Roy Hodgson may have some serious thinking to do in the months ahead. After an abomination of a World Cup adventure almost 18 months ago, he may not survive the wrath of the critics should their mission in France come a-cropper.
With this in mind, he has to ask himself questions over his squad. Though his loyalty to the squad is unquestionable, his loyalty to certain players may cause some questions amongst observers – as his rugby union counterpart Stuart Lancaster found to his downfall earlier this week. There are members of his squad for whom this tournament is either one too many for them, or will almost surely be their last.
Phil Jagielka may be one for whom France arrives a little too late. Though hugely respected by colleagues and fans, the fact remains his ripe old age of 34 will count against him should he face strikers like Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Furthermore, Chris Smalling’s steady rise into United’s most reliable defender means he is breathing down Jag’s neck right now and any further improvements could see the Everton man displaced for the tournament.
Hodgson’s formation decisions tend to switch between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. Right now, if – as expected – Hodgson continues to ply his faith into Wayne Rooney’s presence on the field, he must give his captain support, in closer proximity than the anticipated wing dangermen of Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Simply: he needs another striker.
Harry Kane, after a terrific breakout season with Spurs, would seem a natural selection. He has played at the top level before, and whilst question marks continue to surround the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, he is making a solid case for top choice. Critics will warn against his consistency, so any case he is making for a starting spot in France must be backed up by relentless menacing performances for Spurs.
Going toe to toe with Kane for the number 9 jersey is Jamie Vardy. The Leicester City frontman is this season’s surprise package – much like Kane was last season – and is closing in on several coveted Premier League records. The 28 year old has had little opportunity to impress on the international stage of late, but upcoming friendly against France is ample opportunity to prove himself. His hard work, speed, and emphatic finishing have shot him to fame and it would take a fool not to at least put him in England’s mind for the Euro’s.
As Luke Shaw continues to make encouraging progress from the broken leg suffered in September, Hodgson has the option of including Shaw in his squad, or leaving it to the last minute to decide whether to take him. Whilst he may be in contention for the squad, there is no guarantee his broken leg would not be a hindrance to his game. Does Hodgson risk him? Furthermore, 30 year old Leighton Baines may have one more tournament in him before he calls time internationally. Alternatively, Kieran Gibbs is the only one of the 3 who is fit and available, and having scored at the weekend, may surely get the nod for the friendlies approaching. If he performs well, could he be the man to start at left back in the summer?
Ultimately, Hodgson has some difficult months to endure, and difficult decisions to make. However, he must be professional, and not personal. It is these decisions that may define the general concensus of his Three Lions tenure.