out of favour at Anfield after the club accepted an approach from West Ham to loan the striker only for the player to turn down the move and Defoe is being linked with a move away from White Hart Lane. It is interesting to note that Daniel Sturridge is included after missing Euro 2012, yet Danny Welbeck, one of his Euro 2012 preferred front men as been ignored.

There is no Rio Ferdinand and Scott Parker is out due to injury. Stewart Downing and Joleon Lescott are also missing .

On the positive side,  Hodgson has included Tom Cleverley, has recalled Adam Johnson of Manchester City, Kyle Walker of Spurs and has kept the faith with young Arsenal pair Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. He also found a place for Ashley Young who disappointed at the Euros.

In fairness to Hodgson, the last game he would have wanted would have been a “friendly” againstItaly, who of course knocked Englandout of Euro 2012 via the penalty shoot-out just a matter of weeks ago.

However, World Cup qualification comes around very quickly and for Hodgson and England, a good start to the campaign is essential. Moldova and Ukraine should be a six point start, however, England fans witnessed what Ukraine almost did to England at Euro 2012. We all know that they were cheated out of an equaliser in Kiev and as such, will come to Wembley on September 11th looking for some sort of retribution. Moldova of course are somewhat of an unknown entity although Holland struggled to beat them in a Euro 2012 qualifier in Moldova last year winning only 1-0.

It will be very interesting to see how England perform against Italy but it will be even more interesting to see what squad Hodgson opts for come the World Cup qualifiers? The real test for Hodgson begins now…


England fixtures in 2012

Team GB get off to a mixed start at the London Olympics and although the football is a bit of a sideshow to the other events, to teams like Brazil it’s not only a vital warm up to their home World Cup, but a frustration as Olympic gold is the only major title they’ve yet to win.

Let’s take a brief look at the England games for the rest of 2012.

The rest of the England fixture this year starts, as it finished in Euro 2012 with a game against Italy in the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf, Berne in Switzerland.

Needless to say it isn’t a very popular fixture with league managers, just 3 days before the start of the domestic season, who no doubt will be watching their players going through the motions in Berne with gritted teeth.

Hodgson has stated that he will use the friendly in Berne to look at some of the players that did not take part in the Euro games.

Players that spring to mind include; Jack Wilshere, Kyle Walker and Tom Cleverley as well as Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley and Jack Rodwell.

Then the road to Brazil begins and England play Moldova on September 7th and then Ukraine on the 11th. San Marino and Poland follow in October.

Brazil will no doubt be one big party, like a session on, but nothing can be taken for granted in reaching the World Cup. England need to improve and deliver where it matters.

There are certainly lessons to be learned from the European championships; wasting possession and counter-attacking opportunities perhaps a core reason England struggled in that last game, although not many will deny the hard work most players put in. Technical players like Lampard and Barry were also certainly missed but improving the quality in the team is now high on Hodgson’s list.

It’s Like Deja Vu All Over Again

The question I’d just asked my friend Andy hung in the air. Who was going to be David Batty this time?

‘Ashley Young’ he replied.

The biggest problem that Roy Hodgson faces after last night is not that most of the team are either too old or not good enough or both, but that as soon as Sweden and Ukraine had been beaten, the so-called ‘lowered expectations’ went out of the window: they’re on they’re way down to Rio de Janeiro for eighteen months rest and recuperation.

All of a sudden we found ourselves confronted with the usual heady combination of more or less uncritical pride and an irrational feeling that somehow England would prevail. Last night’s BBC coverage exemplified all that: Gaby Logan’s ‘interview’ with Ashley Cole couldn’t have been any blander and should have been shown again after the match. Immediately before kick off, a random Shakespeare quote, an anonymous rapper that none of us at Andy’s house could identify and Gary Lineker doing his special ‘serious’ stare into the camera – the one that actually meant something a few months ago following Patrice Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane – were all dragged out of the cliché cupboard to get the BBC audience geed up before the kick off.

Over the next few hours, England found themselves two missed spot kicks away from a semi final against the Germans but let’s not kid ourselves. The Azzuri had almost four times as many shots on goal, over twice as many corners and 66% of the possession. And that was far from the best Italian side I’ve ever seen: at times the game was like watching England against a slightly better version of England. We matched their lack of creativity, poor first touch and excruciating inability in front of goal last night, and we never once looked as if we could nick a goal on the break. Arguably our best chance came from Wayne Rooney’s attempt at a bicycle kick at the end of normal time: if he hadn’t been worried about his toupee falling off, he might have made a better connection.

