How Can Roy Hodgson Free His Side From the Shackles of Mediocrity?

How can Roy free his side from the shackles of failure? We asked three VICE writers for their informed opinions.
June 27, 2016, 4:23pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

Amid the vast political upheaval our country is maypole dancing its way around at the moment, you may have forgotten that there's an international football match being played tonight. In a land where leadership and future planning seem to be forgotten concepts, we should be grateful for the England side. They face Iceland – a remote, weather-worn and largely unknowable island – hoping to earn a spot in the quarter-finals and perhaps pick up some tips on what the next 30 years might look like.

With things not going entirely to plan for England during the group stage – lads, it's Slovakia – we asked three VICE writers what Roy Hodgson can do to free his brave boys from the shackles of past failures. Maybe not all of their past failures, but let's at least exorcise a few demons here.

A great leader is adored, venerated by his troops // PA Images


It's interesting to see England play alright, if not brilliantly, at a football tournament. The last 14 years or so of emotional growth did not prepare me for this eventuality. We have always been bad, in a very straightforward and plain-to-see way. We have either gone out at the group stages or the second round, and that's it: no real feeling of being robbed; that peculiar English hunger to be hard-done-by wasn't ever sated, and there was no real blame.

Now we're playing alright, if not brilliantly, and still not quite getting the results. Crashing out at the first knockout hurdle is actually going to hurt this time.

That is unless Roy Hodgson pulls his finger out and makes a change. England play in straight lines a lot at the moment, a lot of Passing 101. As a result they have a vivacious front line that looks peculiarly blunt, and a bunch of creative midfielders revving in third gear.

Critics may argue a more fluid formation is needed, a subtle tweak in philosophy; they say that someone should lock Gary Cahill in a classroom for two days and not let him out until he stops involuntarily shouting "you wha?" when tiki-taka is mentioned; and that we need to build around two creative attacking talents anchored to a meat-and-potatoes box-to-box midfielder.

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No. What you need to do is get Jack Wilshere, Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney playing to their full potential. And by that I mean let them all smoke tabs and get them really pissed, like Arsenal in the '90s.

FACT: Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy are the three most English men in the squad, and as such all love smoking tabs and getting really pissed.

FACT: Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy have all been gasping for a tab since June 10th, when the England plane set off for Marseille. And you don't want to know – truly, you don't – what Jamie Vardy would do right now for un pint du fizzy lager, por favor.

FACT: Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy – the Three Lions – have the potential to form the backbone (scurrying midfielder, extremely slow and uncultured midfielder, scurrying attacker) of an England side that are extremely hard and extremely English, impossible to break down. Even if you skip through on goal with continental élan, even if it's just you and Joe Hart, one-on-one, even then in that unassailable position, a half-pissed Jack Wilshere will run up behind you with an airhorn, shouting "wahey!" and yank your shorts down in front of millions of TV viewers.

FACT: Every Englishman alive has played in a football game on some drizzly five-a-side pitches against six big lads who walk up smoking and eating chips at the same time, distended jogging bottoms barely covering their arses, huge men, gargantuan, who then proceed to absolutely play you off the park. You get spanked 7-0. Their top scorer has a heart attack between his second and third goals, and you still lose.

Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy could be our tabs-and-chips Europe-conquering fatlads. Give them tabs. Give them chips. Give them all cans at half time. Let them be English, for god's sake. Let them win.


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England's biggest problem at these Euros has been trying to win games the regular way: forwards up front, doing all that running about; defenders at the back, largely untroubled. That's going about things all arse-about-tit. Look at Iceland. They don't play to win: they simply hang on in there.

In their final group game, the footballing representatives of this low-populated but regularly-pissed island nation impressively soaked up the pressure from an Austrian team growing ever more desperate by the second, seeing their Dark Horse pre-comp billing slipping through their fingers like so much dust that collects in the corner of your eyes while you're daydreaming about Doing a Denmark.

They soaked it up with a generous appetite, like many an Icelander does pints of continental-strength lager (banned in the country until 1989), topped and tailed by shots of Brennivín. (Seriously, have you been in Reykjavik on a Friday night? The locals can out-drink, out-fight and most probably out-fuck any tourist from this Green and Pleasant Land). The team didn't buckle, just as that crinkle-skinned guy at the end of the bar won't, however many Einstök whites and imported blondes he necks over the course of his sole day off from schlepping backbreaking nets on a fishing boat for six out of seven. He just keeps going and going. Do not try to keep up with him as you will die.

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And then Iceland smashed Austrian hearts with a killer break in injury time, three on two (if we're being generous, not that the defensive pair had a chance), and it was goodbye the beautiful Baumgartlinger, see you later sexy Alaba, auf wiedersehen Premier League champion Fuchs. Resilience did it, not silky skills or incisive passing and moving. Iceland doesn't trade in tiki-taka. There's no translation for the phrase. Endurance prevailed, as befits the professional footballers of a nation that lives through winter months of almost complete darkness.

