Roy Hodgson loved talking about the future. England’s bright future was always just around the corner. Even as he announced his departure following the humiliating Euro 2016 loss to supposed minnows Iceland, the 68-year-old spoke about the “exciting” future this sleeping giant of a footballing nation had to look forward to.
It’s little wonder his gaze was fixed straight ahead, honed in on some mirage of greatness just on the horizon. If he’d bothered to look behind, Hodgson would have been presented with a reality less palatable for someone intent on creating a legacy.
England had failed twice before at major tournaments under his dubious guidance. At least at Euro 2012 it was against credible opposition in the shape of Italy, and even then only on penalties. Two years later there was a group-stage exit in South Africa that was less easy to forgive.
But on Monday Hodgson led England to a new and inexcusable nadir. Beaten by Iceland. Deservedly beaten by Iceland.
His legacy now is this: Hodgson is the man who responsible for one of England’s greatest sporting embarrassments.
And yet there had been genuine optimism heading to France, and it wasn’t just the usual pre-tournament hype either. England enjoyed a 100 per cent record in qualifying and had a crop of fresh talent making their mark, with the likes of Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Harry Kane impressing for club and country.
It made sense, then, to talk about that blindingly bright future. It even made sense to believe its arrival was imminent, that it would materialise in France in all its glory, that we would see what Hodgson had always known was coming.
But it took only one game shroud that sanguine hope in doubt. England were better than Russia, but so what? They drew 1-1 against a side later beaten 3-0 by Wales – a team England were ecstatic to beat with practically the last kick of the game.
Hodgson created nothing but doubt with his team selections, notably the six changes made for the 0-0 draw with Slovakia. He shoehorned players into positions they did not belong, particularly in forward areas.
An unbalanced team was the logical result, with each of his strikers low on confidence following Hodgson’s indecisiveness as England lacked a creative spark throughout the tournament.
‘We’ll do well when a team actually tries to come at us,’ was the mantra of somehow still expectant England fans after three successive matches in which their side had been faced with teams content to put men behind the ball.
After Iceland fell behind to Wayne Rooney’s early penalty in Nice, they did come forward. And they scored. Indeed, the next time they hit the target, they scored again.
So it became apparent that not only did England struggle when sides sat back, but also when they came forward. England essentially demonstrated that they struggled against sides who did just about anything.
That was the culmination of a body of work with the national side that Hodgson described himself as “proud” of.
“I’m sorry it’s had to end this way,” he added.
The irony is, England’s future may just be a little brighter now that he’s gone.
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