Old Guard, led by Liverpool’s Gerrard, given one last chance
By Kristian Balkin
Friday 18 May 2012 09:30:00
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There were a few contentious decisions thrown in there for good measure but you get the feeling that Roy Hodgson, a conservative man at the very best of times, has picked a Euro squad based almost solely around the requirement of avoiding huge risk.

The likes of Steven Gerrard, who Hodgson has appointed captain, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole have all retained a place in the England squad despite the widely held belief that this ‘Golden Generation’ of such previous critical acclaim has petered out into little more than a good group of players who agonisingly struggle for anything resembling consistency.

In that sense, many of this current crop of footballers must believe that this could well be their last hurrah and the final opportunity to prove to a nation so bitterly enthralled in sentiment that they were worth the substantial hype all along. And maybe, amidst all the proportionate pessimism that currently surrounds the England camp and its new found direction, Poland and Ukraine will provide the perfect stage for some of this country’s most gifted, and yet ultimately disappointing talents, to flourish. 

In previous settings of equal importance, such as the World Cups of 2006 and 2010, the most experienced members of the English contingent have continued to defy their own genetic brilliance and put in performances that lack in all convincing areas but it must, too, be noted that circumstances have always seemed to work against them. The Baden Baden fiasco in Germany, for example, may have proven quite an apt scapegoat for players who clearly hadn’t performed even closely to the extent of their abilities, but the reclusive nature of the German camp will not have helped proceedings in any shape or form.

So now, there must be an acceptance that this is the last roll of the dice and that Hodgson will move on to a squad that is fresher and, perhaps, more promising in the near future. For Gerrard, then, and his trusty lieutenants, a farewell is in order and in that sense, maybe Hodgson has made quite a shrewd selection. He has had little time to prepare his squad - a matter of days, in fact - and that has of course aided his decision to put faith in the somewhat unreliable old guard, but there must be a feeling within the England manager that there is something more to give from these men; something coming close to simulating the potential which they have all failed, rather miraculously, to reach.

Hodgson must have realised that, for all their misgivings, they are still a group of tremendously astute football players who, at club level at least, have served this game like few others. Admittedly, this standard has never been achieved or reciprocated on the international stage but at some points, there have been moments to saviour. John Terry’s chivalrous dive, head first, at the ball against Slovenia being one of them. It was no moment of technical mastery but it, at a minimum, showed a dedication to the cause rarely seen in football in this modern, burgeoning era.

We know what we are getting, then. We are getting a unit which we are all accustomed to but we are also going to witness them with the lightest of weights on their shoulders. This time, there is no lofty expectation that far exceeds the parameters of this nation. Instead, there is a grim realisation that England doesn’t possess quite the same stranglehold on all of football that it used to. We are but a mere country that has, here and there, some decent footballers with perpetually inflated egos. With this epiphany, they might just play that little bit better.

And that’s why Hodgson wasn’t quick to write off our chances this summer. “You don’t necessarily have to be the best team to win a tournament,” he said, diplomatically, but as Greece will testify, it helps to have a smattering of experienced heads in the camp just to tie up all the loose ends. We won’t be celebrating anything particularly sensational on July 1st but, by that time at least, we may well have seen the best that England’s old flames have to offer.

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