Football: Hodgson must drop

Football: Hodgson must drop

ENGLAND 1 (Wayne Rooney 68-pen)


All the components and none of the glory. A win. A clean sheet. A goal for the new captain.

And yet, it's impossible to ignore two glaring facts: The nation is bored with their team and, on the evidence of this, no wonder.

But, more pertinently, England are better without their new captain.

The English people have had just about all they can take of this side.

The new Wembley Stadium saw its lowest-ever attendance - 40,181.

Given that the game was played out in silence and that the entire upper tier of the stadium was empty, that number seems suspiciously high.

England have always been well supported, attracting near full houses for their home games, but enough appears to have been enough.

A combination of the summer slump and an uninspiring qualification campaign ahead seems to have dulled the passion.

But the real worry is that England manager Roy Hodgson already seems to have an issue with his new captain.

Wayne Rooney scored the winner from the penalty spot, but was ineffectual prior to that moment and when he was withdrawn immediately after his strike, England switched shape and instantly looked more dangerous.

Hodgson told the media upon Rooney's appointment that he liked to think he would be strong enough to drop his new skipper if necessary. Soon, he may have to put that theory to the test.

England began with something approaching a 4-4-2.

John Stones looked confident and composed at right back while Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson made a decent fist of holding the midfield.

Rooney sat slightly behind Daniel Sturridge, with the best moments coming when the Liverpool man linked up with his club teammate Raheem Sterling.

Norway were unadventurous and barely threatened. At least until the second half.

Perhaps sensing that England's inability to create chances was more than a passing problem, the Scandinavians upped the pressure and twice came close to taking the lead. Joe Hart, on both occasions, was England's saviour.

Sterling went on to earn the critical penalty, powerfully dispatched by Rooney.

As he cantered off the field after 70 minutes, Rooney must have felt that his was a headline-grabbing contribution. But, in his absence, England improved markedly.

Sterling went into the hole, where he performs so well for Liverpool. New Arsenal signing Danny Welbeck went up front and the midfield became a diamond.

England should have doubled their lead. Sterling's pace, Welbeck's selflessness and Sturridge's desire looked a far more potent combination.

This was England with verve and speed, no longer plodding along.

Rooney's goal was only England's second shot on target in 170 minutes of football, a stunning statistic that hammers home how poor they have been of late.

There is no doubt that his presence seems to slow England down in the final third and, right now, his touch isn't good enough to make up for it.

One pass in the first half evoked memories of his infamous World Cup corner in the summer.

Rooney turned on the ball near the halfway line, looked up and smashed the ball towards the corner flag, 40 metres from any England player.

Rooney has class, there's no question of that. It's just that no-one has seen it for a while.

He wasn't particularly good for Manchester United last season, he wasn't particularly good for England in the summer and, save for a good goal in a home defeat by Swansea, he hasn't been very good for his club this season either.

The question has to be asked, what does he have to do to get dropped?

After England's loss to Italy in the World Cup, no less an authority than Andrea Pirlo commented on the class of Sterling.

The youngster had caused Italy all kinds of problems through the centre, while Rooney struggled on the left.

Hodgson's response in the next match was to push Sterling out wide and give his position to the United forward. Sterling was anonymous and England lost to Uruguay.

Hodgson doesn't have many players at his disposal, but he has enough to do better than he is doing.

At some point, he'll have to make a decision: Protect England or protect Rooney?

Few would disagree that he has to go for the former

This article was first published on September 05, 2014.
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