Six teams in Group E; ten matches played; thirty one goals scored with just three conceded; thirty points on the board. England made it through their European Championship Qualifying group without dropping a single point and taking 100% of those available to them. Yet to most the notion of England’s football team achieving any kind of success at the 2016 Euros is nothing short of a joke.
So we ask the question, does Roy Hodgson deserve more credit for his achievement as England’s manager over the last year or so? Is this England team capable of achieving more than most people think, or is it a case of the bare minimum necessary in an easy group with sterner tests still to come? We investigate the teams, the results and the likely outcome at Euro 2016.
Roy Hodgson Explored
The current England manager is something of a divisive figure depending on whether or not you support one of the teams he’s managed and, if so, what he accomplished with said team. If you’re a Fulham or West Brom fan, for example, you might look back on Hodgson’s time in your club’s hot seat with a mixture of admiration and tenderness. If you support Liverpool, however, Hodgson will not be the first name down on your Christmas card list and will likely cause you to utter a series of expletives that we will have the good grace to avoid printing in this piece.
According to Wikipedia Roy Hodgson has a win ratio of 43.49% across his entire career as a manager. If you were to look solely at his Premier League career he managed to win 35.48% of his games with Blackburn Rovers when he was their manager from June 1st 1997 until November 21st 1998; 39.06% of his matches as the head of Fulham from December 30th 2007 until July 1st 2010; 41.94% of his games as the man in charge of Liverpool Football Club from 1st July 2010 until 8th January 2011; and 37.04% of his matches as the manager of West Bromwich from 11th February 2011 until 13th May 2012.
In other words, his win percentage is normally somewhere in the region of the 40%, or just over one third of the matches he takes charge of for any given club will result in a win. If you’re a Fulham or West Brom team that is used to finishing just outside of the relegation zone or perhaps making a tilt for a mid table finish then this exactly what you need – a steady hand to keep things ticking over. In the case of Fulham Hodgson took his team on a remarkable Europa League journey all the way to the final before they were beaten by Atletico Madrid in extra time.
If you’re Liverpool, however, and you expect to be competing at the top end of the table then it’s far to say that winning less than half of your games is not quite good enough. Liverpool fans would also point to Hodgson’s remarkable ability to say exactly the wrong thing at any given moment and the fact that he never made an attempt to really and truly understand the club and its supporters. He famously said of Liverpool fans’ nemesis Jose Mourinho, “Everyone I know in football respects the job I’m doing here and aren’t too surprised it hasn’t been an easy start. In fact, 95 per cent would have predicted it as [Jose] Mourinho did. ‘Liverpool will get worse and worse’ is what he said and if the great man Mourinho says it, I don’t know why you don’t quote him”.
He was deferential to another Liverpool fan favourite in Alex Ferguson after the Scot accused Fernando Torres of diving in a game at Old Trafford, saying, “I prefer to talk about the game and talk about issues that interest me. Sir Alex is entitled to any opinion he wants to have but I’m not going to come here and say I agree or disagree. I thought the referee refereed the game very well and I have a very ambivalent attitude to those type of things”; and he gave far too much respect to fourth division Northampton Town before a cup match, saying, “They’ll pressure us, they’ll be young and athletic, and our scouts have been quite impressed by what they’ve seen. They’ll be a formidable challenge – there’s no question about that”.
As the dismissal of Brendan Rodgers and subsequent appointment of Jurgen Klopp has shown, Liverpool fans expect their team to punch above their weight and they expect their manager to take on an almost god-like status when in the hot seat. Fail to do that and they’ll have short shrift for them, regardless of their reputation within the game. In the case of Hodgson his reputation appeared to be based around the fact that he was English, he had coached abroad and that the press wanted him to get a big job. As perennial outsiders there were few on Merseyside who thought any of those things were good enough qualifications for one of the most difficult jobs in football.
He must have done enough to impress the Football Association however, as no sooner had Fabio Capello made the decision to call it a day did they feel that Roy Hodgson was to be the ideal replacement. He didn’t have a huge amount of time to prepare his squad for Euro 2012, yet he did help England to win the group thanks to the country’s first ever competitive victory over Sweden, a draw with France and a 1-0 win over the tournament co-hosts Ukraine. By topping the group they avoided reigning World and European champions Spain and instead had to play Italy.
