12 May 2014

Hodgson’s Three Lions squad – a predictable blend

Manager Roy Hodgson wants a balance between youth and experience in England’s 2014 World Cup squad. But John Anderson says his selection is hardly a blueprint for world football domination.

The last time an English manager revealed his World Cup squad, it was to the incongruous accompaniment of Kenny G’s saxophone and the sound of shattering ceramics. Paul Gascoigne’s explosive reaction to being summoned to smooth jazz fan Glenn Hoddle’s hotel room in La Manga to be informed that he wasn’t going to France 98 has become the stuff of English football folklore.

Sixteen years on and we live in calmer time, it seems. It’s hard to imagine any of the current discards making a beeline to Roy Hodgson‘s home and taking a mallet to his crockery. The fact is that this squad announcement has never been a particularly contentious issue, and Hodgson himself admits the 23 names have been in his mind for quite a while.

Right blend

Ashley Cole‘s omission is by far the most momentous decision, prompting the Chelsea left back’s international retirement after 107 caps. Many, myself included, had expected Cole’s experience of three previous World Cup to count in his favour but Hodgson has decided to blood Southampton’s Luke Shaw, who turns 19 the day before the final in Rio.

In this respect the England boss has previous. Before Euro 2012, when Gary Cahill got injured, he called up Liverpool’s callow Martin Kelly ahead of Rio Ferdinand, to widespread astonishment and condemnation. As it turned out Kelly didn’t kick a ball in anger during the tournament – and nor will young Shaw unless some mishap befalls Leighton Baines.

The fact is that this squad announcement has never been a particularly contentious issue.

Hodgson has made much of the need to achieve the right blend of seasoned campaigners and talented youngsters in recent weeks. The latter are also represented by Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Phil Jones, while Frank Lampard, who will celebrate his 36th birthday during the World Cup and Steven Gerrard, 34 at the end of this month, are the elder statesmen.

Curiously, both the average age of the squad and the average number of caps per player stand at 26 so, in that respect, the England coach has been true to his word, although only five of the party have actually played in a World Cup before.

Read more: Channel 4 News on the 2014 World Cup
Manager Roy Hodgson announces England's 2014 World Cup squad (Reuters)

Stand-by dilemma

In fact, the selection of the seven stand-by players was arguably harder to predict than the squad itself. John Ruddy, John Stones, Jon Flanagan, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll, who have been asked not to overdo it on their holidays, also provide a mixture of seasoned pros and notable newcomers.

Carrick and Cleverley both featured heavily in the qualification campaign but are victims of the wretchedness which has surrounded Manchester United’s season, while Carroll lost out in a close race with Rickie Lambert for the fourth striker slot.

Uncapped defender Stones, who has made a big impact at Everton this season, is the most likely of the septet to be tipped off his sunbed, with Hodgson confirming that the 19-year-old from Barnsley will go to Brazil if Phil Jones suffers a further setback in his recovery from a damaged shoulder. Mind you, given England’s record with pre-tournament injuries, they might all consider taking nothing more than a weekend break at the Heathrow Premier Inn.

Routine selection

But Shaw aside, it is a very routine selection. You won’t find many England supporters challenging Hodgson’s list of names but neither will they be hailing it as a blueprint for global domination. The bookmakers see the Three Lions’ chances of lifting the trophy as roughly comparable to those of Chile and Colombia.

Back in 1998, Hoddle’s announcement took a further absurd twist when the media conference was hijacked by the comedian Dom Joly in a giant Peperami outfit. Somehow the security guards had failed to spot that he wasn’t a bona fide member of her majesty’s press.

Carrick and Cleverley are victims of the wretchedness which has surrounded Manchester United’s season.

Hodgson’s came from the Luton headquarters of main sponsors Vauxhall, and he was his usual charmingly disdainful self when dealing with pre-scripted questions from journalists on a motoring theme. In truth, they’re very difficult to resist, and in a few weeks’ time we will find out if Hodgson emerges from it all as Bernie Ecclestone or Arthur Daley.

John Anderson will be commentating on World Cup matches for talkSPORT. You can follow him on @GreatFaceRadio