LONDON – This was , the pundits said, the most potent attack England could select. Portugal beware. Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney — the two leading goalscorers in the Premier League — plus England’s record scorer starting a match together for the first time.
Unfortunately, this and much more left Roy Hodgson with far more questions than answers as he ponders his team and tactics to play Russia next Saturday.
True, England won 1-0 and the shutout was a rare bonus, but if this was a cunning ploy to keep expectations for Euro 2016 to a minimum, it worked a treat.
Rooney said: “The win was important, but we need to play better, we know that. We didn’t have many chances and is something the manager is working on.”
Working on? The clock is ticking. The supply to the front men was poor and after four years as England manager, Hodgson should not be trying out different players and systems nine days before a major tournament. Apart from the attack, the back-four had not played together previously, nor had the midfield three and it showed.
Vardy and Kane were pushed wide to accommodate Rooney as a traditional No. 9. The two most prolific marksmen in the Premier League were shunted to the flanks, square pegs in round holes. Delle Alli, England’s most creative player, found himself stranded on the left instead of the No. 10 role he fills so successfully with Tottenham.
When Plan A did not work, England reverted to Plan B which was the same as Plan A only with substitutes.
Hodgson admitted that “we didn’t play well” but said: “I’m not prepared to say this is better or that is better. We need both systems. We need those players doing what they do well. I’m not going to criticize some players and praise others.”
He added that he was” relieved” England didn’t easily win the three preparation friendlies “because everyone would think the team has to win the Euros.”
A Ronaldo-less Portugal, which won its last seven qualifiers, is a potential knockout stage opponent for England. If the teams meet again in France, Portugal has no reason to fear another defeat.
Bruno Alves’ red card in the 35th minute for attempting to decapitate Kane meant an underwhelming, disjointed England played against 10 men for more than half of the match,but Portugal was rarely troubled until Chris Smalling’s winner with four minutes remaining.
Referee talk: Mark Clattenburg’s outstanding performance in the Champions League final in Milan has put him at the front of the queue to referee the Euro 2016. This would be extremely embarrassing for the Football Association, though inevitably it would bask in second-hand glory should Clattenburg be chosen.
Obviously England would need to go home after the quarterfinals, but as this seems to be in its DNA this should not be a worry. It would also require Clattenburg to perform well in the group stages.
England is the only country to have two referees at the European Championship. Martin Atkinson was the choice of the F.A., a decision that was dripping with politics. Most observers agree Clattenburg is England’s best referee, though some of his off-field antics have not met with the approval of influential people within the F.A. Clattenburg had to wait until this year’s F.A. Cup final before he was belatedly given the top domestic appointment.
UEFA referees supremo Pierluigi Collina, who was the refereeing delegate in Milan, is a huge admirer of Clattenburg and his support ensured he was given what amounted to a wild card to join Europe’s elite referees in France. England may not go all the way at the Euros, but Clattenburg has every chance of making it to the final.
Desperate to manage: I though I had heard it all, but a chat with a player studying for his UEFA A license proved me wrong. He told me another ex-footballer on the course had been offered the manager’s job at a League One club. The salary? Nothing.
The club was aware that young coaches are so desperate to get on the managerial ladder they would be willing to work for free. He seriously considered the so-called offer, but turned it down because he thought it would give him little credibility among the players on the assumption word would get out.
I was assured there are at least two former players in their first jobs working for zero salary for their first season in charge, assuming they lasted nine months that is.
Garry Monk will not be working for nothing while his longevity will be in doubt as the latest manager of Leeds United. The history of Massimo Cellino, the club’s owner, suggests Monk should be as concerned about his payoff as his salary.
The former Swansea manager is the seventh manager at Leeds in just over two years. In fact, in 24 years as an owner/chairman/president Cellino has gone through 43 managers. The longest server under Cellino was Giampiero Ventura, who was in charge of Cagliari for 730 days between 1997 and 1999. At the other end of the scale, Darko Milanic lasted just 32 days at Leeds.
These are Cellino’s sacked six at Elland Road:
■ Brian McDermott (April 2013-May 2014)
■ David Hockaday (June 2014-August 2014)
■ Darko Milanic (September 2014-October 2014)
■ Neil Redfearn (November 2014-May 2015)
■ Uwe Rosler (May 2015-October 2015)
■ Steve Evans (October 2015-May 2016)
And then there’s Monk (June 2016 to ?).
One of the more surreal statistics as England prepares for Euro 2016 is that the last time Jack Wilshere played a full 90 (ninety) minutes for Arsenal was Sept. 23, 2014, against Southampton in a Capital One Cup tie. Since then, Leeds has had five different managers.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.