Hodgson’s new generation came through qualifying with flying colours.
England were the only team with a 100 per cent record in the qualifiers after eight rounds. Drawn in a relatively easy group, they won their opening game, in Switzerland, to take an early lead that was never relinquished.
Since their best Euro performance, when they reached the semi-finals on home soil in 1996, England have reached the quarter-finals twice, in 2004 and 2012.
Hodgson survived the disappointment of the last World Cup, when England failed to get out of their group, but the FA will only discuss a new contract after next summer’s tournament. “What we wanted to avoid was the slightly unsavoury position we had with Fabio Capello in 2010,” says chief exec Martin Glenn.
With Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard retired, Hodgson has blooded a new generation of youngsters in Harry Kane, John Stones, Nathaniel Clyne, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley. About to turn 30, Wayne Rooney is the elder statesman.
Hodgson has concerns over the fitness of strikers Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge. The lack of a big centre-forward means England may have finally ditched their tendency to hit panicky long balls to a target man.
Hodgson has 4-3-3 as his preferred formation but he can also go 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 where Kane comes into the starting line-up in front of Rooney. Luke Shaw’s double leg fracture could let Leighton Baines back in, while Jack Wilshere’s fitness is an ongoing concern
as he is yet to play so far this season.
He may not be the most charismatic footballer ever to have graced English football, but the 29-year-old midfielder has quietly made himself indispensable to Roy Hodgson.
In an England squad blessed with such precocious starlets as Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and John Stones, Milner is the reliable older statesman. And with Jack Wilshere a permanent injury fixture, and Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard seeing out their careers Stateside, he is now an automatic midfield selection for Hodgson.
An accomplished teenage sprinter and cricketer, he has quietly racked up more than 50 caps since his debut in 2009. Though his name is rarely displayed in lights, he is one of only three current England players – the others are Wayne Rooney and keeper Joe Hart – to have featured in England’s last three tournament squads: for Euro 2012 and the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
In many ways, Milner is the embodiment of Hodgson’s England – a steady rather than spectacular performer who rarely steals the limelight – with versatility his biggest strength. He can play wide in a midfield three or four-man diamond, and could even be deployed in a central holding role if required.
His jack-of-all-trades tag has been hard to shake off and Milner has found himself mercilessly parodied on social media.
“You get labelled as a player – and I’m ‘Boring James Milner’, that’s the way it is,” he explains.
Having joined Manchester City from Aston Villa in 2010, he moved to Liverpool this summer and was skipper when Jordan Henderson was injured. He has also had the chance to play regularly in central midfield.
“I’d like to think you will see the best of me now I am in the central role,” he says. “This move was a selfish move for me.”
Hodgson, at least, could be grateful for that in France next summer.
Record-breaking captain who is the all-time top scorer and has Peter Shilton’s 125-cap appearance record in his sights.
The 68-year-old took charge in May 2012 and is contracted until July 2016. An experienced, pragmatic Europhile.