Hodgson’s token gesture

November 8, 2013 in International by George Curtis

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Just when you thought the Premier League was starting to bubble, the international break comes along to turn the hob off and extinguish the heat. It’s merely a sign of the times that watching England has become a chore and an irritation in its interruption of the domestic calendar. But, once again, we are forced to abide by the perplexing international schedule, which sees England play two friendlies in five days some seven months before the World Cup kicks off. However inconsequential the meetings with Chile and, to a lesser extent, Germany are, they provide us with another chance to rummage through England’s inadequacy and poke at whatever needs poking; whether that be an uninspired central midfield or Danny Welbeck’s hapless claim to be one of the country’s top strikers, or left-sided wingers, depending on which hole needs filling.

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What this pair of trivial encounters does provide is the opportunity for England boss Roy Hodgson to pick a squad that bears no resemblance to the predictable group who will board the plane to Brazil sometime in June, thus gracing us with the usual throng of excuses that revolve around ‘experimenting’ and ‘tinkering’. While a crux of familiar faces will don the Three Lions on November 15 and November 19, for Southampton duo Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana, they can embrace an opportunity that doubtless won’t come around again until the next endless procession of qualifying fixtures commence. They carry no baggage and they have nothing to lose.

It is testament to Southampton’s fine start to the new Premier League season that three of their key players have been rewarded with international recognition. Rickie Lambert earned his stripes earlier in the season by heading home a debut winner against Scotland at Wembley, and the agricultural centre forward has impressed in his two subsequent games. Lambert, unlike his aforementioned teammates, is highly likely to make the cut next year.

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That isn’t to say that J-Rod and Lallana don’t deserve their chance, because that simply isn’t true. Both have been pivotal to Southampton’s early surge, which sees them lie just a point off second place. Lallana, the captain, has led from the front, scoring twice and providing two assists in ten games, while Rodriguez leads the scoring charts with Lambert on three, despite not starting every game. Unfortunately, two young, worthy players joining the England fray for such immaterial fixtures leaves a rather bitter taste in my mouth, for this is not how they should be initiated. I know, I hear you say ‘when else would they get a chance?’ but what is more cheapening than throwing someone a ticket if they’re not able to use it? Surely the point of these friendlies, if there is one, is to allow everybody an equal opportunity to stake their claim for Brazil 2014. I think we can all agree that Rodriguez and Lallana have next to no chance of making the grade.

What’s more, the chances of Hodgson being England manager after the World Cup are fairly slim, based a realistic prediction of how England are shaping up. All that Rodriguez and Lallana will have to shout about is one cap, two if they’re lucky, for a manager who did the best part of nothing for English football. Nor is two games, of which they will be lucky to play 90 minutes, sufficient time for a player to throw his name into the hat for the commencement of next year’s European Championship qualifiers. If you’re telling me the Saints duo can genuinely stake a claim for selection in any of England’s future squads in these particular games, you’re off your rocker. Hodgson is merely playing Mr Generous to silence the cries from the media, the fans, whoever, to reward Premier League hotshots with the ‘honour’ of playing for England. It’s nothing more than a token gesture.

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For Lallana, there is slightly more incentive to perform. Steven Gerrard is dubbed to hang up his international boots after the World Cup, thus leaving a gaping hole in the midfield and the captain’s armband sitting patiently in a drawer somewhere at HQ waiting for its next victim. While Lallana is a far cry away from captaining his country, it may not be such a lengthy journey to fill Gerrard’s shoes, which will have helped the Liverpool skipper through almost 120 internationals. Nevertheless, whatever Lallana’s destiny, it won’t be scripted against Chile or Germany in the coming fortnight.

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