With England these days, it always seems to be a matter of “but.”
England have had a new manager for two weeks, but only now do they have a new captain. Twenty-three players are heading to Euro 2012, but the squad still needs work.
A couple fresh faces promise faith in the future, but there’s still room on the roster for old hands coasting on past glories.
And this summer the Three Lions face a manageable task in a winnable group, but with this squad and this manager, it’s impossible to predict anything.
When Fabio Capello resigned as England manager amid controversy in February, England’s bosses were guaranteed a tough assignment heading into Euro 2012. Capello left over the issue of authority, with the FA having stripped John Terry of the captaincy without Capello’s consent.
Capello was right to feel aggrieved, but he was misguided in his continued support of Terry, whose rap sheet grows longer almost by the day. Yet, in new manager Roy Hodgson’s first squad—the team he’ll take with him to Euro 2012—there, once again, is Terry.
The Chelsea man slipped into the roster ahead of fellow veteran central defender Rio Ferdinand. And while one could argue effectively for either player’s inclusion on footballing grounds, Ferdinand’s inclusion would have served notice that this is a new England, under a new manager, fighting a new fight.
"In the last couple of days I've spoken to both of them and explained to them why I've come to the decision," said Hodgson.
"He [Rio] was obviously disappointed. I'd be surprised had he not been. He was very gracious and he wished myself and the team the very best of luck in the tournament."
Translation: Same old England. Admittedly, though, the roster is salted with a few fresh faces.
Newboy Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 18, is the chic selection in midfield, though it’s unclear whether he’ll play any more than his Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott did at age 17 during the 2006 World Cup.
Regardless, the inclusion of the Ox (with zero caps to his name) indicates at least some willingness on the part of Hodgson to shed his conservative image.
Or something like that.
Walcott in the squad to provide guidance to Oxlade-Chamberlain on how to fill the empty hours when you don't play.— John Brewin (@JohnBrewinESPN) May 16, 2012
Roster spots for Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy (zero caps), Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck (four caps, no goals) and Liverpool’s £35 million man Andy Carroll (three caps, one goal) also suggest Hodgson will do things his own way, but the rest of the squad tempers those hopes.
Hodgson’s initial squad includes four players from Liverpool (final league position: eighth) and both halves of the unsuccessful England central midfield partnership of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
Gerrard has been named the team's new captain (rightfully so), which means he'll start. But who will partner him?
England and Hodgson seem no closer to that answer than any previous team or manager over the past half-decade.
The most troubling sign, though, is the inclusion of Liverpool winger Stewart Downing, who produced neither a goal nor an assist during the entire 2011-12 league campaign after a £20 million transfer from Aston Villa last summer.
Still, Downing is only one player, and teams aren’t made or broken on one player. Besides, there are reasons to think he could help England.
4 - Since August 2010, only Ashley Young (5) has assisted more goals for England than Stewart Downing (4). Selected. #eng— Opta Sports (@OptaJoe) May 16, 2012
It’s entirely possible that no national team manager has ever selected a unanimously popular squad, but this isn’t the bold move from Hodgson that it could have been.
Hodgson had little time to select his first squad, and he’ll have an almost laughably short window in which to prepare the players he chose. With that in mind, it’s not hard to see why he opted for the conservative route.
But players like Ferdinand, Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge, Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick and Manchester City defender Micah Richards have every right to feel snubbed.
We’ll see this summer just how much they could have helped England.
The full squad:
Defenders: Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), John Terry (Chelsea), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Leighton Baines (Everton)
Midfielders: Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur), Ashley Young (Manchester United), James Milner (Manchester City)
Forwards: Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United), Andy Carroll (Liverpool)