Stubborn Hodgson Distracted By Media War

Filed under England, Europe, UEFA European Championship
Roy Hodgson

Roy Hodgson – Spoiling For A Fight?

To describe Roy Hodgson as having a stubborn streak is an  understatement akin to suggesting that Rafa Benitez might quite enjoy a pub quiz. Whilst this is hardly a revelation to those familiar with the broad palette of Hodgson’s distinguished coaching career, increasingly there is a concern that England’s prospects at Euro 2016 might be skewered on his growing intransigence.

Right now, Hodgson’s relationship with the media can only be described as spiky at best but, as opening night draws ever-nearer, he seems almost spoiling to butt heads with his inquisitors – in the aftermath of the victory over Portugal, an innocuous line of questioning seeking his appraisal of the diamond formation incorporating Vardy, Rooney and Kane was interpreted by Hodgson as an invitation to pan one or more of that triumvirate, one which he very demonstrably resisted.

Although your average television interviewer is big and battle-hardened enough to elicit little sympathy from their audience, for those England fans wishing for something more than another tournament filed somewhere between mediocre and abject, it is when Hodgson’s resistance to perceived wisdom starts to infect England’s prospects in France that the brow of a nation furrows.

The shoots of Hodgson’s obstinacy first sprouted last November, just prior to the friendlies with Spain and France, with his assertion that Vardy should be grateful to play in any position for his country. The point was framed in such a way as to imply that Vardy himself might have expressed his own wishes to his manager – indeed, this was the largely-held assumption in days to follow. Yet further comments on the subject conveyed a sense that it was intended as a smackdown for those championing the player for a central striking role. And at no time since has it been substantiated that Vardy had indeed played the diva.

So much of Hodgson’s recent decision-making appears counter-intuitive as to render it borderline self-sabotage; disquiet at the idea of building a team around Rooney? Hodgson virtually nails him to a starting place. A concensus that Dele Alli is most effectively deployed at the tip of the diamond? Hodgson sucks him into the maelstrom of central midfield. The predatory Harry Kane taking corners and free-kicks from wide areas instead of getting on the end of them? Hodgson continues to indulge Kane, his confidence eroded a little further with each erratic delivery. The clamour to include arguably England’s most in-form central midfielder? Danny Drinkwater, the archetypal Hodgson midfielder, offering defensive resilience and a box-to-box engine, is invited to book his holidays.

This last call would be less ludicrous if Hodgson wasn’t using valuable bedding-in game time to try to get Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson match-fit. Even that is totally at odds with the fact that Wilshere was permitted barely 90 minutes plus stoppage time across the three friendlies (having played the equivalent of less than two matches for Arsenal this season), but goes to Chantilly regardless. In the meantime, the nearest the match-honed Drinkwater will get to the action will be the shiny side of an oversized flatscreen.

The most recent example of Hodgson’s contrariness came initially disguised as a concession to informed opinion, in playing Kane and Vardy against Portugal as a pairing at the head of a midfield diamond, before proceeding to mangle it into a makeshift 4-3-3. His insistence that a strike duo with almost 50 league goals between them were required to defend the flanks is also a worrying endorsement of those who insist that Hodgson, despite the air of a new dawn, remains a fundamentally cautious coach. Never was this more apparent than in the very conception of that friendly, as a dress-rehearsal for the Wales game, with Ronaldo playing understudy to Gareth Bale. Hodgson unashamedly admitted as much and, regardless of the fact that Ronaldo missed his curtain call, the very revelation that Hodgson is intending to formulate his line-up, system and tactics purely for the purpose of negating the (admittedly exceptional) talents of one opposition player is a worrying prospect for a game in which England should be seizing the initiative.

Increasingly Hodgson is adopting the persona of the only smart guy in the room and one wonders if his tetchiness betrays the growing suspicion that – on the cusp of the tournament – he remains unsure of his ‘best’ eleven. Rest assured, come 8pm this Saturday he will have one, but only because he’ll have to. But anyone who sat through that stuttering Portugal victory would likely be amazed at any suggestion that it was cemented in his mind even by the following day. As kick-off approaches, the suspicion lingers that Hodgson has backed himself into a tactical cul-de-sac.

 

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About Mark Scott

Mark Scott West Ham supporter and devotee of the sport for around 40 years and trying to marry this with my love of the English language, all for your entertainment.

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