Roy Hodgson’s only success was in managing expectations
For English, question of ‘where do we go from here?’ has existential ring of despair to it
This was never going to be an easy group for England to get out of but the optimists would have had them coming into today’s last game in firm contention and beating Costa Rica to exorcise the ghost of that famous 1950 defeat by the USA here in Belo Horizonte. Even the pessimists didn’t foresee what has happened instead.
Now, rather than just one Brazilian city being associated with humiliation for the English football team, the whole nation will be. Yesterday, it was the Costa Rican coach who found himself dealing with queries on potential second round venues and opponents. For the English, the question of “where do we go from here?” has an existential ring of despair about it.
The FA’s decision to keep Roy Hodgson is a pretty clear admission that they don’t think anyone could have done better with the group he has had while the relative lack of outrage from their media suggests even they have started to acknowledge the futility of hounding one coach after another out of the job.
He may be keeping his job but Hodgson himself comes across as even more battered and beaten than his players. “I have learned how painful it is to build up your hopes,” he said at last night’s pre-match press conference. “I’ve realised that at this top level, I knew it before, but it’s been brought home to me, that it’s so unforgiving. A moment of misfortune can tip you into a level of despair that you didn’t know was possible.”
FailureIf he doesn’t perk up ahead of the game, his team talk today should be quite something.
Hodgson, to be fair, has been frank about the scale of the failure – it is a word he used repeatedly when answering questions – although there is little enough need to be defensive when there is so little rancour in his dealings with the press. It seems England’s one success in relation to this World Cup has been the way in which they have managed expectations.
Beside him on the podium yesterday, Frank Lampard was also downcast but dignified as he contemplated the team’s early flight home – tonight, straight after the game – and, almost certainly, the end of an international career that started back in 1999 with a friendly win over Belgium. He would have been entitled to take some offence to the suggestion his England career has essentially been a failure but he instead reflected calmly and acknowledged others might see it that way.
“I can’t say that my England career has been a failure because as a young lad I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting one cap never mind a hundred or more,” he said. “That said, I appreciate what you’re saying. We all dream of winning World Cups.”
English strengthsBoth men expressed the hope the young players being given their chance to start down the same road tonight might repay the faith being placed in them by helping England to greater things over the years. Lampard’s observation, however, that the English game needed to stay true to its own strengths rather than learning from what others have done internationally suggested that even one of its most intelligent exponents has failed to learn the lesson of so many disappointments.
He is better placed than most to know that equating the Premier League’s strength with the potential of the England team is to completely misread the situation.
Ultimately, he admitted, the only thing left for the team to do this time around is to try to salvage some pride but their ability to do so against this Costa Rican side can obviously not be taken for granted. “We completely have respect for Costa Rica,” he said. “We were very aware of them before the tournament but having watched them against Uruguay and Italy we have more respect for them than ever.”
Being able to retain a bit for themselves is now the real aim of this evening.