By Barrie White – Sports News Editor
The message is loud and clear to all England fans – drop the expectations ahead of the Euros and the trophy might just come home.
Roy Hodgson, who takes his side to Ukraine this week, must feel like he’s an experience England manager already – media pressure, check, distasteful John Terry situation, check, significant injury list, check.
The 64-year-old, whose previous tournament experience was as boss of Switzerland, has two 1-0 wins under his belt during the friendlies, but has seen the withdrawal of Gary Cahill, Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard.
It’s his choice for Cahill’s replacement that reignited a media storm that was successfully buried when the 23-man squad was announced.
Hodgson claimed that he left out Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand for footballing reasons – believing Sir Alex Ferguson’s claim that the 33-year-old would struggle to play so many games in quick succession.
The England veteran, who may have now played the last of his 81 caps, expressed his disappointment via Twitter at the time, but the issue went away as England faced Norway and Belgium.
However, Cahill’s sickening injury saw the former Bolton defender leave Wembley with a fractured jaw, but Hodgson’s decision to ignore Ferdinand for a second time – instead calling up Liverpool’s Martin Kelly – was met with accusations from the player’s agent, Jamie Moralee, of the England manager disrespecting his player and it being an absolute disgrace.
Many in the media are now calling for Ferdinand to explain why he and his agent are calling it a disgrace, suggesting heavily towards John Terry’s impending court case for racially abusing Rio Ferdinand’s brother Anton.
Hodgson’s ‘footballing reasons’ now don’t stand up – the United man is a much more experienced player across all levels than Kelly, indeed than Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and Cahill himself, and was in fine form as the Old Trafford club narrowly missed out on the Premier League title.
It is clear that Hodgson didn’t want a split camp and decided that Terry was the player most likely to fit in with his plans for a more robust style of play, and by the FA clearing Terry to be picked, he was in the clear to make that decision.
But the former Liverpool and Inter Milan boss should never have been put in that position, but the FA left him to deal with the situation, something he failed to do with any diplomacy or ability by muddying the waters more with his footballing reasons.
And this before the tournament has even begun.
As for the tournament, England, for once, head in with much of the country expecting total failure. In the past, huge expectation – which has been drawn from England’s 1990 World Cup semi-final and subsequent labelling of the ‘Golden Generation’ of the late 90s to late 2000s – has burdened the squad down.
But this time, even the most ardent fan would not expect England to overcome the classiness of a Barcelona-driven Spain, or the mixture of brawn and beauty of Holland.
England’s first test is against a resurgent France, reunited under Laurent Blanc after the debacle of South Africa, and will struggle against Les Bleus, who are in fine form.
Then hosts Ukraine and Sweden will offer an equal test as England look to get out of a difficult group, therefore making a quarter-final appearance difficult, and a good barometer of success.
However, many fans are looking to England’s recent friendly wins with solid defending and pace on the counter attack as a way of defeating Europe’s top teams, much in the way that Greece did in 2004.