Early on Saturday evening, Roy Hodgsons plucky bunch of underdogs ground out their second single goal warm-up win, this time against Belgium. A win is a win, and anybody taking so much as a cursory look at Hodgsons options ahead of this summers European Championships will already fully aware that anything more than abject humiliation may well be worthy of the sort of flag waving seen on the banks of the River Thames yesterday afternoon and that, as such, grinding down Norwegians and Belgians to something approaching a cross between a reasonably well-organised scout parade and a football match should be regarded as an achievement of sorts.
Such results in warm-up matches, however, only tell a tiny proportion of the current story of Englands preparations for the tournament, and for every small cheer to be emitted at the rare sight of an England manager actually managing to impose his tactical will upon a team successfully there has been plenty of news to suggest that rancour will still win the day in the England camp this summer.
First of all, the injuries. Gary Cahills fractured cheekbone merely added to an ever-expanding list of walking English wounded. This is to an extent mere bad luck, but it did reopen a can of worms that has proved to be the curse of English football this season. Cahills withdrawal from the squad led to a call up for… Martin Kelly of Liverpool. Rio Ferdinand subsequently took the opportunity, first through his Twitter account and then through his agent, to publicly express his unhappiness with the situation, meaning that we are now left with an England squad that will travel out to Ukraine with a cloud hanging over it, amid rumours – and it should be pointed out that these rumours are at present from the more speculative end of the spectrum – that black players are being overlooked on account of this whole issue.
Now, it should go without saying that this theory is so full of holes that the most appropriate place to expect to see it might be at the centre of last years Wolverhampton Wanderers defence – after all, five black players were in the England starting eleven on Saturday – but mud tends to stick and, regardless of any other considerations, it must surely now be worth asking the question of whether it is worth the baggage of taking John Terry with this squad or not. No-one would suggest for a second that he is not, as far as the forthcoming criminal case is concerned, innocent until proven guilty, but from even so much as a purely pragmatic perspective it is starting to feel as if his continued involvement in this squad may now be casting a shadow over this squad that is longer than anything that he could do on the pitch could compensate for.
Still, we are where we are and Martin Kelly, who has made a grand total if twenty-two career appearances in the Premier League will travel with the team this summer. Such is the extent of Englands recent injury woes, however, that is starting to feel as if we are only one or two badly timed tackles on the training ground from Hodgson having to introduce conscription to ensure a full complement of players this summer. Two players that, as such, could be described as conscientious objectors are Michael Carrick and Micah Richards. Both are players that many armchair coaches might have tempted to take to the tournament. Both, however, gave displayed varying degrees of petulance and will stay at home this summer unless somebody, somewhere has a major change of heart.
If the events of the last few weeks have proved anything, it is that Englands apparently golden generation continues to hang around the neck of the team like an albatross. It seems scarcely credible that the “Lampard & Gerrard” debate, which should have been considered conclusively settled several years ago, has only been resolved this time around due to an injury to one of those concerned, while what we might have thought to be reasonable behaviour concerning John Terry has started, both at Chelsea and within the England camp, to come to resemble a bizarre form of obseqiousness which is, for the national team, starting to look as if it could cause more problems than it solves this summer. Meanwhile, the sense of entitlement that emanates from some remains palpable, and for many the biggest relief of the coming years will turn out to be the passing of a generation of players who flattered to deceive at every turn and who allowed – some might even say encouraged – the illusion of England as a major football nation to continue to be perpetuated in spite of increasingly diminished returns as time moved on. At least, we might conclude, most supporters have the common sense to realign their expectations according to the obvious shortcomings of what they see with their own eyes.
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