England’s crestfallen players have rallied round the beleaguered manager, Roy Hodgson, in the wake of the defeat by Uruguay, with senior members of the squad urging all-comers to consider the long term as the team confront their worst World Cup campaign in 60 years.
The defeat by the South Americans at Arena Corinthians, courtesy of two well-taken goals from Luis Suárez, left the likes of Joe Hart in tears following on from Saturday’s opening defeat by Italy in Manaus. While there is no great desire within the Football Association to remove Hodgson only two years into a four-year deal – the manager himself will not countenance thoughts of resignation – his tenure is now under scrutiny given the team’s predicament at the foot of Group D. But he retains the backing of his squad.
“We are going in the right direction,” insisted Leighton Baines, who had emerged as the national side’s first-choice left-back ahead of Ashley Cole under Hodgson. “There are some improvements to be made still but I think we have made some positive strides and if we can continue down that path we are going in the right direction. The manager has given everyone a go and you would imagine some of the young lads are going to be around for many, many years. Ross [Barkley] had some magic moments against Italy and Uruguay and he’s going to be one of those who is going to be around for many, many more years.
“Continuing that progression [of the youngsters] will be a positive route to go. The easiest thing to do sometimes is to be critical and, with the position we are in, I suppose you have to accept that, up to a point. But there were some positives in both the games, even if we will only really see them maybe further down the line.”
That sentiment was echoed by an emotional Hart in the aftermath in São Paulo. “For me personally, and I think I speak for all the players, we are proud to play for Roy Hodgson,” said the goalkeeper. “He’s a great manager, he’s a very passionate man and someone that I have got an awful lot of respect for, and I hope to continue playing for him.”
Asked if he thought the team had progressed over the past two years since Hodgson took up the reins before Euro 2012, he added: “It’s hard to say [because] saying yes sounds like a stupid thing to say but I do. All this is so raw and hard to take but you have to accept it. We are at a World Cup and if we don’t get results then stuff like this happens.
“Basically, we’ve not scored enough goals and we’ve let too many in. I imagine people will say we’re not good enough, that’s what they’ll come up with, but we don’t feel that inside the camp. We’ve got bags of quality, bags of people coming through, great leaders and great experienced players in that dressing room but we’ve just come up short in two games. And you can’t come up short in two games at the World Cup. I’ve actually not had a great deal to do in the two matches this tournament. I’m man enough to say that but we are at the World Cup against top-quality strikers who, given half a chance, take it.”
Suárez, even far from full match fitness, exploited indecision in the England back line to convert twice and pep Uruguay’s prospects in the process. England’s naivety – both in terms of the players out on the pitch and, arguably, the managerial approach from the sidelines – proved costly as they pushed for victory after Wayne Rooney’s equaliser.
Steven Gerrard acknowledged they had sought out a winner when a point would have actually enhanced their prospects of qualification. “But in the second half it just felt like we were going to win the game, to tell you the truth, especially when we got level,” said Baines. “It was a real blow, with the goal they scored. To me, it felt like we were going to win the game.
“But we all know Suárez is world-class. He didn’t put himself about as much as he normally would but he has the confidence in himself to know if he gets a chance he will take it – and he did. At the top level it is all about fine margins. On another day we could have probably come away having won that game. It is hard to sum it up really.”