Hodgson is known for a tight, defensive style of football with little room for expansive play or expressive players. Given that the Italians are also known for their defensive qualities it should have come as no surprise that the match finished 0-0 after extra time, with England losing 4-2 on penalties.
The Croydon born manager of the national team oversaw qualification for the 2014 World Cup, but they failed to get out of a reasonably easy group thanks to losses to Italy and Uruguay before a dead rubber draw with Costa Rica in their final group match. It was the first time England have failed to get out of their World Cup group since 1958 and led to question marks around Hodgson’s leadership. He ruled out any possibility of resignation but was rankled in the press conference after his first post World Cup match. England beat Norway 1-0 in a friendly game but the press were less interested in the scoreline and more concerned by the fact that the home team only managed to register two shots on target. When asked about it Hodgson replied that it was “f*cking b*llocks”.
Under Hodgson’s leadership England dropped to 20th in the FIFA world rankings – the country’s lowest position since 1996. Despite the performances often coming in for criticism, though, Hodgson’s win ratio with England is currently at 60%, having won 27 of 45 matches played and having only lost 5.
An Easy Group?
Moving on to the 2016 European Championship Qualification, then, and many critics of the manager feel that his achievement is undermined somewhat by the fact that England are in a remarkably easy group. But is that a fair criticism? We have taken a look at the other teams in Group E, their record in the qualifiers and their place in FIFA’s world rankings to identify just how soft or otherwise the group really is.
|Team||World Ranking||Games Won||Games Lost||Games Drawn||Goals For||Goals Against|
It’s far to say that, with just one other team in the group in FIFA’s top 20 ranked teams, it wasn’t the hardest group England have ever had to qualify from. Certainly in Lithuania and San Marino England faced two teams – totally four out of the ten matches – that there would have been serious questions regarding had they not been able to achieve four victories. In the case of San Marino, the team isn’t even made up of professional footballers but, rather, lawyers, brick layers, students and so on. If Rooney and co couldn’t manage a significant victory over them then Hodgson could have been sacked on the spot for gross incompetence, one imagines.
On paper the matches against Switzerland were the toughest challenge that England faced. Yet in reality the two teams have come up against each other 24 times according to 11v11.com, with England managing sixteen wins and five draws, only conspiring to lose on three occasions. One of those losses was in 1938, one in 1947 and the most recent in 1981, so England headed into the match with history well and truly on their side.
In a competition where it feels as if the governing body are doing their utmost to ensure that all of the major nations qualify, is it really such a surprise that England managed to notch up ten wins against teams they’ve either beaten regularly in a historical sense or else so completely outrank in a footballing sense as to make it almost less than a competitive accomplishment?
How have Netherlands failed to qualify?! This tournament is so big that Narnia, Mordor and Dagobah have all made it.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) October 13, 2015
Hodgson, of course, would argue that you can only beat the teams put in front of you and that England have achieved just that. Yet somehow their achievement feels over-rated and nobody in England is getting excited about the country’s chances when it comes to the Euros next year. With Spain notching up nine wins out of ten in a group that also contained Slovakia and Ukraine – 18th and 24th in the world rankings respectively – and Austria also gaining nine wins in a group that contained Russia and Sweden – 26th and 45th – it feels as though UEFA are doing their utmost to see as many teams as possible reach the finals.
Without being disrespectful to the other home nations, Wales and Northern Ireland have both qualified for next year’s competition despite the fact that neither had made the European Championships previously. Such is the lack of competitiveness in the leagues that the Republic of Ireland could still make it through to the finals thanks to the fact that third placed teams head into a series of play offs for a place in France next year.
Previously only sixteen teams would qualify for the European Championships, but this year UEFA decided to increase that number to twenty four, meaning that it would have been harder for a team to fail to qualify for the competition than it would have been to make it there. In fact the Netherland’s failure to even make it as far as the play offs has been widely derided by world football.
Can England Do Well?
