At the risk of sounding like a spoilsport, there has to be a possibility that Roy Hodgson’s decision to load five strikers into his Euro 2016 squad might ultimately be held against him if England’s tournament turns out to be as harrowing as when Kevin Keegan did the same in a different era.
That, however, does feel like a negative tone when Hodgson has been emboldened enough to fill a quarter of his outfield places with centre-forwards. Hodgson once voted for Javier Mascherano to win the Ballon d’Or ahead of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and cites Dave Sexton among the three greatest managers in history.
So how do we balance that reputation for conservatism with the fact that Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford will be there when England’s squad check into the Auberge du Jeu de Paume in Chantilly next week.
England will certainly have a more potent look than when Hodgson was parachuted into the job to replace Fabio Capello and went into Euro 2012 with Wayne Rooney, Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck and Jermain Defoe as his strikers.
Rooney, lest it be forgotten, was suspended for the first two fixtures. Carroll and Welbeck had two England goals between them and Defoe had not started an international in the previous 20 months. Hodgson’s verdict after another unsatisfactory tournament was that England had an obvious shortage of front players.
Four years on Hodgson has picked the most adventurous list, perhaps, since Keegan included Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey and Kevin Phillips in his squad for Euro 2000, when they were eliminated in the group stage. Kane and Vardy scored as many Premier League goals last season as Manchester United’s entire squad.
Rooney has managed 12 in 15 appearances since the World Cup. Marcus Rashford has talent, momentum and, on the evidence of what has been seen so far, an apparent immunity to nerves, and maybe it is time to cut Daniel Sturridge a bit of slack as well. Sturridge’s injury issues might count against him but Hodgson is on record describing him as the most natural finisher of all his attackers and it seems to have been largely overlooked that the Liverpool striker has scored eight times at club level since March. Of all England’s strikers only Kane has better figures in the last couple of months.
The downside is England’s squad has a slightly lopsided look when Hodgson has found room for only three centre-backs, with Eric Dier primed to move back from midfield in an emergency, and a distinct lack of natural width now Andros Townsend has been cut free. Hodgson will inevitably face questions about the imbalance if England’s tournament does not go well and it is certainly a calculated gamble that only eight out of his 20 outfield players could be described as defence-minded.
Equally, it is a strange set of events if Hodgson, having been criticised in the past for alleged dreariness, is unduly criticised for showing an adventurous streak and at least this way England have the options, attacking-wise, to worry even the most accomplished opponents.
Hodgson was asked at the weekend whether it was possible to shoehorn Rooney, Kane and Vardy into the same team. “Of course,” he replied. Sturridge, one imagines, will not want to be the odd one out. Rashford has an awful lot going for him, even if he is likely to be fifth in the pecking order, and neither should it be forgotten that Raheem Sterling started the Australia friendly as a striker.
Perhaps the best way of putting it into context is to measure England’s attacking options against those of Germany, the world champions, whose official website lists Mario Gomez, Mario Götze and Leroy Sané as the strikers in Joachim Löw’s squad. In reality only Gomez is a natural centre-forward whereas Götze and Sané are attacking midfielders – and Sané has won only two caps.
This, however, is a common pattern among some of the leading nations. Apart from Olivier Giroud, France’s only out-and-out striker will be André-Pierre Gignac, who has spent the last year playing for Tigres UANL in Mexico. Graziano Pellè is a competent striker for Southampton but in a different era it is difficult to imagine him being one of Italy’s attackers and Spain, the holders, do not have a particularly formidable list either. Their attackers will be Álvaro Morata of Juventus, Nolito of Celta Vigo and Aritz Aduriz, a 35-year-old who looked like finishing his career as a one-cap wonder until he forced his way into Vicente del Bosque’s plans earlier this year, on the back of a 36-goal season for Athletic Bilbao.
The friendly against Portugal at Wembley on Thursday might be an opportunity for Hodgson to experiment with Rooney, Kane and Vardy in the same side. Kane and Vardy have already shown they can work well together as split strikers whereas Rooney could move back into the No 10 role. That, however, is the position where Dele Alli has been most effective for England. There is, in short, no straightforward answer.
All that can really be said for certain is that Hodgson has never had a more attractive set of attacking options. He complained recently that it was always unfair to think of him as a conservative manager and one of the clear messages coming out of England’s camp was that a striker-heavy squad was very much his doing, rather than a collaboration between him and his coaching staff.
Hodgson has loaded up on strikers and gambled with his defence – and his future ultimately depends on how it turns out. Nobody, however, can accuse him of not being attacking enough.
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