Roy Hodgson must listen to anti-Cleverley brigade

The Rio Report

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Tom Cleverley in action for England

Roy Hodgson's assessment of an online petition to remove Tom Cleverley from the England setup was brusque and dismissive.

"I would like to think that I'm not going to have the England team selected in the future by petitions from various people who are holding it against one person for a team's lack of success. You can't expect a football coach to have any sympathy with it."

These so-called fans know little about the game, Hodgson maintained, and have no business picking on a "sensitive young man" who is a scapegoat for Manchester United's appalling season (as if England fans are anything but amused by United's failure).

[Hodgson blasts England fans' Cleverley petition]

Now of course the manager had to rally behind his player - but you do hope he takes the views of the protesting thousands into account.

Ignorant and unhelpful they may be, but the anti-Cleverley brigade are the lunatic-fringe representatives of a sentiment widely held among England fans.

The cranks have a point: Tom Cleverley is not good enough.

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Roy Hodgson addresses the media on Tuesday (Reuters)

Whether he agrees or not, Hodgson would be unwise to ignore the prevailing mood.

Think back to England's dismal goalless draw against Algeria in 2010. A large part of that night's misery (though not as large a part as the woeful performance) was the England fans' naked frustration at Fabio Capello's clod-hopping charges.

They turned on the players, who responded with some atrocious football and a full-time retort from Wayne Rooney - who pointed out that he was not accustomed to being jeered from the pitch by his own 'supporters'.

The sorry episode summed up all that was rotten about England's 2010 campaign.

[Profile: England's new psychiatrist Steve Peters]

What England need in Brazil this summer is unconditional support.

Manchester United fans feel much the same about Cleverley as their England counterparts. But they have to maintain outward positivity as they try to coax something like form out of their threadbare midfield.

For England fans it's different. They don't want to inspire Tom Cleverley; they want him out. And if destroying his confidence is a means to that end, so be it.

Let's say it comes down to Cleverley or Frank Lampard for the final place in Hodgson's World Cup squad.

In pure football terms, you could make a case for either player. But doesn't it matter who the fans love? Whose introduction from the bench will bring roars instead of groans?

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Tom Cleverley celebrates with Theo Walcott (Reuters)

Look, Roy Hodgson is perfectly entitled to consider Cleverley one of the 30 best English footballers. Depressingly, he might even be right.

However, he should not overlook the importance of picking players the fans believe in.

He's neither the first nor the last national team manager to make unpopular selections. Aime Jacquet was pilloried by the French public and press in 1998 - until he lifted the World Cup.

His attitude: 'They'll like us when we win'. So it's just as well they did.

[Paul Parker: Hodgson must be ruthless]

England, with all due respect to the concept of fairy tales, are not going to win the World Cup. In fact, they face an almighty battle just to escape a group containing Italy and Uruguay.

If they are to scramble their way to the last eight, it will most likely be an ugly battle requiring everyone to pull in the same direction.

In any case, why upset the fans over a central midfielder who brings so little to the table?

At a point in his career when he should flourish, Cleverley has regressed into David Batty minus the rage.

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Tom Cleverley walks along a beach in Rimini with Joleon Lescott (Reuters)

And while you have to feel sympathy with the midfielder, a recent interview he gave to the Daily Mirror rather summed things up.

"I am not a player who's going to beat three or four people and stick it in the top corner or go round tackling people like Roy Keane."

So you don't dribble shoot or tackle. Remind us, what exactly do you do?

"I watch Spanish football a lot. If they pass the ball sideways but keep possession, the fans clap them."

Ah, that's right.

It's just that when Xavi orchestrates a long spell of sideways passing, as often as not it will culminate in him threading a perfect through ball to Lionel Messi.

But you can add defence-splitting passes to the list of things Cleverley doesn't do.

[Matchpack: England v Denmark]

It may just be that Roy Hodgson and David Moyes are the only people in the world to appreciate the genius of Tom Cleverley. But most likely he's a tidy but limited midfield player not valuable enough to become the battleground over which Hodgson risks a rift with the fans.

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Alex Chick - @alex_eurosport

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