The natural question to ask, then, is whether England can do well in the competition itself. After all Roy Hodgson’s men are the only team to have won all of the group games during the qualification stages, so surely that means that they’ll be able to make something of an impression in France next year? Well in order to consider that question it’s necessary to point out the other teams who will also be there:
As hosts France didn’t need to qualify and were already guaranteed their place, but they’ll be joined by Iceland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Wales, Spain, Slovakia, Germany, Poland, England, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Romania, Austria, Russia, Italy, Croatia, Portugal, Albania and Turkey. That leaves four places left for the teams that make it through the play offs. That means that there will be four teams from the Republic of Ireland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ukraine, Sweden, Norway, Slovenia, Hungary and Denmark also in the competition.
With Spain having been humiliated by failing to make it out of the group at the World Cup in 2014 it’s safe to say that they will be looking to defend their European crown with a little bit more stubbornness than they managed to display last year. Germany, on the other hand, will be hoping to capitalise on their World Cup win and their recent promotion to the number two spot in the FIFA world rankings, just behind Argentina.
Should England come up against either of the other home nations that have made it to the Euros they can be assured of a stiff bit of competition. Both Wales and Northern Ireland would love to give their former rulers a bloody nose, as would the Republic of Ireland if they are able to make it through November’s play offs.
Despite the fact that some of the chaff has been removed thanks to the qualification process it’s far to say that Euro 2016 still looks as though it’s going to be a bloated competition. Although the groups haven’t been drawn yet England will be expected to make it through the group stages at the very least.
Thanks to a combination of an easy group in the qualifiers and so called ‘soft’ international friendly matches Roy Hodgson hasn’t really had to pit his wits against any overly troublesome opponents. It’s also worth bearing in mind that his critics feel as though he’s bored his way through to France, playing turgid uninspiring football that it is not fun to watch even if it does produce the right results. Even though England succeeded in winning all ten of their qualifying matches, the Football Association’s chief executive Martin Glenn refused to offer the current manager a contract extension until after the competition itself. That seems to suggest that they realise how simple the first part of the job was and how much more difficult it’s going to be to produce the goods once the competition itself is under way.
Hodgson may point to the fact that the so called ‘Golden Generation’ of England’s footballers is no longer available to him, with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard either retired from international football or having left the game completely. Even as the master in downplaying expectations, though, the England chief should know that he still has a talented team at his disposal.
In Joe Hart he has the first choice goalkeeper of the Premier League’s champions presumptive, with City able to buy literally any other player they’d like for that spot. Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, when fit, are two of the finest full backs in world football, whilst Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill remain two of the best centre backs around. With players like John Stones and Joe Gomez also coming through the ranks Hodgson has a wealth of options available to him.
Midfield wise James Milner and Jordan Henderson are no slouches, whilst Ross Barkley is in top form for Everton and Jonjo Shelvey is having the kind of displays that have led some to question whether Liverpool should have kept him as a long term replacement for Steven Gerrard. In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling the manager can call upon two tremendously speedy and exciting attacking talents.
As for the forward spots, Sterling has played their both for Liverpool and Manchester City, whilst Theo Walcott has made the position his own down at The Emirates. Wayne Rooney has never made a decent impression on a tournament itself, yet earlier this year he became England’s highest ever goal scorer when he overtook Sir Bobby Charlton. Harry Kane hasn’t hit the ground running yet this term, but last season he gave Sergio Aguero a run for the Premier League’s Golden Boot. Add in Danny Ings who has been impressing for Liverpool and a Jamie Vardy who has been incredibly impressive for Leicester City and you have the basis of a very good squad indeed. That’s before you even think about players who have been out injured for a length of time like Jack Wilshere.
There is no question that winning all ten of your group games, no matter who they are against, is an impressive achievement and one that Roy Hodgson deserves to be congratulated for. Yet the reality is that the teams he’s had to pit his wits against aren’t even in the same league as England as far as ability and world wide respect are concerned.
Even if a few of his current first choice players are hit with injury the manager will still be able to take an impressive squad with him to the Euros in France next year. No matter who they are drawn in a group with the fact that they will go there as one of the top seeds means that England will, quite rightly, be expected to make it out of their group without issue.
They are not going to survive the whole tournament unbeaten, though, so how they react to adversity will be key to seeing how well they do. With Gary Neville apparently encouraging a more expansive style of play from the assistant manager’s position on the bench it will be interesting to see how well England do. We’re not expecting much better than a glorious failure from the team, however, with Hodgson gearing up to refer to a quarter final defeat to Germany as ‘Utopia’.