Friday, March 15, 2013

Rio Ferdinand's Recall Symbolises England's Stagnation

When England football manager Roy Hodgson announced his squad for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro, taking place next week, there was one notable surprise inclusion and that was Rio Ferdinand. It's hard to imagine an announcement that could have better symbolised the complete and utter failure of English football to take any sort of step forward over the past few years.

The 'golden era' of English football was effectively pronounced dead after receiving a 4-1 trouncing at the hands of Germany in the 2010 World Cup last 16. Fabio Capello and just about everyone involved in English football discussed the idea of making a move towards younger players and attempting to change the culture of the national side.

Besides the appalling alliteration involved in the name 'golden generation', the name doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny either. Since reaching the semi-finals of the 1996 Euro Cup, England have qualified for seven of eight major international tournaments reaching the quarter-finals on four occasions, but never advancing further than that. It's actually somewhat surprising that there is so much reminiscence over the most recent generation of the English national team.

Even excluding Ferdinand's place in the squad. There are plenty of signs in Hodgson's squad that this isn't an England team that has 'moved on'. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard could well both make it into the starting line-up as Hodgson continues to take on the greatest dilemma of the past decade trying to figure out how to get two of the best central midfielders in the world to play well alongside each other.

The main reason for the bewilderment over Ferdinand's recall is routed in his exclusion from England's Euro 2012 squad after alleged friction between him and John Terry. That episode saw Ferdinand first excluded from the initial squad and then further snubbed when Martin Kelly received a call-up to the squad ahead of him.

Hodgson's testimony that his decision to leave Ferdinand out of that squad was purely for footballing reasons is unlikely to have withstood much interrogation from any of the greatest TV detectives, but he stood firm by it. Equally his assertion that Terry's international retirement had nothing to do with opening up a spot for Ferdinand is a little hard to believe.

Potentially, that is just the side story though. The real story with the England squad preparing for these qualifiers, which includes a critical trip to top of European group H Montenegro, is a team that really hasn't moved on.

England haven't moved on in terms of playing style. Expect them to at best press early against Montenegro and then drop back, at worst they will be dogmatically defensive from the very beginning. Moreover, they still haven't moved forward in terms of personnel.

Ferdinand's inclusion means that he is likely to feature in the starting line-up as the main marshal of a defence after Hodgson stronly hinted in his press conference that he would start.

The 34-year old probably does deserve his place in the starting line-up given his experience and recent form. The reality is that he along with several of England's older stars are never likely to be a part of a national side that makes a serious run in a major international competition.

Hodgson hasn't been able to usher in a new era of English football. Instead, it seems that he is becoming ever more reliant on the 'old generation' just to overcome every hurdle. Even when that hurdle is playing away against Montenegro in a World Cup qualifier that Hodgson's team really cannot afford to lose.

The 'golden generation' may no longer exist conceptually, but the same personnel are still needed to keep England's respectability as a footballing nation intact.

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