Vultures Surrounding Hodgson Have Little On Which To Feed

Having been urged to 'give youth a chance' and 'change the shape' before Brazil, Roy Hodgson did exactly that. It's difficult to vilify a man that did what we would do, says Philip Cornwall...

Last Updated: 24/06/14 at 09:51 Post Comment

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Football isn't a game of opinions, if you consider opinions to mean views that are carefully formed and believed in with conviction. It is a game of passing fancies, as Mediawatch enjoys pointing out.

One is not so much entitled as obligated to change one's views when they are contradicted by events but the manner in which Martin Samuel, Gary Lineker and other Mediawatch stars have switched their views on the approach England needed to take in the World Cup in light of results is still staggering. Yet we all know that these professional amnesiacs will carry on regardless.

Still, a smidgeon of sympathy - more than they seem to muster for Roy Hodgson - is in order after the misadventure in Brazil. England's World Cup failure has been both comprehensive and narrow.

Having been beaten in their opening two matches, they face a dead rubber against Costa Rica, their first ever at the World Cup and a fate that last befell them at Euro 88. One of their two conquerors will also be heading home after tonight.

On the other hand, the improvement between the penalty exit to Italy in Kiev two years ago and the 2-1 loss in Manaus was not an illusion. England were then pressing for a winner of their own moments before Luis Suarez's crucial blow for Uruguay.

Like the unfortunate Bosnia-Herzegovina, they have succumbed to a pair of single goal defeats rather than to large margins. Uruguay could, perhaps should, have extended their lead in the early minutes of the second half last Thursday as Hodgson's team threatened to come apart but England did rally.

These two defeats were painful but part of a pattern extending back decades: England tournament wins against teams ranked higher or even close to them are embarrassingly rare. Nonetheless the manager carries responsibility for them: you accept the job and you have to accept the criticism.

Hodgson, though, has got his retaliation in first: by embracing change more fully than anyone could have expected, fielding the young and inexperienced but in form as requested by the media, he has left the vultures precious little at which to nibble. The traditional rallying cries for the mob of "change", of "bring in the youngsters" are harder to make when they have already happened to an unprecedented degree. Should the much-changed team beat the previously unstoppable Costa Rica then the position will be harder than ever to sum up in the size of headlines that World Cup departures demand.

Hodgson made questionable decisions but it is hard to argue, say, that Ashley Cole starting would have made a decisive difference. There is no fundamental philosophical shortcoming here.

There will be, and should be, plenty of analysis as to what should happen next, going well beyond Greg Dyke's FA commission with its limited powers in the face of the Premier League and the global businesses that constitute its leading clubs. But as people scratch around for prescriptions, perhaps they could bear in mind that there is no guaranteed way to end this pattern of disappointment.

There are no actual solutions, only ways to improve the chances. And the chances will remain that 2016, and 2018, and 2020 onwards will end in one form of heartbreak or another.

Perhaps it is time that we just got used to it.

Philip Cornwall

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