As the former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson might say: “First half good, second half not so good.” After a successful qualifying campaign, England’s plans for Euro 2012 were thrown into disarray by the abrupt departure in February of manager Fabio Capello and the subsequent delay in naming a successor.
At the time of writing, with less than six weeks to go before the tournament kick-off, the Football Association were close to appointing Roy Hodgson as manager. The uncertainty over the managerial situation had only added to England’s problems, which included their main striker, Wayne Rooney, being suspended for the first two matches of the tournament; and their brightest hope, Jack Wilshere, being ruled out through injury.
Fans have voted with their wallets, too, purchasing just over half of the 6,000 tickets allocated to the Football Association for England’s first game, against France in Donetsk. While the prohibitive cost of flights and hotels in Ukraine has clearly been a factor, the lack of enthusiasm reflects a general mood of pessimism regarding England’s chances.
Such a negative outlook may have played a role in prompting Capello, appearing on Italian TV, to criticise the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy after the defender was charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League match. FA chairman David Bernstein acted swiftly in demanding the Italian’s departure.
Relations between Capello and many key sections of English football, including the media and club managers, had strained to almost breaking point. The Terry dispute offered Capello – and the FA – a convenient way out of his £6million-a-year contract.
Following Capello’s acrimonious exit, the FA refused to be rushed into hiring a replacement. Capello’s assistant Stuart Pearce, who was already working overtime as Great Britain Olympic manager and England under-21 boss, was installed as caretaker.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Redknapp was the bookies’ favourite but Spurs’ form nosedived after he became linked with the England job. But it appears the FA had other ideas, with Hodgson as its only target, and was not prepared to enter negotiations with Tottenham over compensation for Redknapp.
In contrast, Hodgson is out of contract with West Bromwich Albion, and thus available at a much lower cost to the FA. Hodgson, an intelligent man and notable tactician, has vast international experience and will also relish the challenge of developing England’s new national football centre in Burton-upon-Trent.
If confirmed as manager, Hodgson faces a number of difficult decisions. Most importantly, he has to tackle the Terry situation. The former captain is due in court in July to face charges of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand and many have argued that it would be best to leave Terry out of the England squad until the case is resolved. In past tournaments, Terry has formed an effective partnership with Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother, but that may now be impossible in the circumstances.
The new manager must also prepare a game plan for the first two games without Rooney, and for when he returns. And he needs to resolve the issue of right-back, where there are a number of candidates for the starting role.
On a more fundamental level, he must decide whether to pick a squad with purely Euro 2012 in mind, or take a longer term view and select youngsters who could play a major role in the 2014 World Cup campaign.
Injuries have already ruled out Wilshere, as well as Aston Villa striker Darren Bent and young Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell. There are likely to be others in the build-up to the finals, further reducing expectations.
That may be no bad thing. The case of Denmark in 1992 offers an example of how success can be achieved from the most unpromising of circumstances.
EURO 2012 FIXTURES
11.06.12 France (Donetsk, Ukr)
15.06.12 Sweden (Kiev, Ukr)
19.06.12 Ukraine (Donetsk, Ukr)
EURO 2012 SQUAD
23 Jack Butland (19) 10.03.93 Birmingham City
13 Robert Green (32) 18.01.80 West Ham United
1 Joe Hart (25) 19.04.87 Manchester City
12 Leighton Baines (27) 11.12.84 Everton
5 Martin Kelly (22) 27.04.90 Liverpool
3 Ashley Cole (31) 20.12.80 Chelsea
18 Phil Jagielka (29) 17.08.82 Everton
2 Glen Johnson (27) 23.08.84 Liverpool
14 Phil Jones (20) 21.02.92 Manchester United
15 Joleon Lescott (29) 16.08.82 Manchester City
6 John Terry (31) 07.12.80 Chelsea
19 Stewart Downing (27) 22.07.84 Liverpool
4 Steven Gerrard (32) 30.05.80 Liverpool
8 Jordan Henderson (21) 17.06.90 Liverpool
16 James Milner (26) 04.01.86 Manchester City
20 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (18) 15.08.93 Arsenal
17 Scott Parker (31) 13.10.80 Tottenham Hotspur
7 Theo Walcott (23) 16.03.89 Arsenal
11 Ashley Young (26) 09.07.85 Manchester United
9 Andy Carroll (23) 06.01.89 Liverpool
21 Jermain Defoe (29) 07.10.82 Tottenham Hotspur
10 Wayne Rooney (26) 24.10.85 Manchester United
22 Danny Welbeck (21) 26.11.90 Manchester United
Roy Hodgson (64) 09.08.47
… defenders Chris Smalling and Kyle Walker were ruled out with groin and ankle injuries respectively … goalkeeper John Ruddy withdrew from the 23-man England squad after breaking a finger and was replaced by Jack Butland … midfielder Gareth Barry was replaced in the final 23 by Phil Jagielka after he tore a muscle in his lower abdomen during the friendly against Norway … Frank Lampard was replaced by Jordan Henderson after picking up an injury in training
EURO 2012 QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN
03.09.10 Bulgaria (h) 4-0
07.09.10 Switzerland (a) 3-1
12.10.10 Montenegro (h) 0-0
26.03.11 Wales (a) 2-0
04.06.11 Switzerland (h) 2-2
02.09.11 Bulgaria (a) 3-0
06.09.11 Wales (h) 1-0
07.10.11 Montenegro (a) 2-2
P W D L F A Pts
England 8 5 3 0 17 5 18
Montenegro 8 3 3 2 7 7 12
Switzerland 8 3 2 3 12 10 11
Wales 8 3 0 5 6 10 9
Bulgaria 8 1 2 5 3 13 5
By Gavin Hamilton