Ronaldo couldn't beat them. A whole team of mercurial Hungarians couldn't either, despite having previously won five of the last six ties between the two. In both of these Group F matches, Iceland's rivals came to win; and both times, as we subsequently saw in the third and decisive Austrian encounter, the backline just dealt with it. With a little luck, fair enough, but this is a team with the same points total from a tough group as England achieved. Nobody wearing three lions on their shirt at kick-off tonight can afford to take the Icelanders lightly.

Let's be honest: pound for pound, they're miles ahead of us // Georgi Licovski/EPA

So, how to break them down and deliver a blow akin to that we dealt the Danes in the 2002 World Cup? Because that's what we want here, isn't it: a comprehensive display after a group stage of stuttering uncertainty. In that tournament in South Korea and Japan, England snuck out of Group F at the expense of Argentina – oh the memories – with the same record they've set down at Euro 2016: one win, two draws, a goal difference of plus one. In 2002, England needed to win their final game of the group, against the already out-of-contention Nigeria, to finish top. They could only manage a 0-0. The parallels aren't so much staring us in the face as pinching our cheeks and planting a sloppy kiss on our French sun-chapped chops.

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In 2002, we hit them fast and hard: the Danes were three-zip down at half-time, and had even allowed Rio Ferdinand to open the scoring with one of the three international goals he'd manage from 81 caps. So what we take away from that is surprise: if we're going to lay on early pressure, do it by befuddling the opposition defence with the ol' switcheroo: chuck Gary Cahill up front and play Vardy as sweeper. If we play the same game that totally failed to roll Slovakia over, we'll not dent Iceland's staunchly 4-4-2 setup. That unfashionable formation has no doubt got Roy flummoxed, if not outright repulsed, like an Englishman served up a feast of fermented hákarl after not Googling the stuff.

And so I say again: mix it up, and we'll get a result. Danny Rose in the centre, Kane at right-back. The Icelanders won't know what's hit them, much like that first taste of Kronenburg back in '89.

Which, by the way, is about a tenner a pint over there at the moment. Just how much does a trawler worker make to be on the sauce like that all day?


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How many years of hurt has it been now, lads? Has it been a millennia of hurt? For England, the hurt is never ending. In 10,000 years time – when football tournaments look like something from a neo-noir dystopian sci-fi film directed by Ridley Scott – England will rock up on their hoverboards, scrape through the group stage and proceed to be thumped shitless by Germany, and so the hurt will go on.

In 10,000 years time, someone will wheel out the wrinkly, preserved brains of Baddiel and Skinner for the Euros' opening ceremony. Their pickled grey matter will proceed to sing a psychokinetic version of "Three Lions", while being sporadically electrocuted by an enormous power node. English football fans will have lived through precisely 10,050 years of hurt, an entire eon of failure, disappointment and miserable introspection, and a disembodied Baddiel and Skinner will have soundtracked the entire thing. Civilisations will have fallen, societies will have crumbled, and still England will go out at the quarter-final stage after a sobering 2-0 loss to the Netherlands.

By the time that England rock up at Euro 12,016, the tournament will probably just be Death Race 2000 for football. At the whim of a supranational European despot, England's metaphorical hurt will be made actual, and the team will be forced to fight Portugal to the death. A quintessentially English midfield trio with names like Keith Madely, or Jack Tipple, or Nigel Garage, will be literally chainsawed in half by the opposition, or fatally irradiated with futuristic nuclear hand-weapons. Meanwhile, the England manager of the future will no doubt still be starting Wayne Rooney, despite the fact he is now just a generous handful of Scouse dust.

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That is the scale of the hurt England face in the future, unless Roy Hodgson can finally heal the nation with victory at Euro 2016. To do so, he must take a leaf out of the big book of Brexit, and teach a load of working-class northerners to harbour a deep and burning hatred of Europe. Sure, Hodgson could tweak things tactically, or change his starting line up, but nothing guarantees success like mobilising our collective contempt for French people. Should England scrape their way past Iceland on Monday, they'll face the host nation at the Stade de France on 3 July. If Hodgson wants to win the day, he must revive the spirit of Henry V, and Agincourt, and St. Crispin's Day, and that time they beat us 2-1 at Euro 2004, the cheese-eating, Bordeaux-quaffing, sexually superior bastards.

Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

Having dispatched those god-awful Frenchies, England could then face one of Germany, Italy or Spain in the semi-finals. Again, the opposition can be overcome by a combination of righteous anger and malicious national stereotyping, especially if it's the bloody Hun. Then, Hodgson's lads would most likely face Belgium in the final. We've already stuck two fingers up at Brussels once this month, lads, and we can bloody well do it again.

That is the remedy for England's eternity of hurt: we must be resentful, angry and thoroughly irrational. It matters not whether Hodgson plays 4-4-2, or 4-3-3, or 1-2-2-5, as long as we maintain a blind and ludicrous prejudice against our European neighbours. Then, and only then, will a dystopian future be avoided. Then, and only then, will true Englishness prevail.


Read our full Euro 2016 coverage here.