Early Doors

Hodgson lowers England expectations

Early Doors

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"You don't have to use short passes. Not if you want to use your big man up front."

It could be a line ripped straight from the script of 'Mike Bassett: England Manager', that affectionate yet searingly honest deconstruction of the stereotypical England boss and his traditional hankering for "four-four-f******-two" and a more rudimentary interpretation of the game.

Instead, Early Doors is happy to report, according to The Guardian it was shouted from the sidelines by one Roy Hodgson as he held court during an England training session for the first time at lunch on Thursday.

Now, ED is not about to dismiss Hodgson as Bassett 2.0 just yet - at least not until he starts writing his team out on the back of a packet of fags - and exploring options to utilise a direct approach is eminently sensible. After all, England are not going to out Tiki-taka Spain, or introduce the Dutch to a new conception of Total Football, are they?

With a dearth of technically proficient midfielders in the 23, it arguably makes sense to bypass them altogether on occasion.

However, for those England fans - and ED is one of them - who hope for at least a cursory nod to possession-based football that is easy on the eye, it was a comment that hinted at a more pragmatic approach from a coach from whom in truth little else was expected.

This is Hodgson's England - the FA knew what it was signing up for when giving him the job - and it is right that we wait to see how it all plays out before leaping to assumptions about how England will fare under their new manager.

From this brief articulation of Hodgson's philosophy, however, we can perhaps draw one early conclusion about the composition of his first XI for Saturday's friendly against Norway and moving ahead into the Euro 2012 finals.

Though the indications from said training session are that Hodgson will abandon the 4-4-2 that has served him so well during his career in order to accommodate a more progressive 4-2-3-1 - a transition that confounded the fictional Bassett - his very vocal desire to see England exploit a "big man" in attack has left Friday's newspapers in little doubt as to who will benefit from a less subtle approach to the game.

Step forward Andrew Thomas Carroll.

A man who appeared to win his place in the squad off the back of a second-half cameo in the FA Cup final - and has spent the season being the butt of jokes while turning in largely turgid performances - now finds himself best placed to lead England's attack heading into a major tournament.

With only one cap in his collection, and just nine goals to his name all season, his likely elevation to the starting XI given the suspension of Wayne Rooney and Darren Bent's injury is rather unmerited, but it does neatly display the paucity of high-class options available to Hodgson.

Deploying Carroll - a man frequently said to resemble a horse tripping over a ball - should help England to drive down expectancy levels in the manner of a wily presidential candidate approaching a crucial televised debate: any kind of coherent performance will look good given what is anticipated.

Germany are likely to start the finals with a striker, in Mario Gomez, who has scored 40 goals in all competitions this season for Bayern Munich. France have Karim Benzema, scorer of 33 for Real Madrid. Netherlands have the luxury of both Robin van Persie (36 for Arsenal) and Klaas Jan Huntelaar (44 for Schalke).

Spain could prove the exception if the loss of David Villa opens the door for Fernando Torres, yet they have the option to use Fernando Llorente, scorer of 29 for Athletic Bilbao, or Roberto Soldado, who has 27 for Valencia.

Of course, England shouldn't really be comparing themselves with teams on this rarefied level, but these unflattering comparisons do serve to underline the chasm in quality between England and the continent's best sides.

Perhaps this reality is one of the reasons why preparations for Saturday's friendly against Norway have been decidedly low-key.

A pre-tournament friendly usually commands a fair amount of attention, yet with Joey Barton's 12-match ban being pored over and Liverpool stepping up their interest in Roberto Martinez, England's preparations for Euro 2012 are being marginalised a touch.

Of course, it hardly helps when the FA puts up James Milner and Joleon Lescott for Thursday press conferences. The former in particular is a physical embodiment of the England national team: functional, uninspiring and likely to send observers to sleep.

On the face of things, Norway are not exactly opponents to get the pulses racing either. England haven't beaten them in 30 years - a run which includes an infamous 2-0 defeat in Oslo in 1993 which hastened Graham Taylor's departure as manager.

The Sun greeted the result with the headline 'Norse Manure', while the loss featured heavily in a documentary called 'The Impossible Job' that explored in painstaking detail the manager's struggles to get to grip with international football.

Coincidentally, it was also the key source material for the Mike Bassett parody.

Another former England manager, Ron Greenwood, also suffered in Norway, losing 2-1 in a match in September 1981 that inspired one of the greatest pieces of commentary of all time. Lady Diana and Winston Churchill were invoked as Bjorge Lillelien celebrated what seemed a seminal victory for the Norwegians.

The same result on Saturday is unlikely to be met with similar euphoria. "Andy Carroll, your boys took a hell of a beating" just doesn't have the same ring to it. But then this just proves England are at a low ebb and explains why Hodgson is preparing the team in the way he is.

Reduced ambitions have finally been embraced, and rightly so. Now Hodgson just needs to coax an adequate performance out of his team.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I will receive all calls with pleasure, but for the next months I have to recharge my batteries and my mind. I will be ready [to return] if one club wants me and seduces me." - Pep Guardiola sends chief executives all over Europe into a heated frenzy by suggesting he could be ready to take a managerial role in time for next season.

FOREIGN VIEW: "When I heard Balotelli say that he wouldn't ever leave Italy with 10 men, I believe him 100 per cent." - Cesare Prandelli clearly has more faith than the rest of us. Still, at least Joey Barton isn't in the Italian squad.

COMING UP: Jim White files his latest column at 1pm, while we also have exclusive interviews with Arsenal and Czech Republic midfielder Tomas Rosicky and Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers.

We will be previewing the League One and League Two play-offs finals which take place over the weekend, as well as England's game in Norway and all the other international friendlies taking place over the weekend.

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