In the mid 1960s, a little known English beat band called “The Spencer Davis Group” came out with a single called “Somebody Help Me”. Written by frontman Jackie Edwards, the song’s lyrics read something like this:
Somebody help me now,
Won’t somebody tell me
What I’ve done wrong?
England manager Roy Hodgson was born in 1947, so he must have listened to a fair bit of it during his teenage days. Almost 50 years later, and this song still may be the most played on Hodsgon’s iPod.
In actuality, Hodsgon hasn’t done much wrong. Over the last one year, he has picked the right players, put out the right personnel on the pitch and more often than not, got his tactics spot on. Against Norway last week, England’s performance was on expected lines, uninspiring and lacking much needed vigour. England laboured to a 1-0 win, thanks to second half penalty from Wayne Rooney. Rooney struggled to make much impact on his captaincy debut, making way for Danny Welbeck towards the end of the game. The Liverpool duo of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling were the only ones bright spots in an otherwise forgettable night for the hosts. Sterling looked menacing at times, pulling in deep and creating chances for the frontline. Sturridge played like the perfect no.9, bullying defenders and making most of the limited ball he got. But, apart from that, England were no where near world class. Hodgson needs some serious help from all quarters, including his captain, his players and the Football Association (FA). .
Let’s start with the skipper. When Rooney was handed the armband last month, it wasn’t because he is one of England’s better players, but because Hodgson possibly did not have any other option. Rooney is still a world class player no doubt, but the United striker over the last couple of years, has failed to replicate his club form for his country. One wonders whether Jamie Carragher was right when he said that we may already have seen the best of the 28-year old. For somebody who has been dealing with the unrelenting pressures of the Premier League, and living with the title of “England’s most talismanic player” since he was 16, the burden seems to haven taken its toll. Steven Gerrard may have been replaced by Rooney, but the dearth of leadership on the pitch against Norway was palpable. Its high time the capricious, volatile version of the man goes away, and the world sees a more responsible and mature Wayne Rooney.
Then come the players. For several years now, English football has been plagued by one problem. Loads of talent, but nothing to show for it. The core of the English national team has always comprised talented players. Not that they set the world on fire, but still. With Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole all gone within a matter of months, England is staring at an unfamiliar and painful transitional phase that may take years to complete. One may argue that England’s predicament is similar to Spain’s, who like England, endured a wretched World Cup campaign in Brazil. But, then Spain is blessed with the best young talent pool in the world. Xavi has made way for Koke, Xabi Alonso’s boots have been filled by Javi Martinez, and David De Gea will take Iker Casillas’ place in goal. Moreover, established players like Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata, who were fringe players in Vicente Del Bosque’s earlier set-up, will play more prominent roles now.
England’s equivalents in this department are Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere and Jack Colback. Barkley is an undoubted talent and will lead the English midfield for some years to come. But, that is where the optimism ends. Wilshere has been unsuccessful in taking his game to the next level and his temperament remains an issue; and Colback hasn’t worn an England senior shirt even once. Hodgson last month, touted the Newcastle midfielder as the “Ginger Pirlo”. He may be talented, but comparing him to the Italian maestro might have been a slight exaggeration. Suddenly, England is bracing itself for an acute talent crisis. A lack of world class players is Hodgson’s main problem.
And then there’s the FA. Thanks to the influx of foreign players in the Premier League over the last decade, the dearth of young English players coming through the ranks is startling.. Its time the FA puts a tab on the number of international players appearing for major clubs in the country. But, that is unlikely to happen, simply because of the massive revenue the FA generates from the Premier League. The exodus of foreign players from the league will not only drive away sponsors, but the League’s continued gasconading that its the best in the world, will take a serious beating.
For now, qualifying for Euro 2016 would be the only thing on Hodgson’s mind. The performance against Switzerland on Monday night was promising. But, England look far from the finished article.The Wilsheres and the Rooneys of this world have to stand up and start delivering. England needs to reinvent itself, and the spark that has long gone out of their game needs to be ignited again. The win in Basel has lifted some of the gloom, but the road ahead is long and arduous.