As soon as Roy Hodgson announced his provisional squad for Euro 2016, the deliberation started about the approach taken in naming those 26 players. In turn, the age old argument about players being selected based on reputation rather than on form and fitness also began, with both Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere being included despite battling injury in the build up to the announcement of the squad.
The debate erupted again when Hodgson named his final 23-man squad, with both Henderson and Wilshere being included while Danny Drinkwater and Andros Townsend were left out. Drinkwater’s omission was controversial and criticised by a number of fans. He enjoyed an impressive season with title-winning Leicester City and given that there are major doubts about England’s vulnerability in defence, he could have helped provide valuable protection. Tottenham’s Eric Dier is the favourite to occupy that position, but Drinkwater would have been a good option for England to turn to given their concerns at the back.
True, both Henderson and Wilshere were regulars in England’s impressive qualifying campaign and Wilshere in particular played a key role, notably with two excellent goals in the away victory over Slovenia. But the concerns surrounding the players are largely associated with their fitness and readiness for the intensity of tournament football. Wilshere especially remains a worry given that he did not complete a full game for Arsenal during the 2015/16 campaign after suffering a leg injury in pre-season. He was only able to return to action for the Gunners in their penultimate league game.
It is hard to accuse Hodgson of being overly cautious with his selection, given that he has included 18-year-old Marcus Rashford after an impressive spell for Manchester United towards the end of last season. But the dilemma surrounding Henderson and Wilshere was a familiar story for England fans with a familiar result. Injury setbacks for key players have dominated the build up to a number of England’s recent major tournaments.
A metatarsal injury cast doubts over Wayne Rooney’s place in the squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but he was still selected by then manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Some argued that his lack of match fitness frustrated the striker, which contributed to his sending off in the quarter-final defeat to Portugal.
Fabio Capello faced a similar predicament four years later with Gareth Barry. The midfielder had become a important part of Capello’s plans, but picked up an injury just before the 2010 tournament. Barry was taken to South Africa, but his lack of match fitness was horribly exposed in the 4-1 defeat to Germany as England suffered a humiliating exit.
These past traumas will have surely have weighed on the minds of England fans and of Hodgson and his coaching staff as he assembled his squad. If Henderson or Wilshere break down during the tournament or their lack of fitness is exposed as Barry’s was, Hodgson will face heavy criticism, particularly if it hinders their future development.
Hodgson has also taken a risk in omitting Townsend, who hit good form towards the end of the season. It deprives the squad of width as it leaves Raheem Sterling as the only out-and-out winger, and although Lallana, Milner or Rooney can play that role if needed, they are all players that are more effective when played centrally. The exclusion of Townsend was slightly surprising given that he has performed well for Hodgson in the past. The 24-year-old could have proved a valuable asset, particularly as an impact player from the bench.
All eyes now turn to England’s opening game against Russia as Hodgson looks to vindicate his selections. Views on their chances in France remain mixed, but this will undoubtedly be a pivotal tournament for the players, management and fans.