Roy Hodgson has done it. He’s succeeded as a manager of England. No one has quite managed to achieve that recently; well, at least not in my life time. A simple 1-1 draw with France, having spent much of the 90 minutes on the back foot, was enough. Three games unbeaten, a draw in their opening game of Euro 2012, described as a “bright start” by the BBC, and the expulsion of Stewart Downing has been all that was required. What eluded a man of 5 Serie A trophies (and two more illegally), the one UEFA Champions League title, a European Super Cup, La Liga twice and the odd domestic tidbit, was easily alluded to a man of numerous Swedish Premier League titles during the 70s-80s. Simply put, less is more. Simplicity is bliss. Or, be English and we’re more tolerant with you.
Before the encounter, two differently weighted pragmatic approaches were taken by the respective coaches. Roy Hodgson conducted his press conference down the phone from the Samaritans call centre, solemnly explaining that, “To the players my message is going to be: ‘I think you’re ready, I think you’re good enough – but don’t get suicidal if things don’t work out for you’.” Unlike fans under previous regimes, who regularly felt suicidal watching England, it was a relief that the players would not be playing in a self-destructive manner. Instead, they invited France to do the destructing themselves, but this time round England were proving themselves able to defend. Maybe Hodgson really did leave Rio Ferdinand out for “footballing reasons.” I say maybe, but I expect a complaint from Ferdinand’s agent shortly, as Rio himself is too busy hanging around on the halfway line somewhere watching Jonny Evans perform a Houdini trick on the edge of his own box and escape with the ball.
Meanwhile, Laurent Blanc was practicing his new accomplished Mystic Meg impersonation act, telling all that looked into his crystal ball that, “If we play the English way it will be [a draw] and we might get a goal from a set-piece.” Unfortunately for France they didn’t play entirely the English way and were unable to achieve a draw by virtue of a free-kick or corner. On the other hand, Joleon Lescott happily headed in Steven Gerrard’s free-kick to confirm that Blanc’s two years in England, back in 2001-2003, were not wasted. Samir Nasri completed the job nine minutes after England had taken the lead by firing past his Manchester City teammate and raising his finger to his nose to smell the sweet smell of sh………………..well how else did he play so much for City this year?
For a brief moment after the game, predominantly when Scott Parker was being interviewed, there was the slight suggestion that France had actually fielded more than 11 players: “they had lots of players,” said a disillusioned Parker. However, after a quick count of names on the team sheet and bodies in the changing room, it was confirmed that France did field the regulatory 11 players, they were just unable to cope with the concept of Alou Diarra sitting in front of the back-four, anchoring the French midfield.
However, Parker was not the only player to add confusion to the ranks post-match, ”at times it was like there were 15 bodies on the pitch,” told Patrice Evra to the press. Whether this was due to the amount of space England created for France, thus forging a scenario in which it felt as if there were fewer than 22 players on the pitch, or whether it was because England harried and hustled like hungry dogs, I do not know. Either way, Parker and Evra wont be joining MENSA anytime soon.
Continuing to make himself look like an idiot, Evra retorted, “They played in the way that Chelsea played against Barcelona,” failing to appreciate the fact that John Terry wasn’t sent off, England didn’t come from behind and Chelsea had the odd shot at goal. Never mind though, Roy was happy: “To finish 1-1 and ask the questions of them that we did, I’ve got to be happy.”
Man of the Match – Roy Hodgson