England’s underwhelming draw in Montenegro ruthlessly exposed some key issues for Roy Hodgson as he struggles to push the Three Lions closer to the World Cup Finals in Brazil in less than 18-months-time.
Having rested what he thought were some of his key performers for the thrashing of San Marino, these same players proceeded to let down the manager who had placed such high value on their fitness for the tricky task in Podgorica.
And what these returning stars proved all too evidently is that England’s first choice XI falls far too short to even hope for success in 2014.
After the disastrous 2010 World Cup in South Africa there was a pledge from then head coach, Fabio Capello, to switch to youth, and to develop a team that could do something the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ never could-make it on the global stage.
With the Italian’s departure came a switch to the understated but experienced hand of Hodgson who vowed to continue the cultivation of a team for the future, mixed with some of the stars England had come to rely on over the previous decade. In theory at least, this blueprint is a winner. In practice it is doomed to failure for two vital reasons: the players aren’t good enough and they don’t care enough.
These are not new accusations. England supporters have been waiting for almost 50 years to repeat the success of 1966. It’s almost 20 years since they have even come close and in that time people from inside the game and within the national team camp have repeatedly denied that the players don’t give it their all for their country or that they lack the class needed to challenge for the top honours with the likes of Spain, Germany and Brazil. Well I have news for those willing to defend the underachievers: the fans are not stupid or blind, and as has recently been suggested by one or two players to have broken ranks, we now also know that playing for one’s country is no longer considered the finest honour in a playing career.
Tuesday night started off encouragingly. England went at their opponents and really should have had the game sewn up by half time, but in typical fashion arrogance took over and allowed the hosts, and let’s not forget, group leaders, to come back and deservedly share the points. England could not have complained if the Montenegrins, enthused and full of desire, had stolen the victory from under the visitors’ noses.
The second half performance from some of those on show encapsulated the national team’s problems. Captain Steven Gerrard, so often the saviour and hero for Liverpool, able to drive and drag his team to glory, was wayward and often vanished when his team needed him most. They say that the leader sets the example. Whoever they are, they’re not wrong.
Michael Carrick, an able passer and orchestrator when things are going well as often they do for Manchester United, just looked like a little boy lost, swamped by the red tide as Montenegro exposed England’s midfield time and time again.
Ashley Cole, thanks but your time is up. James Milner is a good solid pro and will run himself into the ground for the cause, the problem is he is often so knackered his touch disappears along with his energy within 60 minutes of a game.
And then we come to the two players who sum up the problems Hodgson face.
Firstly there’s Danny Wellbeck. Nobody is ever going to convince me that he is an international quality player. OK he is fast but the lad has all the balance and skill of Victor Anichebe of Everton or Shola Ameobi of Newcastle, and those two are mostly useless. Draw your own conclusion on my opinion of Wellbeck. You might say ‘what do I know?’, after all he gets a regular game for Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford and he knows a thing or two. Indeed he does, but if Robert Lewandowski or another decent striker becomes available in the summer, Wellbeck will soon find himself underwhelming in the colours of Sunderland, Fulham, Spurs or another Premier League also-ran.
Wellbeck’s team mate from Manchester, Tom Cleverley, is the other player who seems to bewitch manangers into believing he is anything other than a run-of-the-mill Premier League player. Take him out the United set up and that will become very clear. His presence in the United and England midfield is more indicative of the lack of strength they possess than any qualities shown by Cleverley.
Most fans can accept when their players and their team are inferior and to be fair to Hodgson, give or take a few injuries and Rio Ferdinand’s decision to get his own back, his options are limited. But the fans will not stomach the meek surrender displayed by the England side on Tuesday. Too many shirked, too many jogged and too many hid when they were needed in the trenches.
English players are almost always technically inferior to their European and South American counterparts, we’ve become accustomed to this fact, but if England are ever going to compete they cannot afford for their players to give up and save themselves for next weekend’s club games. Unfortunately, times have changed and the quicker the England fans grasp this the sooner they can learn to live with second rate performance and second rate attitude.