Sense of caution cloaks Roy Hodgson's final 23

FROM the Football Association’s safe pair of hands, the safest of squads.

New England manager Roy Hodgson
New England manager Roy Hodgson

FROM the Football Association’s safe pair of hands, the safest of squads.

On what turned out to be a good day to bury bad news, Roy Hodgson unveiled the greyest of England squads to travel to Poland and Ukraine this summer. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inclusion raised a few eyebrows and there was some novelty value in picking John Ruddy a few days before the Norwich goalkeeper is set to get married but, other than that, it was pretty much what we expected.

There were no leaps of faith and no shock call-ups. Hodgson has restored England’s old hands and picked a 23 that he believes can make a serious impact in the European Championships, rather than using the tournament as a chance to blood new stars with more than an eye on the next World Cup.

That means John Terry is in, Frank Lampard travels and Steven Gerrard will lead England into battle.

With Glen Johnson likely to play at right-back – Micah Richards is ignored, Kyle Walker is injured – there is a whiff of the failed XI that tumbled out of the World Cup two years ago about Hodgson’s team.

Do those players deserve another crack at a major international tournament?

That is debatable, but Hodgson has clearly surveyed those coming through and concluded that they are not yet ready for the rigours of Euro 2012.

In that respect, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. There is no doubt that Lampard and Terry are among the best 23 players at Hodgson’s disposal but when the all-star internationals who accompany them at club level are taken away, they have often been found wanting.

Since Euro 2004 both have been regulars in an England side that has seen its standing on the world stage diminish with every passing tournament.

Both were mainstays in South Africa, where the Three Lions were simply dreadful and Lampard in particular seemed on the brink of being phased out by Fabio Capello. With Terry, it isn’t about footballing ability. If it was, his inclusion would not be such a hot potato but unfortunately the 31-year-old has become a deeply divisive figure and his presence in the dressing room will send England plunging back into the factions that seem to have undermined successive tilts for success.

To be absolutely fair to the England manager, two of the young players he would have taken to the Euros have been ruled out through injury. Jack Wilshere was emerging as the creative fulcrum for both club and country last summer but he has missed the entire season and is not yet ready to return, while the exciting Walker broke his toe at the end of the season to rule him out.

Other young faces, such as Manchester United duo Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley, plus Arsenal full-back Kieran Gibbs, are also either injured or not deemed fit enough to make the trip.

Without taking big gambles, there wasn’t really anywhere else to turn.

This correspondent’s call for Sunderland’s Jack Colback to get a chance was always going to fall on deaf ears and Hodgson does not seem to have given a great deal of thought to the break-out stars who have driven Swansea and Norwich on this season. World Cup qualifiers against lesser nations will be seen as a more appropriate breeding ground if those players are to get a chance – perhaps a sop to the natural conservatism of the new England boss.

Hopefully, Hodgson will look to blend the experience of his older players with the coltish likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Manchester United’s former Sunderland loanee Danny Welbeck. He will shoulder the scoring burden with Andy Carroll, who resurrected his England career with a late burst of form.

His £35million move to Anfield played a part in Kenny Dalglish’s sacking, but Hodgson has obviously seen something in the Gateshead lad. It is a big opportunity for him.

Of the fringe men, there are one or two selections that prompt more than a little surprise. Stewart Downing is a better player than he has shown this season but Adam Johnson, his successor at the Riverside, seems to have more tools to unlock opposition defenders.

Football stats service Opta posted a Tweet that claimed only Ashley Young had assisted more England goals since 2010, but Downing has had a dreadful season at Liverpool. Johnson has not figured much for Manchester City in big games either, but he has more mobility and pace to unlock international defences.

Those wingers are only as good as the men they supply, though, and the presence of the lightly-used Tottenham front man Jermain Defoe in the squad confirms the dearth of attacking options available.

Defoe has always done quite well for England but has been in and out for his club. A decade ago, regular first-team football was a minimum requirement to make it into the international reckoning but such things no longer seem to be as important to a Three Lions boss.

You suspect that lack of resources could be a familiar theme for Hodgson over the next four years.


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