Roy Hodgson was never going to please all the people with his England selection heading into this summer’s Euros. The first to be displeased would have been the omitted fringe players, followed by fans who have their own varying opinions. Before dissecting his choices, it should be noted that the England manager has an embarrassment of riches in certain areas and scant choice in others.
The area where England has plenty of choice is in attacking roles. The most notable inclusion is Marcus Rashford. After suffering injury in the FA Cup final, the debate may have been shelved, Roy’s final choice unknown forever. That aside, his selection does need examination.
There is no doubt Rashford looks like the real deal and has more to his game than just explosive pace and an eye for goal. Whether by fluke or invention, Louis Van Gaal has unearthed a gem. The question has to be if 18 appearances for United warrants a place in the final squad that heads to France.
The national team has a history of young stars bursting onto the scene at major tournaments, the best example of such an impact is perhaps Michael Owen at France ’98. Could France in 2016 be Rashford’s time. It’s this sort of thinking that has made Roy choose him over experienced poacher Jermain Defoe.
The accusation of favouring big clubs has inevitably reared its head again. Defoe bagged 15 goals feeding off scraps but his two-and-a-half-year absence from the England scene means Roy doesn’t see him as a potential shoe-in now. Andy Carroll would have been another that could have offered something different but like Defoe, was never in the running.
There has been a suggestion Rashford’s selection is about acclimatising to the England set-up but he won’t make the final cut. Managers have done this before. Bobby Robson took players in his Italia ’90 provisional squad that weren’t in the running to be selected but he wanted to help blend-in the next generation of players.
If this is Roy’s thinking, then why waste a space on a player that couldn’t even make the first friendly? He could have let Defoe prove his worth.
The midfield debate has largely centred on who missed out. Theo Walcott will spend the summer reviewing his career choices. He needed to nail down a place in this season’s Arsenal side. He didn’t. After declaring his intention at the start of the season to be a centre forward, Walcott failed to convince Arsene Wenger he could be entrusted with the role.
That failure led to him floating in and out of the side. The Gunners had a disappointing campaign overall. Finishing runners-up masks a missed opportunity to challenge and take the Premier League title. If Walcott can’t become a mainstay in an Arsenal side requiring extra spark, he can’t expect to head to France.
Some have argued Jack Wilshere shouldn’t be there based on lack of game time. Roy hasn’t helped himself with the excuses he used for dropping Walcott (a lack of starts) when Wilshere has been absent so long with injury. Hodgson is effectively allowing club managers to dictate who is a good player, rather than compare those in his squad based on his own experiences with them. But Wilshere’s lay-off could be a blessing; it’s not often a player goes into a tournament fresh.
Wilshere has been on the radar because many believe, including here at The Reflective, that Mark Noble should have been included. If Roy was worried too many new faces in midfield roles (Drinkwater, for example) would upset his squad harmony, he should have used one of the extra three places to test the theory with Noble.
Wilshere shouldn’t be the man people look to axe for Noble, the midfield is full of charlatans waiting to be found out. Picking Andros Townsend should be applauded, but by the same measure, placing him in the squad should have been the axe for Raheem Sterling.
If Walcott was dropped for lack of games, how can a player that has only started once for Manchester City in their last 11 games is baffling. During that period, if not before, his form and confidence faded. There has never been a better example of a player needing the summer off to reset their batteries.
The attention on Sterling allows Barkley to slip without inspection after indifferent form, Fabien Delph to snake in, and Jordan Henderson to take his place alongside the industrious, if not always effective, James Milner.
When you closely examine several players, Mark Noble has every right to feel annoyed he missed out.
Defence is an area where Roy did have his work cut out. But that doesn’t mean we’ll go easy on him. Only taking three centre backs is understandable considering the riches elsewhere, and if injuries or suspensions played a part, Eric Dier could slot in as a makeshift replacement. It’s his choice in the trio that should have people worried.
Question marks will hang over Smalling and Cahill’s ability at the top level, this being the case the best course of action is to include an experienced – if underwhelming – alternative. That player exists at Everton but Hodgson opted for the understudy instead.
John Stones appears to be there thanks to the early season hype, his recent performances cannot be the reason he makes the squad over Phil Jagielka.
Like all elephants in the room, he has been left until last: Wayne Rooney. For experience and influence, he has to be on the plane. That was never in doubt. The problem is, as pointed out by Alan Shearer and voiced around the country for months, he isn’t England’s first choice striker anymore. He isn’t even second or third in line. His performances in deeper roles haven’t convinced he should start there either.
So Roy is left with two awkward choices: start a player based on his assumed psychological benefit to those around him, or have a disgruntled captain taking a seat on the bench.
We all know Hodgson will go with the former and play Rooney from the start. Whether this resides England to their usual fate or if the captain has one last moment of magic he’s been saving, only time will tell.