England won their final warm-up game before Euro 2012 on Saturday evening, defeating a young Belgium side which comprised several burgeoning superstars and is highly thought of around Europe at the moment. The Three Lions came out 1-0 winners in a game in which their guests dominated possession for large sections and, certainly, played the more attractive football. The win was an important morale booster however and, as for the manner in which it was achieved, well, England fans had better get used to that because under Roy Hodgson that is how England will play. That is to say, largely without the ball, in two banks of four, maintaining defensive discipline and shape, working hard, covering the ground, keeping it tight and playing on the break. So far, it has been successful: two games-two 1-0 wins.
Whilst the victory was important, it was overshadowed by the injury to Gary Cahill. Cahill had to leave the field early on in the first-half having been pushed into a nasty collision with Joe Hart. The culprit, Dries Mertens, later apologised for his rather senseless action and claimed that while he did push Cahill, he didn’t mean to cause the collision. The truth in that statement can be left in the air for discussion, however, what can be assumed is that Mertens certainly didn’t mean for his moment of stupidity to have the effect that it did. The consequence of Mertens’s push was that Gary Cahill will now miss Euro 2012 with a double fracture to the jaw, thus placing further stress on Roy Hodgson’s already weakened England squad.
In accordance with UEFA rules, Hodgson was allowed to name a replacement for Cahill to come in and take his place in the 23 man squad. This he has done. The chosen one, much to the consternation of the mainstream press and media machine is, Liverpool right-back, Martin Kelly. Kelly has been called up ahead of, Manchester City right-back, Micah Richards and, experienced Manchester United centre-back, Rio Ferdinand and it is this which has caused the usual suspects to sharpen their blades ready to slice through Hodgson’s side should things not go well.
Now, I am no lover of Roy Hodgson. As a Liverpool fan, I know only too well that his tactical approach, as mentioned above, is rigid, boring, one of attrition and one that is bereft of any creativity. I am also aware that he is prone to making bad choices when it comes to the personnel he recruits, be it signing Christian Poulsen and Paul Koncheskey for Liverpool or not giving Aaron Lennon at least a provisional call up to the England squad before the Euros. However, in this case, Hodgson’s choice seems logical and justified. I see no reason why he should have called Micah Richards into the squad after the Manchester City player refused to be placed on stand-by. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the case; who called who to ask what, previous disappointments, whatever, they are unimportant. If you refuse to go on stand-by like Richards or snub your country like Carrick, you do not deserve to be called upon again!
Starting at the beginning of this saga ( I’m talking with particular reference to Rio Ferdinand here), the F.A. have, with their spineless handling of the John Terry affair, ensured that this problem would raise its head. John Terry, as we all know, is facing criminal charges of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, Rio’s little brother. The court case, as is the norm with British justice, has been postponed until after the Euros. The F.A., in their infinite wisdom, rather than suspending Terry from England duty with immediate effect pending the outcome of the trial, decided instead to unilaterally strip him of the captaincy, a move which forced Fabio Capello to resign and made little difference to anything else. Had they had the nerve to suspend him, as might well have been standard practice in many other professions, there would have been no chance of this blowing up in Hodgson’s or England’s face.
Hodgson was given the job just a month before the Euros and John Terry, still being available for selection, was chosen ahead of Rio Ferdinand for footballing reasons. Why? I’d hazard a guess that Rio’s persistent injuries, inability to play matches in quick succession and temperamental form this season were all reasons. That is not to say that Terry has had the best of seasons, far from it in fact, but in tournament football, with the games coming thick and fast, it is Hodgson’s belief apparently, that John Terry is a better bet, more willing and able to put his body on the line for the cause and quicker to recover afterwards.
Whether you agree with this reasoning or not is immaterial, it is a call that only the manager can make. Whatever the moral implications surrounding John Terry’s inclusion, they are not for the manager to deal with as they not footballing matters. Not selecting John Terry, for Hodgson, would have been based on moral and therefore political reasons, reasons and action that could only be decided upon and applied by the F.A. as the sport’s governing body.
Cahill’s injury left Hodgson in a jam, should he call up Rio? He didn’t, and I believe he made the right decision. Having included John Terry, it would be folly for Hodgson to now bring in Ferdinand after initially snubbing him. Let’s remember that the replacement for Gary Cahill will not be going straight into the first eleven, rather he is a back-up in case of further injury. When Hodgson failed to initially pick Ferdinand and chose to include Terry, the writing was on the wall, unfortunately for Rio, Roy doesn’t like the way he plays, he prefers a no nonsense centre-half to one that holds onto the ball. It would also, undoubtedly, make no sense for England to start with a centre-back partnership who hate each other’s guts for personal reasons and whose poor relationship would threaten the harmony of the whole squad. At 33 years-old, Ferdinand represents the past and, whilst there are others in the squad pushing that age, Ferdinand’s persistent injury problems (back) make him a risk to take to a high intensity tournament.
Versatility is key at a major championship, as injuries are commonplace. Whereas Ferdinand can only play at centre-back, Kelly can play right-back and centre-back. As the years have mounted up Rio’s lost more than a yard of his pace, while in Martin Kelly, Hodgson has called on someone with pace to burn. Rio Ferdinand hasn’t been in the England set-up since 2010, yet Martin Kelly trained with the squad in Oslo and came on in the second-half against Norway. Squad-wise, choosing Kelly over Ferdinand means that Phil Jones will now be used as centre-back, centre-mid cover, positions he much prefers and is better at playing, allowing Kelly to fit in as natural understudy to, Liverpool team-mate, Glen Johnson.
Martin Kelly had a good spell at Liverpool this season and was actually playing his way into being ahead of Glen Johnson in the Anfield pecking order, until injury cut short his season. He is young, strong, fit, hungry, has a great engine, made more tackles when playing than Gary Cahill or Rio Ferdinand last season, joins up well going forward, is not afraid to go past his full-back and, when he does, is a decent crosser of the ball too. Whilst some may argue that he is not yet international class, I would argue that: a) it’s impossible to tell unless you watch him play a full competitive international; and, b) how are he or any of the other youngsters going to get the requisite experience to get up to international level if they are not included in squads for tournaments such as this?
The furore over the inclusion of Kelly and, particularly, the clamour over Ferdinand’s omission, expose the underlying short-termism of the English mainstream press, they may call for a fresh approach and younger players to be included but, when the chips are down, they revert to type. Players such as Joe Hart, Martin Kelly, Jordan Henderson, Phil Jagielka, Andy Carroll and Alex Oxlaide Chamberlain represent youth, hunger, vitality and, more importantly, they represent the future. This England squad has got plenty of experience in its ranks with the likes of Gerrard, Johnson, Terry and Cole, why add more by taking Rio, another relic of the failed so called “Golden Generation?” It’s time for the English fans and, in particular, the media to practice what they preach. Namely, give youth a chance!
Check out the Euro 2012 profiles by clicking on the Euro 2012 Profiles button in the category section on the right hand side of the home page. Full profiles of each squad available with brief analysis of the team’s prospects.
Cahill image Dan Farrimond. Rio image thesportreview. Kelly image k1ng k0ng.