Hodgson’s Choice: Back youth, or stick with experience?

In the days and weeks since Roy Hodgson selected his England squad, a quiet excitement has been building across the media and between fans that England may well have more of a chance of success in Rio than many had previously entertained. Although boasting a reputation for defensive, tactically sound football, Hodgson’s England side has the kind of youth and verve capable of whetting the appetite of even the most ardent cynic.

But the big question remains – having selected the likes of Sterling, Barkley and Shaw to travel to Brazil, will the England manager now pick them from the start? This is Hodgson’s choice – let’s examine how his thinking might run:

1. Safety and experience first, and bag two points from the first two games

“It’s the World Cup in Brazil, and the last thing I want to do is be on my way home after just 180 minutes of football. Why risk fielding inexperienced youngsters against the might of Italy, and the wily Uruguayans? Going gung-ho against Italy will almost guarantee being hit on the break, and if we try to trade punch for counter punch with Uruguay, Luis Suarez is likely to make us look rather foolish.

No, I need to field the players that I can trust to cope with the big occasion, and who will most closely follow my specific instructions. The climate is too aggressive and the opposition too strong, to play ‘off the cuff’ football and risk not controlling the game. So the best option is to stick to my tactical principles. Remember France and Italy in 2012, when I set the side up to work hard and frustrate?

That means James Milner at right wing, Frank Lampard in the middle, and no place for Sterling, Shaw, Henderson or Barkley in the starting line up. Two nil-nil draws (who knows, we may even pinch one from a Leighton Baines set piece) and we are on for three points against Costa Rica in the next game and a ticket to the second round. Then I can think about freshening the team up, depending on the draw.”

2. Attacking vibrancy is my best form of defence – we need three points from one of the first two games

“This could be my last set of competitive fixtures as England manager and my legacy depends upon the kind of performances we deliver at this World Cup. We are travelling all the way around the world – why hold back and disappoint our fans who have traveled, and those watching at home?

The young players I have selected have proven themselves in the toughest league in the world all season, against world class opposition, and under tactically demanding managers in Pochettino, Martinez and Rodgers. Each have proven themselves as responsible, adaptable, mature performers, and critically, as capable of delivering when it really counts.

We can’t beat Italy at it’s own game and so need to try something different, while the Uruguay defence is more than suspect, and our best way of keeping Suarez out of the game is to pin the South Americans back to their own goal. Plus, remember the qualifying campaign, and the drama against Montenegro and Poland, when I threw caution to the wind and played four up top, with Townsend running riot?

That means giving youth it’s chance and getting on the front foot. Sterling, Henderson, and Barkley all start in a midfield that emphasises creativity, and can provide the chances Sturridge and Rooney need to thrive. Three points in our opening game virtually guarantees us qualification to the next stage, and makes a huge statement that we are England, and we are here to impress ourselves on to the tournament.”

Which option will Hodgson go for?

Hodgson’s choice – to go with youth or stick with experience – is obviously not as crude as depicted here. But it is the big decision facing the England manager ahead of the tournament, and the one which will define England’s chances, and how the nation come to view the boss in years to come.

If asked, the nation would surely say that Hodgson should throw caution to the wind, and really go for the jugular in Brazil. But then, the nation don’t really think about the impact being defeated 4-0 in the opening game might have on player morale, dressing room harmony, or the player’s faith in the manager. There are good reasons why the opening games of World Cups tend to be cagey affairs.

With this in mind, I’m not sure Hodgson really does have much an option in terms of his starting eleven for Brazil. He surely must play to survive in the tournament until Group Game three, before he unleashes the full might of England’s young attacking talent. That will make for some nervy moments in the opening two games, but then, England rarely make it easy, do they?



  1. He has picked the youngsters so that they play a part in England’s crucial group stage matches. It’ll be tough for them to go through, but if they do, the onus will be on the youngsters to shine on!

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