When a nation such as England, one inextricably linked with football and its history, faces elimination from a World Cup at the group stage, an inquest will always ensue. Roy Hodgson, who has had a relatively easy ride with the British media when compared with his predecessors, will now face tough questions about his position and suitability to the role of leading England into Euro 2016.
If Italy fail to beat Costa Rica later on Friday, Hodgson will become the first England manager to oversee a group-stage exit at a World Cup since Walter Winterbottom in 1958 whose squad had been weakened by the death of three players in the Munich air disaster.
Hodgson has faced less scrutiny than any England manager in recent memory, partly because of the timing of his appointment (just five weeks before Euro 2012 started) and partly because expectations have dipped after a series of failed tournaments with the "Golden Generation." For once, England fans and the media didn't whip themselves into an expectant frenzy prior to this tournament, instead accepting the fact they aren't capable of competing with the very best.
Even within that context, though, Hodgson has failed. The first game with Italy saw his side widely praised for their willingness to go forward and the style with which they attacked, yet the performance against Uruguay fell someway short. For periods during the game in Sao Paulo, England were all over the place, bereft of any kind of leadership or organisation. For that, Hodgson must take the blame.
Luis Suarez's second goal was a case in point. A long punt upfield from goalkeeper Fernando Muslera somehow ended at the feet of the Liverpool forward inside the box via Steven Gerrard's head, and an emphatic finish left England pointless after two matches. It was a shocking goal to concede, and the buck, as ever, stops with the manager.
In some respects, he's been braver, much braver, in fact, than Fabio Capello before him. Hodgson dispensed with much of England's failed old guard in favour of exciting young players with big futures. There's little doubt Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Daniel Sturridge will be better players for their World Cup experience, and it's that kind of long-term view that Hodgson deserves some credit for.
But, ultimately, two defeats in two World Cup games is failure, and the nature of the defeats were all too familiar, with England struggling as soon as a side containing a couple of world-class players is put in front of them.
And England arrived in Brazil after planning and preparation that left no stone unturned. They took a team of 72 people to this World Cup—from nutritionists and doctors to chefs and pitch specialists—in an attempt to make sure the conditions for the players and staff were perfect. It was meticulous and expensive, leaving Hodgson with few excuses.
The former Inter Milan manager's current deal runs until the end of Euro 2016, but the question now is whether his contract should be terminated. The only thing likely to stop the FA pulling the trigger is a lack of candidates to takeover. When Hodgson was appointed after Capello's surprise resignation just before Euro 2012, it was a straight fight between Hodgson and Harry Redknapp for the role.
Hodgson was quite rightly chosen ahead of Redknapp, whose chances of ever managing England surely evaporated this season when he failed to secure automatic promotion from the Championship with one of the most talented sides to ever play in the second tier of English football.
To be clear, Hodgson made it pretty clear after match here that he has no intention of resigning. Wants to continue to next Euros.— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) June 19, 2014
The FA, sore after the Capello tenure, appeared to be hellbent on appointing a British manager, and that stance is unlikely to have changed two years down the line. By choosing the British route, their options are severely limited.
It may be that Hodgson's blooding of young players and move toward a better style of play may convince the suits at the FA he is the man to lead England into Euro 2016, however, usually in these instances, football is an unforgiving place. Hodgson is almost certain to find himself out of work when he returns from Brazil, which looks likely to be early next week.
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