During the game – in fact during every England game in either the World Cup or the European Championships – it’s always worth remembering that since 1954 we’ve failed to progress to the semi finals in ten of the 21 major tournaments we’ve qualified for. The inevitable penalty shootout was not only predictable but also great fun for trivia fans: I suppose there might be another instance of two players with the same forename missing penalties in a shootout, but I can’t think of one right now.

The plain truth is that we’re not as good as we think we are. None of the players or the staff will come out and say that, even though I suspect they realise it. There were some positives: the idea of attempting to recreate Manchester United’s attacking structure by using Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck looked better on paper than on the pitch, but the introduction of Jordan Henderson towards the end of extra time really caught my eye and could be a decision of Hodgson’s that may have an impact over time.

To close their programming, the BBC showed one of those nice slo-mo montages that probably produced quivering lips in pubs and living rooms across the country. Presumably one of the editors had been instructed to compile two endings: somewhere there must be a laptop that contains all of the montages that were edited together to be shown if England had won a few of the quarter finals we’ve lost over the years – which is more or less the same idea ITV had for their ridiculous pre-tournament trailer.

They’ll actually need to the ‘winning’ montage one day,  but at this rate it won’t be any time soon.

England Thrashed 0-0 By Italy

Not one, but two retrospective posts today: mine is still ‘under construction’  and will be posted later, but here’s regular contributor Richard Smith’s take on what happened last night.

Picking Out The Positives From England’s 0-0 Thrashing At The Hands of Italy

England’s story at the Euro 2012 football championship had a familiar and extremely typical ending, defeat on penalties! Mercifully, it never came against Germany this time, but against a hugely superior Italy, who can rightfully be accused of thrashing the Three Lions despite the 0-0 score line after 90 minutes in what was arguably one of the most one sided draws anyone is likely to see.

The statistics tell the complete story; Italy had 68% of the play, from which that had 33 shots on goal with 18 on target against England’s pitiful eight shots with four on target. The completed pass rate was even more emphatic;Italy making 833 compared to England’s 364. Of course, the most vital statistic came in the penalty shoot-out with Italy finding the net four times against England’™s two successful spot kicks. With stats like these,Englandcan have no sense of injustice, there was no excuses, beaten by a far better team and only acts to highlight the gulf between where Roy Hodgson’s men sit now to where they will need to be in two years time at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

In real terms, England justified their final standing in the competition, they were beaten in the Quarter Final, which makes them a top eight European side but nothing more. They have no reason to feel ashamed of themselves; they achieved what most predicted pre-tournament and provided a number of moments that excited fans. Captain Steven Gerard played well enough to suggest that he could lead the team in the World Cup qualifiers which begin in September, whilst  Ashley Cole and Joe Hart emerged with some credit but the performances of the remainder of the squad who saw playing time during the tournament often flattered to deceive with Wayne Rooney in particularly very poor in the two he played. Glimpses of promise were shown by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,  Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll but ultimately, massive improvement must be made on all fronts over the next two years but the core of the next generation could well be in place.

Englanddid not have a player with the technical ability of Itlay’s, Andrea Pirlo, whose exquisite contribution oozed class and spelt despair forEngland. He pulled England to pieces from a position deep in midfield where the combined efforts of Gerrard, Parker and Rooney could not reach him. He was only defied a match winning performance in normal time by England’s brave defending and his own side’s poor finishing. His audacious penalty in the shoot-out was a microcosm of his overall contribution that was richly deserved.

Sadly for England, Italy’s dominant performance has put on hold the increased optimism that was evident after they qualified as Group D winners. Hodgson has much to be pleased about, he knows that he has a squad of players that have great integrity, that now has a unity that will stand them in good stead as when they begin their preparations for the World Cup qualifiers which start on 7th September with a trip to Moldova, before taking on Ukraine at Wembley four days later. Before that and somewhat ironically, they play Italy in a friendly on 15th August.

Hodgson will have a lot to contemplate between now and that Italy game, knowing that one or two of the “old guard” will need to be stood down, namely John Terry, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, the later two of which didn’t make it to the finals but by and large, he has a youthful squad, which does not need to change too dramatically. He will also know that tactically and technically, England are a long way behind the top nations and it is in this area where he will need to concentrate his greatest efforts.

All in all a disappointing exit for the Three Lions but there are reasons to be optimistic and whilst there’s plenty of room for improvement, the question has to be asked has the team done any worse than it would have under Fabio Capello. Onwards and upwards…next stop Brazil!