England's World Cup exit shouldn't obscure tangible growth under Hodgson
JUN 20, 2014 7:00p ET
RIO DE JANEIRO --
Already it's being asked. In fact, Roy Hodgson was asked after the Uruguay defeat whether he intended to quit. What I'd like to know is why the question is even being raised.
For the record, Hodgson, whose contract lasts until the end of the European Championship in France two years from now, replied that he would not abandon a task that he enjoys and felt that the players were responding well to his instructions. And that's how it's looked, despite a 2-1 loss in each of the opening two games of the 2014 World Cup and the Three Lions being knocked out of the tournament after Costa Rica's 1-0 victory over Italy on Friday.
Basically what's happened is that England's group has turned out to be as tough as many feared -- not uniquely, as champions Spain, already turfed out by the Netherlands and Chile, would confirm. Unfortunately for England, Italy were a lot better than their pre-tournament friendly record would suggest. That was predictable. Less so was the extraordinary transformation in Uruguay.
Between their first game, a defeat at the hands of Costa Rica, and their second in Sao Paulo, the return from injury of Luis Suarez seemed to change Uruguay from outsiders to potentially the force they were in South Africa four years ago, when they reached the semifinals. Even then, England did not have the best of luck. Wayne Rooney hit the crossbar and, more significantly, referee Carlos Velasco Carballo declined to show a second yellow card to key central defender Diego Godin 17 minutes before the interval.
With a numerical advantage for more than half the match, England would surely have got their first point of the board ready for the final group match against Costa Rica. But it wasn't to be and now the inquests have begun.
Some say that Hodgson, having been urged by the media to shed his reputation for cautious soccer in this tournament, has taken things too far, leaving the back four vulnerable and prone to such errors -- some unquestionable, some perceived -- as let in Suarez. Some point to a slight regression in the team's overall performance since the well received display against the Italians and there's some truth in this. But by and large the English are, as so often, being too negative in their analysis of disappointment.
On Thursday, I went on a BBC radio panel with former England striker Alan Shearer, who confessed to having endured a night without too much sleep while trying to sort out the lessons of another defeat. Shearer was tough on England's centerbacks Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, as were many back home, where captain Steven Gerrard was another held responsible for failure, his leadership quality as well as midfield contribution called into question.
But Shearer agreed that there had been improvements under Hodgson, who took over just before the European Championship two years ago -- he could even see a budding comparison with the methodical England for which he played under Glenn Hoddle -- and that it would be wrong to tear up everything just to make people feel better.
âEveryone is disappointed but we are supportive of Roy," FA chairman Greg Dyke said on Friday. "He came to do a four-year cycle and we want him to stay and continue. We think there are positives, despite losing narrowly to sides in the top eight (of the FIFA ranking). We donât see any value in changing Roy. We think Roy has done a good job."
This is what I believe. England are getting there. There are young attackers of genuine potential in Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who should be coming to their peaks in 2016. There's Adam Lallana, who will reportedly join several international colleagues at Liverpool next season, to provide an alternative to Rooney in the No. 10 role. And at No. 9, Daniel Sturridge has been one of England's real successes of this World Cup so far.
Even in defense, there are reasons to be cheerful about the future. Not just the teenage Luke Shaw, like Lallana on his way out of Southampton but destined for Manchester United; in the Under-21s are at least two constructive defenders, John Stones and Michael Keane, coming though. Indeed Stones, from Everton, almost made the squad for Brazil.
So for England the future is reasonably bright. Under Hodgson the notoriously volatile expectations of media and public seemed to have been brought under control. Now is not the time to revert to the bad old ways and behave like a club in mid-season panic.