For Roy Hodgson, the Costa Rica game was the very beginning of the mammoth task of rebuilding his demoralized England team, and begin plans for a brighter future. It’s almost unheard of to be using a World Cup game for such a purpose, but the disappointment of this campaign has been felt at every level, so sticking with the tried-and-failed plan made even less sense.
The England manager went to the World Cup with very different expectations from the fans back home compared with previous tournaments. His formations attempted to capture a balance between youth and experience, but it failed to gel in South America. The preceding friendlies set the stage of what to expect, when England could only manage draws against Honduras and Ecuador, both among the lowest ranked teams to have qualified for Brazil 2014.
Daniel Sturridge scored one of England’s meager sum of two goals in Brazil but missed a multitude of chances in the three games. The Liverpool striker mostly played as the lone front-man, keeping Wayne Rooney on the sidelines or on the left. If the 24-year-old intends to maintain the position, he has to learn maintain his composure when the chips are down in an England shirt. We all know full well that he can do it for the Reds, hopefully he won’t join the list of players unable to replicate club form for the Three Lions.
The era of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard appears to be over and the England faithful will breathe a sigh of relief at that prospect, which in all actuality is one of the most ilogical statements you could ever imagine. Both Lamps and Stevie G, whether you love or hate Chelsea and Liverpool, have been simply sensational for their clubs, but have only ever produced a fraction of that brilliance for their nation. Together in the middle of the park, on paper, they should’ve been one of the finest partnerships in the world, but we all know what a funny old game football can be.
So many England managers came and went, and so many of them gave this duo another shot, but each time they seemed more to cancel each other out, rather than forging the irresistible alliance England longed for them to be.
Both of them are likely to draw a close to their England careers this summer, leaving behind an inadequate legacy that could and should have been so much more. It really is a tragedy for them both to have never shined as brightly on the world stage as they did week-in, week-out for their clubs.
The pair were so lauded at club-level that they often pushed Paul Scholes, another exceptional and underrated England midfielder of the ilk they lack right now, out of his strongest position. David Beckham also spent much of his England years playing in a formation that didn’t bring the best out of him. The midfield conundrum was never solved and England allowed some of the brightest talents they have ever had, fail to maximize their potential at international level.
Building for the future
Over the last 10-15 years the England squad has slowly become depleted of the big name stars and now there is very little left except for young up-and-comers. Rooney, Milner and Johnson are about the only long-term outfield players left to be a part of the Euro 2016 campaign.
When Frank Lampard made his debut for England, Luke Shaw, a team-mate in this World Cup squad, was just 4 years old. The new Man United acquisition, along with Jack Wilshere, Daniel Sturridge, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Ross Barkley, Danny Welbeck, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all under the age of 25, so England aren’t short of young talent and potential. What is going to make or break the Three Lions’s future is how these youngsters are managed and moulded now.
A partnership of Barkley and Wilshere could hold promise with both players able to get forward through the middle and then with players like The Ox, Lallana, and Sterling on the wings, the attacking threat could be huge. That would lack some defensiveness though, which is a hole that we may see filled by James Milner next year. The Man City midfielder has made no secret of the fact he wants to move on so he can get back to regular football and back to central midfield. The former Aston Villa star could sit behind Wilshere and Barkley, and do a fantastic job in that role, IF he can get back to regular football and the form that originally made him a target for the Sky Blues.
Wayne Rooney’s England career still has a good while left in it but in recent years he has failed to recapture the excitement of when he first broke onto the international scene. The Man United striker is in danger of falling into the trap of underachieving for the national team, his enthusiasm in an England shirt appears to be waning and he almost looks like he is ‘going through the motions’ out of a sense of duty, not desire. It is imperative that Hodgson remedies this situation before it is too late.
Rooney can still be the on-field genius of years gone by with the right treatment, but is ‘Woy’ the man that can achieve that?