When Napoleon was asked to promote one of his generals to the rank of marshal, he was wont to ask, “Is he lucky?” It is perhaps a question we might ask now of Roy Hodgson: is he lucky? And the answer, alas, is emphatically no.
Taking the England team over he immediately knew that he could not count on Wayne Rooney, who had so idiotically got himself off in Montenegro, for the first two matches of the European finals. He lost two promising young full backs, plus Gareth Barry; and more significantly, he lost Frank Lampard, while actually training for the tournament. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, he has now, thanks to a malign Belgium shove, lost Gary Cahill after Saturday’s game at Wembley, with a doubly fractured cheek.
The seemingly logical thing to do in Cahill’s expensive absence was plainly to call on recall Rio Ferdinand; except that in the complex circumstances, it couldn’t be done, even had Cahill wished to. In some evident desperation, Hodgson has called upon the 22-year-old Martin Kelly, a big, strong but inexperienced defender even at club level, let alone at international level, where he made only a fractional sub’s appearance for England in Oslo.
Cue outrage, fury, cries of alarm and amazement. Why had Roy not turned to the seemingly obvious choice, Rio Ferdinand, with his 81 caps and his recent encouraging form? Well, I think we all know why; the answer in two words being John Terry.
Just as Hodgson left Ferdinand out of his squad for reasons he diplomatically sidestepped when he announced it, so he finds himself in exactly the same position even with England a centre-back short. Roy knows as well as as any of us that if Terry was picked, then Ferdinand couldn’t be and vice versa. That dire day at Shepherd’s Bush, when Terry certainly mouthed racist invective but swore it wasn’t directed at Rio’s QPR brother, Anton, has, as we know, resulted in Terry’s arraignment for racial abuse in front of magistrates; but not till July.
That was evidently done to suit Chelsea, but I still wonder why the Metropolitan Police have taken over the case and the charge, rather than the FA. It was, after all, the Football Association who charged and in due course severely punished, with an eight-match suspension, Luis Suarez for abusing Manchester United’s Evra. The word is that the police were bound to take action because they had received a complaint allegedly from someone who hadn’t even been at the game. Yet the case seemed and still seems perfectly suited to FA justice. In which case, one may assume that it could long since have been done and dusted. Though I made scant sense of the claims that the FA should take the England captaincy away from Terry before he had even been brought to any kind of trial.
While we are on the subject, why is it that, after Terry had tried to lead a protest by England players in training camp against Fabio Capello in South Africa, he ever got back to the England captaincy in the first place? Now it is being argued in some quarters that if one or the other centre back was to be excluded from the Euro squad, it should have been Terry, rather than Ferdinand. But while it is true that Terry, both on and off the pitch, has a far from glittering behavioural record, Ferdinand himself, in football terms, is scarcely a saint, having as you well remember been suspended for no less than eight months for “forgetting” to take a drugs test at the Manchester United training ground. Morally, perhaps, six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Meanwhile, with all those costly absences, how do prospects look? The first two games will be played without Rooney, but to be frank, when he did come on early in the second half, against Belgium, he made surprisingly scant impact. There is still, alas, given the long absence of Jack Wilshere, no genuine playmaker in midfield; Gerrard has power, drive, bravery and propulsion, but neither he nor Parker, who, Hodgson still admits is some way short of full match fitness, can provide the ‘invention of the game’ as the Italians call it, which Paul Gascoigne and sometimes Glenn Hoddle could so ingeniously do.
The suggestion is that England, in good Chelsea manner, will wage wars of attrition, though there do seem several bright alternatives up front. Ashley Young both scored one excellent goal and made an other. Jermain Defoe looked bright when he came on against the Belgians. Andy Carroll, with his height, strength and physical challenge, could always provide England with a viable Plan B.