How brave?

Earworm du jour is Dreaming, by Blondie. Not sure if I’ve even heard it today but whatever, blame BBC Radio 6, who have been touting Her Relentless Gorgeousness whilst I’ve been battling through chores. There’s something both triumphal and powerfully sharp about Harry’s vocal on this but it does also – I suppose primarily through that dreamy chorus – take us somewhere pleasantly, sleepily lush with yearning. Which brings me to football.

I can imagine Roy Hodgson tapping a toe, albeit absently to Dreaming, whilst cogitating on pressing strategic issues – team shape, perhaps? Perhaps the insidious brilliance (and crucially the winning-ness) of that sassy Blondie formula is somehow transferable to a certain upcoming football venture? Could Roy, like Debs and Chris, limewash his own parallel line to fame and glory by stepping a touch left of the dumb certitudes around no-brainer mainstream practice? Could he play a little fast, loose and punky with his own creative possibilities? Or will he stick with his Phil Collins? This appears to be the question.

So how brave is Roy? How burdened with responsibilities? How protective in a conservative way of his own legacy and the ‘reputation’ of English football – or rather of England the football team? How much dare he do?
And are we about to find out? Will Hodgson suddenly tear holes in his t-shirts and spike up his barnet with his beer-soaked fingers? Will he gob copiously during the national anthem? Hardly. The suggestion is that for tonight’s friendly against a weakish and unconvincingly surrogate Uruguay Roy will keep the tartan bondage trousers in that dressing up cupboard. But the tease is that folks generally, though aware that little will be revealed tonight, think and hope that he might – he just mi-ight – be preparing to plump for something high-octane come Brazil.

There is a career full of evidence to the contrary, ‘tis true. Roy’s very being speaking much more of supremely bland intelligence than White Punks on Dope rebellion. His footballing oeuvre ranges from a soporific mode to a calm but inoffensive expression of that central Roy/Phil Collinsness? So solid – no, let’s be fair – elite level percussive/structural heartbeat but godawful actual statement. If it wasn’t so crass and unforgivable – and if Roy was a musician – I’d recommend a hearty dose of amphetamines to spark the whole thing up. Which naturally if a little shoutinginthefacingly brings me to Sterling and Barker. And possibly Lallana. And co.

These are the boys most likely to, this time around, yes? The ones who might Liverpool us through to some cockle-warming (or who knows?) explosive moment that brings on that healthy fury that comes with winning with some style. Because I think it’s true that finally England supporters– fascinatingly, in the absence of real expectation – want more than anything else something positive and bold and stylish, even. A contribution that they can be proud of rather than a specific goal… like the trophy itself, or a semi-final slot. People want England to turn up and play some recognisably vital football. If that means ‘risking’ Barkley and Sterling and Lallana alongside yer Rooneys and yer Gerrads and yer Sturridges then so be it. Go an’ avago Roy!!

But Mr Hodgson is what? A relatively profound thinker, we imagine. Impenetrable, maybe? Skilled in diplomacy and to be fair, shrewd. Hard to read. Dull.

I’ve never been a huge fan, I have to say. Can accept that he was a sensible appointment but still think he fails at the first hurdle in that he seems unable to truly inspire; we’ve seen enough already to know that. He will find it difficult to free himself up sufficiently to liberate his players, to get them believing they really can, in that wonderfully evocative phrase take on the world’s finest. I can see that happening – but much more through a few seconds of fearlessness from an individual than through what we might call team policy.

As is always the case, players thriving or hiding in the challenge of the moment will control events as far as they can be controlled. However, Managers can contribute massively to how those moments feel. Managers provide the matrix of confidence or otherwise. My concern is that Hodgson may not be the man to either actually commit to a high-energy attacking game or genuinely let his players – encourage his players – to play without fear. His background, his force of habit and his body language all stand somewhat contrary to that aspiration. Is he not just too stiff a bloke to inspire Raheem Sterling, for example?

There may be clues tonight in the game v Peru. Clues about selection, energy, where the team seem to be re Brazil and more broadly speaking – because Brazil isn’t everything, right – it just feels like it?
I hope there are encouraging signs but this is a low-key game. It’s in Brazil where most of us want to see our lot go fly. Even if the climate allegedly mitigates against teams from the North and against playing with pace and energy. If we lose the ball, we’ll get back to a compact shape, rest and recover before nicking it back. Then the movement should be imaginative and (that word again) vital.

There’s a dog-turd of a lump of historical baggage here we can’t ignore. And yes even the young lads will be conscious of this. Despite the relatively ordinary standard of competition, England have been close to laughably poor at a whole series of recent international tournaments; offering nothing, then wilting. This one presents a special opportunity; a) because it’s Brazil; b) because England go there with less pressure than for decades, quite possibly and c) because everyone acknowledges things can’t go on like they have been. There is a consensus for change… and hang the consequences. Hodgson knows this.

So, how brave is he?

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