Roy Hodgson forced to look beyond top flight for next England generation

The England manager says that in the future the national team could feature more talent from outside the Premier League

Roy Hodgson briefly interrupted his preparations for England's first post-Euro 2012 game back at Wembley by looking back to that day when as an 18-year-old living in south London he sat in the front room of his house, watching history unfold on a black-and-white television.

Not long out of school, 1966 for Hodgson was the year he gave up trying to break into Crystal Palace's side and dropped into the non-league circuit with Tonbridge Angels. Getting tickets for the World Cup final, he remembered, felt impossible at the time but he talked of grilling George Cohen about what it was like when they became friends in later years, and he recalled the "incredible" feeling of the day. Any other memories?

Hodgson thought about it for a few seconds. "At the age of 65, I'm beginning to wonder if I was ever 18 …"

It will, after all, be 48 years by the time England arrive at the next tournament in Brazil — providing, that is, the team don't somehow make a pig's ear of their qualifying group. Ukraine, it barely needs saying, will be more robust opponents than Moldova were at the Zimbru Stadium last Friday, but it would still constitute a major surprise if Group H were to create any significant problems. It is an obliging group, especially for a team in another of its rebuilding phases.

The bigger issue, namely of whether England can actually go to Brazil with any aspirations of winning the damn thing, is an altogether different one and the scepticism it inspires is hardly lifted by looking closely at the latest call-ups. All fine players, with bright futures, and Hodgson has legitimate reasons for selecting them, but it does expose the dwindling options when, between them, Raheem Sterling, Jake Livermore and Adam Lallana have started the grand total of 15 Premier League matches.

Steven Gerrard is one of the most esteemed players of his generation and now England's captain but, to put it into context, he had made 44 league starts by the time he made his debut, also against Ukraine, in May 2000.

Hodgson also talked of having little option but to consider players from outside the Premier League in the future. Fabio Capello, after all, did it with Jay Bothroyd, and Steve McClaren with David Nugent. "A player doesn't need to be playing in the Premier League to be regarded as an international footballer," Hodgson said. "We are definitely aware of the talents in the Championship." The simple fact is he has to be when only 66 of the 209 players who started for Premier League teams the weekend before last, including Chelsea in the Uefa Super Cup, were available to him.

Put another way, that's 31.6%, which is markedly different from the corresponding figures elsewhere in Europe. Spain, for example, with 64.3%, France with 62.7%, Italy with 52.1%, and Germany 45%.

Hodgson made the point that he would not necessarily be fast-tracking Sterling if it were not for the fact England had been deprived of 12 players now Theo Walcott had joined the list of absentees. But his mind was drawn to another statistic, this time from the opening weekend of the season, when there were only 93 players eligible for England out of the 272 (including substitutes) selected for their club sides. Of those, only 30 played for teams who finished in the top 10 last season.

"Would I prefer to have a reverse of that statistic, with 66% of players being English?" Hodgson asked. "Of course I would. But that's not going to happen. The Premier League is a fantastic league, but it's a league that embraces all the top European players. We have to accept that." Later it was put to Hodgson that the pool was shrinking to the extent it must represent a problem for him. "I can't deny that," he said.

These are issues that will not go away and, in all probability, will simply carry on getting worse, but Hodgson is still entitled to think that even with an extensive injury list he is capable of putting out a side to beat Ukraine.

Breaking with his usual policy, the manager was emboldened to confirm that it would be the exact team that won so comprehensively in Chisinau bar one exception. Phil Jagielka filled in for the injured John Terry in training, whereas Gary Cahill played on a team made up of substitutes. If that indicates that it will be Jagielka who plays alongside Joleon Lescott, it looks as if Hodgson is taking into account their partnership when they were at Everton, particularly at a time when Leighton Baines is deputising for Ashley Cole at left- back.

Hodgson has already taken his players through a video of the 1-0 win over Ukraine in Euro 2012, a result that eliminated the co-hosts at the group stage.

"Moldova were not expected to challenge for the top places in the group, but Ukraine are," the manager said. "They have a strong league, a lot of good players playing at top clubs and have pretty much the same squad and team from Euro 2012. Moldova was a step into the unknown; tomorrow it's less of that."

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