England will only stop losing games when Roy Hodgson has more competition in his squad for a place in the starting eleven.
It is easy to apportion the blame for England’s 2-1 defeat to Uruguay: Hodgson, Steven Gerrard and Phil Jagielka all make attractive targets.
Hodgson sent out a team which was too cautious, sacrificing the attacking promise shown against Italy for defensive solidity – in vain, as it turned out.
Substitutions failed to change the game, while the last-ditch introduction of Rickie Lambert was as predictably rudimentary as it was desperate.
Gerrard, for his part, conceded possession and then granted Edison Cavani the freedom of the England half in the lead-up to Luis Suarez’s first goal.
He then flicked Fernando Muslera’s punt backwards and into the path of the onrushing Suarez, who lashed the ball in to win the game.
Beyond those two flashpoints, Gerrard’s overall game – his passing, set-piece delivery and shielding of the defence – was poor.
Suarez’s two goals also saw Jagielka at fault – he lost his man for the first goal, and was caught hopelessly out of position for the second.
Jagielka’s poor evening meant Gary Cahill had to do the work of two centre-backs, just as Jordan Henderson had to cover the gaps in central midfield left by his club skipper Gerrard.
Surely, Hodgson must have realised that Gerrard and Henderson’s success this season with Liverpool came when they had a third midfielder to help them?
Sometimes it was Lucas, sometimes Philippe Coutinho, sometimes even Raheem Sterling – other midfielders plugged the gaps aroudn the England duo and offered an extra passing option.
An extra midfield player would come at the expense of a number 10 and that appears a sacrifice Hodgson is unwilling to make.
Wayne Rooney played as number 10 against Uruguay – and scored his first World Cup goal – but there is little to suggest that it benefited the team.
Hodgson appears tied to a 4-2-3-1 system, despite experimenting with other formations in friendly matches, when the rest of the world has moved on to a fluid 4-3-3.
In fairness to Hodgson, England have a long record of failing to move with the times when it comes to tactics.
Their biggest problem, however, is the dearth of players to fill the positions in whatever formation the manager chooses.
Gerrard’s sell-by date has come and gone, but who is there to replace him?
James Milner and Jack Wilshere are hardly outstanding candidates.
Glen Johnson, meanwhile, is nailed-on at right back despite being far better-suited to attacking the opposition’s goal than defending his own.
Kyle Walker has struggled with injury and form, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are centre-backs who look painfully ill at ease on the right and Merseysiders Jon Flanagan and John Stones are far too raw.
That a country with England’s resources and population size has come to have no viable alternatives to Johnson is beyond belief.
The side should not also be in a position where it is pinning its hopes on the still-developing Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling – both of whom disappointed against Uruguay.
Uruguay has a population of 3.3 million and so could be excused a lack of depth when it comes to football talent – England has no such defence.
Greg Dyke and the Football Association have made a lot of noise about improving England’s prospects on the international stage.
The effectiveness of the FA’s commission and its policies will be measured by England’s performances in 2018, 2022 and beyond.
Those future England teams stand little chance so long as grassroots playing facilities continue to disappear or fall into disrepair, and only a third of players in the English Premier League are English.
Ultimately, until the issues eating away at the national are sufficiently dealt with, England fans’ can kiss their hopes of bagging the World Cup trophy goodbye.
Image courtesy of BBC via YouTube with thanks