World Cup 2014: Hodgson Already Looking to the Future After England Exit

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2014

England national soccer team head coach Roy Hodgson points during a squad training session for the 2014 soccer World Cup at the Urca military base in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014.  Costa Rica's surprise 1-0 win over Italy on Friday meant that England made its most humiliating exit from a World Cup since 1958, following consecutive defeats by the Italians and then Uruguay in Group D.  England play Costa Rica in their final Group D match on Tuesday.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

And so, England have been knocked out of the World Cup at the earliest possible stage. This is the first time England have been eliminated from a major tournament with a game to spare since the 1988 European Championships, and the first time ever at the World Cup. 

On simply those stark facts, this has surely been the worst World Cup ever for England. Even in some of the previous shambolic tournaments they have survived until the knockout stages, or at least the final group game. 

And yet, there is little call for Roy Hodgson to be dismissed, little call for heads on spikes and the FA were quick to confirm that he will not be dismissed when England finally trudge home after the dead rubber against Costa Rica on Tuesday. 

Greg Dyke, the chairman of the Football Association, told Sky Sports:

Everyone is disappointed but we are supportive of Roy. He came to do a four-year cycle and we want him to stay and continue.

We think there are positives, despite losing narrowly to sides in the top eight (of the FIFA ranking). We don’t see any value in changing Roy. We think Roy has done a good job.

We have young players who we’ve blooded by experiencing tournament football and it’s my view, as well as others in the FA, that he remains manager.

Why is this? As a general rule, England is a football country which demands recriminations, but this time there seems to be an acceptance that Hodgson has done a reasonable job. 

The performances against Italy and Uruguay were at times very good, at times reasonable but rarely, some defensive deficiencies aside, calamitously bad. 

Perhaps the primary reason for the low expectations is that England's problems are largely and very clearly down to the quality of players available to Hodgson in certain positions, specifically those defensive deficiencies.

The defeats to Italy and Uruguay were mainly caused by a weakness at the back, where only Gary Cahill has proved himself as an international class defender. Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines were all exposed at various points in those two games, and with the exception of selecting Ashley Cole (who had barely played for Chelsea in the second half of the season), there isn't a great deal that Hodgson could have done about it.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

So what does this mean for Hodgson?‎ In some ways, this World Cup has been a transitional tournament for England, if it is possible for a World Cup to be regarded as such. 

This will probably be the final tournament for Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, and a group of new, young players are either in the side or on the periphery of the squad. The likes of Raheem Sterling, Luke Shaw, John Stones and Ross Barkley will in all likelihood form the backbone of the team for years to come, and they will almost certainly be key members by the 2016 European Championships in France.

In short, Hodgson was appointed on a four-year contract back in 2012, with the focus clearly on 2016 rather than 2014, where there was no realistic prospect of England winning the tournament.

Things might be rather different in France, with a new collection of players and bigger expectations, so there will probably be more pressure on him in two years.

Hodgson himself certainly sounds positive about the future, quoted by the Guardian as saying:

I think this team is still very young. These players, in the space of two more years playing in the Premier League, as they will have, have got to get better and stronger, but playing together as an England team will make them better and stronger.

I’ve never doubted for one minute that as this team moves forward, not just to 2016, but even on from there, they will become stronger and better.

We will just, for the moment, have to suck on this very, very bitter pill that their hopes and dreams have floundered here because we weren’t able to win the first two group games. But the experience bodes well for the future.

Hodgson has arguably done the best he can with the tools and players available to him, losing two games to relatively strong opposition, and losing them narrowly.

There have been signs at this tournament that Hodgson is working on something, that this England side is a work in progress. Despite the early exit England are heading home with a degree of good will, or at least not as much bad will as in previous years.

Hodgson's job is now to capitalise on that and produce a strong performance in 2016.