England fly to Brazil on a wing and a prayer from patient fans
- Credit: PA
England head to Brazil with everyone wondering whether Roy Hodgson has decided he has a team in transition, or a team with a genuine chance of lifting a trophy for the first time since 1966.
When Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy on a glorious afternoon at Wembley 48 years ago, those who were around to witness it might have been forgiven for believing it was the beginning of a new era; one in which England ruled the waves. That particular theory lasted around four years when England's grip on the trophy was ended by the then West Germany at a finals remembered for a Brazil side that everyone loved. They were fast, elegant, beautiful to watch: their football was perfect, their players icons of the game.
England suddenly seemed to be playing catch-up as Germany, Brazil and Holland led the charge past Sir Alf Ramsey's rapidly ageing team.
And in four decades of trying, we have not got anywhere near to catching up.
If there was ever a poisoned chalice in world football, then it is the England manager's job. Post Ramsey, it has been handed to 15 people, three of them caretakers admittedly –
• Joe Mercer (caretaker) (1974)
• Don Revie (1974–77)
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• Ron Greenwood (1977–82)
• Bobby Robson (1982–90)
• Graham Taylor (1990–93)
• Terry Venables (1993–96)
• Glenn Hoddle (1996–99)
• Kevin Keegan (1999–2000)
• Howard Wilkinson (caretaker) (2000)
• Peter Taylor (caretaker) (2000–01)
• Sven Goran Eriksson (2001–06)
• Steve McClaren (2006–07)
• Fabio Capello (2008–12)
• Stuart Pearce (caretaker) (2012)
• Roy Hodgson (present)
Maybe only Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables have given us a glimmer of hope that England can actually win something.
Is Hodgson any different?
He has a squad containing few world class players – many will argue that is the fault of the Premier League, which relies heavily on foreign imports. Greg Dyke, the FA chairman and one of the men behind the formation of the Premier League in the first place, has put on the table some pretty drastic plans to get England back on to an even keel. So drastic that it appears to be an admission that all is lost.
But surely, from a league which is purportedly the best in the world, we can find 23 players fit to wear the Three Lions on their shirts?
It seems inexplicable, perhaps inexcusable, that the squad is not regarded as capable of winning the World Cup. If that is the case, then surely it should be one in development, looking ahead at the European Championships in two years' time, or the 2018 World Cup?
If that seems doom and gloom, then there is hope: the 2013-2014 Premier League season was one to remember. It brought us the re-emergence of Liverpool, the temporary demise of Manchester United, but below the top four, it brought out the best in some superb young talent – Southampton's Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley of Everton, and Liverpool's Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.
Hodgson has picked them all whilst keeping faith in some of the old guard – Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner.
In between there's Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill.
There is the kernel of hope. Too many times in the past we have seen dogged and dull, determined and dreary. What the fans want is to see Hodgson be bold; to let his talented players have free rein rather than be shackled.
Former England striker Michael Owen believes he should follow the lead of Premier League showstoppers Liverpool and adopt Brendan Rodgers' attacking philosophy.
'I believe Roy Hodgson is an attack-minded manager. He certainly has been with England, as there are goals in every game nowadays,' said Owen. 'We have fantastic attacking players and, like Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool, you must play to your strengths.
'England have Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley and Steven Gerrard, and these players are able to score and create.
'We should try to outscore our opponents rather than play defensively and look to steal a win.'
Owen believes a rookie will light the blue touch paper.
'There are players, who are young, hungry and have the self-belief to make a huge impact,' he said. 'There is normally one youngster, who goes on to perform. With England, you look towards the likes of Barkley and Lallana.
'You want these players to produce something out of the ordinary and hopefully have a purple patch during the World Cup.
'I think Barkley is an exceptional talent. Young players like Barkley haven't been scarred from previous experiences and they are full of confidence.
'They believe they can win the match on their own. I had the same feeling when I was younger, but you doubt yourself and worry over opponents more as you grow older. Therefore, I think there is much to be said for taking a few wildcards. You never know what you are going to get with the likes of Barkley or Lallana.'
Just like England: you never know what you are going to get.