Well, at least the FA is finally set to appoint a new England manager. With Euro 2012 little more than a month away, it was about time.
Unfortunately, a large chunk of Three Lions fans won’t be thrilled that Roy Hodgson, not Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp, now seems destined to land the job. He’ll be more popular, mind you, than interim boss Stuart Pearce.
After the so-called golden generation failed to deliver at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and didn’t qualify for Euro 2008 – Steve McClaren, as bumbling as he was, was overly crucified – eternal optimists probably can’t envisage England ending its 46-year drought in major competitions this summer, no matter who is at the helm. Hodgson’s main focus should, and probably will be, World Cup 2014. His task is made harder by Wayne Rooney’s two-match absence – against England’s two most difficult opponents in the group stage.
Here are five questions surrounding England with the showpiece looming.
1. What can we expect from Hodgson?
Apparently, the reported $16 million in compensation sought by Tottenham for Redknapp was simply too much of a sticking point for the FA to overcome; Spurs chairman Daniel Levy drives a hard bargain, you know.
Redknapp would have insisted on his own, deep, backroom staff, according to speculation, giving the FA more of a headache.
Still, a shame, for England, that likeable ‘Arry was bypassed.
When it comes to man management, there are few better Englishmen, and his appointment would have lifted both players and supporters immediately (not to mention the media). He deserved the job after his long, and mostly successful, spell in club football. Hodgson is a widely respected figure, and he’ll have the players’ respect, too. The 64-year-old owns ample experience in international football – unlike Redknapp – excelling with Switzerland, for instance, and he took unfancied Fulham to the Europa League final. (McClaren led Middlesbrough to a Europa League final. Bad omen?)
He’s on the way to leading West Brom to its best ever finish in the Premier League, when steering the Baggies away from relegation was the first priority.
However, Fulham, West Brom, Switzerland, Finland and the UAE, some of Hodgson’s other outposts, hardly qualify as pressure-cooker environments. The England job is the opposite, even if the current crop isn’t expected to do all that much.
When Hodgson was promoted from Fulham to Liverpool, another position where all moves are scrutinized, look what happened: He simply couldn’t cope. For those that say current Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish is cracking, he lacks Hodgson’s managerial experience.
If the FA wanted an Englishman after foreigners Fabio Capello and Sven-Goran Eriksson failed to lead England to the Promised Land, Redknapp had to be the man.
2. Should Hodgson try to lure Paul Scholes?
Paul Scholes’ return to Manchester United turned around the season for the Red Devils. The English Zidane, as he’s been dubbed, has formed a solid partnership with on again, off again English international Michael Carrick.
If Scholes, as unlikely as it may seem, chooses to return to the England set up – and no doubt he’d be welcomed by Hodgson – call it a morale booster for the squad. As the past few months have demonstrated, Scholes, 37, still has more ability than most.
Some would argue that a rift inside the camp might surface because, after all, Scholes turned down a chance to reappear at international level at the 2010 World Cup. But why, as backers of Scholes would argue, would he take the plunge back then if he was relegated to a spot on the left side of midfield?
An adventurous (and unlikely) formation for Hodgson against France in England’s opener would see Carrick and Scholes in the middle, Ashley Young on the left, Theo Walcott on the right (if fit), and Steven Gerrard behind the main striker.
3. What are the options in Wayne Rooney’s absence?
Rooney’s two-game ban is bad enough. But the scenario worsens when you consider Rooney won’t play against France and Sweden.
Recent news on Darren Bent, in fine form in an England shirt, is encouraging – he ultimately might be fit for the tournament. However, even if his injured ankle heals by then, inactivity means Bent won’t be in top form and ideal game shape.
Behind Rooney and Bent, the pickings are slim at striker. Glance at Pearce’s selections for February’s friendly against the Netherlands: Fraizer Campbell, picked only because of his ties to Pearce at under-21 level; Daniel Sturridge, slumping at Chelsea; and Danny Welbeck, who, until last week, had faded after a bright start. Peter Crouch must be one of those, though, on the plane to Ukraine.
Debate rages about Grant Holt. Critics will look down on the 31-year-old because he plays for Norwich and has spent most of his career in the lower leagues, but Holt – whose physique resembles Rooney – is the second highest English scorer in the Premier League, behind the Red Devil. He should be in the squad, if nothing else.
For those who think Holt lacks technique, see how he embarrassed Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey in March and used fancy footwork to score against Everton in December.
Come on, Roy, give the guy an opportunity.
4. Who should be captain?
When Pearce named Scott Parker as captain against the Netherlands, he snubbed Gerrard. Gerrard, approaching 100 caps and with winners medals in the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup, deserved the honor.
Maybe Pearce was trying to show that he’s not afraid to shake things up.
Based on his performances on the pitch (and even after his ridiculous foul on Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez in the Champions League), John Terry is a standout leader. His performances for Chelsea in the past month, and with injured ribs, have been outstanding. He remains a supreme motivator.
But stripped of the captaincy for a second time – on this occasion as he awaits trial for allegedly racially insulting QPR’s Anton Ferdinand – he won’t get a third opportunity. Imagine how Ferdinand’s brother, Rio, would respond to Terry barking out orders in Ukraine if the Manchester United defender makes the cut and appears alongside Terry.
Gerrard, publicly anyway, refused to blame Hodgson after he was sent packing by Liverpool. If their relationship was solid behind the scenes, then Hodgson would likely give Gerrard the armband. A snub by Hodgson, however, would prove telling, now wouldn’t it?
5. So, how will England fare?
Rooney’s early omission could cost England a spot in the quarterfinals. France is the favorite, and if Sweden can earn a point against England, second spot might be determined on goal difference. Nervy.
However, expect England to pip Sweden for second, which would mean a probable quarterfinal date with Spain. It’s unlikely England could duplicate November’s victory over the reigning world and European champion, even if the Iberians’ form has dipped slightly.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.