Why not Hooper? Gary Hooper of Celtic that is, this week embroiled in the European Champions Cup against Juventus’ all international three-man defence? One of those rare late developers who has transcended his somewhat obscure days with such as Scunthorpe, whence he had found his way after playing for the England Under-21 team. Hooper has had a splendid season not least in Europe leading the Celtic attack in their European adventure. Roy Hodgson might just as well give him a chance.
Wayne Rooney did well enough against Brazil, tapping in one goal, giving the pass which enabled the ageless Frank Lampard to curl in the other, but isolating him up front rather than playing him “in the hole” is hardly to get the best out of him.
Such international claims can hardly be made for Reading’s surprising “super sub” 26-year-old Adam Le Fondre, consistently coming off the bench to score decisive, coolly taken goals. Born in Stockport and beginning with his local club he drifted to nearby Rochdale of the bottom League division but was shrewdly and profitably acquired by Reading where his goals have been so spectacular. The moral of all this is surely that a player need never give up hope. He doesn’t have to be snatched by a big club in early childhood as was the outstanding, essential playmaker Jack Wilshere by Luton Town then Arsenal. The Biblical saying, “The stone that the builder rejected has become the head of the cornerstone” seems apposite here.
Roy Hodgson rightly deprecated any euphoria over England’s first victory for 27 years* against Brazil. As it happens, I saw that game in Rio where John Barnes glided so elegantly past defender after defender before scoring England’s first goal. Against, it must be admitted a patchwork Brazilian team which included ineffective veterans.
What of the Brazil we saw at Wembley, under the aegis of the resurrected Big Phil Scolari; a World Cup winner whose subsequently career, not least at Chelsea, has been something of an anticlimax? But in recent years Brazil has found it hard to find a manager to rival Zagallo in his prime. At Wembley, Brazil, though most of their players belong to European clubs and could scarcely be thought to lack match fitness, looked very much a work in early progress.
Neymar, expected to be the star turn, at least did not get himself jeered for so frequently falling over as he did not long ago when playing in that friendly at The Emirates – another will soon be staged against Russia at Chelsea – but his roving commission in attack was hardly productive. Hodgson’s tactic of opposing him in numbers was effective. But that England defence still so palpably misses the reassuring presence of John Terry. Cahill’s blunder made Brazil the gift of a goal even if he almost atoned by scoring himself, and Hodgson’s determination to ignore Rio Ferdinand looks somewhat arbitrary.
Using Manchester United’s young Danny Welbeck out on the left wing rather than in the centre of attack looked as ill judged as it has at Wembley in the past. And while there is much delight over the mature, constructive, crucial display of Wilshere at the hub of midfield, it emphasises, as his manager Arsene Wenger has said, the overall lack of outstanding English talent available.
At least, despite one uneasy moment off Kensington High Street, Wilshere seems a balanced young man, most unlikely to go the disastrous way of poor Paul Gascoigne, who has been recovering, one must hope, in the States from his destructive alcoholism.
The sharp contrast between Gazza’s glorious football brain and his brainless off field behaviour is all to well known. Yet what of George Best, so sharply intelligent and humorous, who also drank himself into the abyss? Gascoigne’s was arguably the greatest English talent we have seen since the war. Even Wilshere cannot match his dynamic finishing. Meanwhile, one hopes for the best but, alas, fears the worst.
* Amended 15/02/2013, as original version incorrectly stated 23 years.