Many people will claim that it’s far too early to start thinking about the tournament next summer as England are yet to be tested by teams which will be contending for the trophy come June, but is that not what the English do? After all, fans were eagerly anticipating success in the South African World Cup despite their side failing to qualify for the European Championships in 2008. Which begs the question: can England win Euro 2016?
After a record-setting performance from England throughout this qualifying campaign that saw them keep a 100% record and eight clean sheets, alongside Wayne Rooney’s incredible goal tally, England fans should have every reason to be excited about this young squad. The team members have gained so much experience following their disappointing showing in the World Cup nearly two years ago.
Analysing the team from the top down, England still have the same manager as they did for the last Euros. This may come as a surprise to most following their early exit at the hands of Italy, and also due to the under-performance of England in Brazil 2014; but, is it fair to place the blame entirely on Roy Hodgson?
Many would say yes; there have often been complaints about England’s lack of adventure on the ball, despite their attacking talent. The results in Brazil only reinforce this concern; a 0-0 draw in the last game against a Costa Rica side that nobody had given a second’s thought to prior to the tournament could easily have been the nail in the coffin for Hodgson. Considering he was given two major tournaments to use to take England to the next level following the disappointment of the ‘Golden Age’ in 2010, there should be cause for lingering concern indeed.
There was a great deal of speculation that the FA would replace Hodgson with somebody with a little more ‘charisma’, in order to reflect the youthful feel of the current squad. Nevertheless, the 68-year-old has what seems to be a final chance to make England competitive next summer. However, you cannot help but feel as though England will have to turn to an animated figure such as Alan Pardew or Tony Pulis to change the team’s fortunes.
Unfortunately for him, Hodgson has far less experienced players at his disposal than he did in 2014, with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard all retired from international football. So, it begs the question as to whether the depth in this young squad will be able to compensate for the loss of such huge talent.
There are many players who have emerged as stand-out performers for the England side in the absence of these all-time greats; Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill look as though they are capable of forming a formidable defensive pairing if they are given the time to develop together on the field. Youthful John Stones has given Roy Hodgson plenty of headaches as his composure and maturity has shown why he was courted so heavily by Chelsea. Meanwhile, Nathaniel Clyne has become an obvious upgrade for Glen Johnson, who was the subject of much questioning two years ago.
The midfield looks as strong as it has done since both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard left the side. When fit, Jordan Henderson looks as though he can be a genuine leader on the pitch, alongside exciting talents such as Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain he gives England a dynamic and very attacking midfield. Players such as Fabian Delph and James Milner are also more than able to provide protection for the back four, whilst also offering England options aplenty on the counter-attack.
This gives Hodgson the means to pick the perfect side depending on how England need to approach a game. Yes, they have dominated games in the build-up to the European Championships, however, it is likely that England are to come up against much better opposition in the summer and, therefore, need to be able to adapt to different game plans and situations. Teams such as Germany and Spain, for instance, will not allow Hodgson’s men to have the kinds of possession fans have become accustomed to seeing whilst watching England on the field.
For the first time in a long time, England have a real dilemma as to who they should be playing upfront; this is a dream for many football fans, as for too long we have been relying on the goal-scoring abilities of Wayne Rooney. Having a healthy Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge would give England two completely different options in terms of game plans. Furthermore, the more that Theo Walcott can influence Arsenal’s performances and score goals on the biggest stages, the more Hodgson must consider him an asset through the middle in France.
Having a problem with squad selection is something that no England manager has had since the legendary midfield of Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard, and that’s something which should be very tantalising for all England fans. Nevertheless, England always seem to find a way to disappoint on the world stage.
Unless Hodgson begins to play a consistent first team, then it will be difficult for this side to establish enough chemistry to trouble world class opposition. However, given time and perhaps a run of good results in the upcoming matches against Spain and Germany, England fans may be able to go into a tournament with their usual unparalleled optimism and hope that the impossible may become reality.