England Manager Roy Hodgson Handed Mission Improbable for Euro 2012
It's not easy being England's manager.
Just ask the men who've tried since the late Sir Alf Ramsey led the Three Lions to their one and only major international success at the 1966 World Cup.
The job has chewed up and spat out too many good coaches to mention. The weight of public expectancy is gargantuan; the media scrutiny is as fierce as you'll find anywhere in sports.
Fall short, and they'll turn on you quicker than Diego Maradona did the entire England team at the 1986 World Cup.
Graham Taylor arrived cast as a visionary and left as a turnip; Sven-Goran Eriksson's public perception morphed from well-travelled guru into sex-crazed cartoon character; Steve McClaren went from much-hyped talent to "the wally with a brolly."
Even Fabio Capello, who came with a glittering resume of success in Italy and Spain and a reputation as one of the game's foremost pragmatists, suffered damage to his credibility.
Capello saw action at just one major tournament—England's abysmally poor showing at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
He earned a stay of execution through Euro 2012 qualifying, but eventually left the job by mutual consent after publicly condemning the FA's decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy (via the Daily Mail).
Like most things with England, it was a messy, public and rather embarrassing affair.
The FA's hiring process for Capello's replacement carried the theme forward. After three months of drawn-out meetings, they finally came upon West Brom's Roy Hodgson as the man to lead England into Euro 2012 and beyond.
In the meantime, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp—the overwhelming fans' favorite for the position—was besieged by such rampant speculation that his Spurs chairman, Dan Levy, might argue it cost them a Champions League spot next season (per Goal.com).
But Hodgson it was. And Hodgson it would be, with precisely 41 days at his disposal, to prepare a mediocre England for the most difficult tournament to win in football.
Good luck with that—if only that was the extent of it.
Firstly, Hodgson walked into a racism scandal that threatens to put one of his central defenders, John Terry, in prison.
To pollute the situation still further, Terry will go before a court in July facing charges of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand—the brother of Terry's one-time central defensive partner for England, Rio.
That was Hodgson's first question. He answered it by overlooking Ferdinand for his squad and trying to convince us the Manchester United man was being left out purely for "footballing reasons," according to BBC Sport.
As bad luck would have it, Hodgson would be asked the question a second time—after Chelsea's Gary Cahill broke his jaw and was forced to withdraw from Euro 2012.
Once again, Hodgson snubbed Ferdinand and called on Liverpool's Martin Kelly—prompting an angry reaction from Ferdinand's agent, Jamie Moralee. "It's a lack of respect. He wants to play," Moralee told BBC Sport.
Cahill was just the latest injury casualty to blight England's preparations for Poland and Ukraine. Hodgson had already lost key midfielders Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, along with backup goalkeeper John Ruddy.
And then there's the Wayne Rooney situation. England's best player is banned for their opening two group games—against France and Sweden—and could conceivably return with his team already resigned to an early exit.
Decent alternatives are not in plentiful supply. Hodgson will likely choose between Liverpool's £35 million misfire, Andy Carroll, and young Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck—only recently back from injury.
These are hardly options to strike fear fear into France, who are unbeaten in 20 matches under Laurent Blanc and possessed of some of Europe's most creative midfielder and potent attackers.
England's wide options aren't exactly frightening either. Liverpool's Stewart Downing failed to offer up a single goal or assist in the Premier League last season, while James Milner was no more than a squad player in Manchester City's title success.
There's bold ambition to be found in the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but whether Hodgson feels he can allow himself such indulgences against France remains to be seen.
At the back, Hodgson must now choose between Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott to partner Terry. Whoever gets the nod, the pairing will represent a relatively unproven one.
And if it fails, the blame will inevitably center on Hodgson's decision to ignore Ferdinand. For footballing reasons.
Hodgson was up against it from the moment he accepted the FA's offer. In the month since, the England job has become harder by the day.
How far can England go?
But there may be a silver lining.
For once, the English public are heading into a major tournament with a sense of realism. Nobody expects them to win, and, after the soporific showings in South Africa, just about anything England do will count as entertainment.
Hodgson knows the form book has his team going out, at best, in the quarterfinals.
It's mission improbable for England to go any deeper. But he'll probably be shackled with the blame regardless. That's how it works being England manager.
But the more people who fail managing the Three Lions, and the longer the wait goes on for a major success, the greater the allure for the next man up.
Hodgson is that man. The big question is, with odds stacked against him, can he buck the trend and exceed a nation's expectations?
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