Friendly fire: Why Sweden test is more than a 'distraction' for England boss Hodgson…
15:14 GMT, 7 November 2012
Meaningless distraction or match of great significance While many will regard England’s trip to Sweden next week as more clutter in an already crowded calendar, for Roy Hodgson this is not just ‘another’ friendly.
Hodgson’s reign as England manager has been very much a slow-burner, a mixed bag of draws against organised teams and workmanlike victories over the nations that England have been expected to beat, but he is now entering a crucial phase.
Sweden, whom England beat at Euro 2012 thanks to a late rally, are always obdurate opponents and can be relied upon to provide England with a good examination; they showed when salvaging a remarkable 4-4 draw against Germany that they should not be underestimated.
Friendly fire: Liverpool youngster Raheem Sterling could make his England debut against Sweden next week
This, however, is one game that Hodgson will not want to lose, not least because he is returning to the country where is managerial career began back in 1976. With that in mind, then, do not be surprised if the squad he announces tomorrow is sprinkled with senior names.
Of course there will be some experimentation. Young talents such as the Liverpool pair Raheem Sterling and Jonjo Shelvey have been pushing for inclusion and Sterling, in some ways, would be better served going to Sweden than playing for the Under-21s against Northern Ireland at Blackpool.
Sterling, whose performances for Liverpool have been getting stronger and braver with each passing week, was given his first taste of senior football Hodgson when he was just 15 in a pre-season friendly against Borussia Moenchengladbach. The temptation to pitch him in will be huge.
What Hodgson does with Jack Wilshere, though, will be the most intriguing aspect of all. The Arsenal midfielder has only just returned from 14-months out with injury but, in his period of absence, he experienced the curious of phenomenon of his reputation actually blossoming without him kicking a ball.
Forward thinking: England boss Roy Hodgson
Wilshere’s ability to give and go, to link up play and keep Arsenal’s passing carousel turning means he will, in time, become a hugely important figure for England and Hodgson’s eagerness to get him included back in the fold is understandable. England, after all, are not blessed with midfielders like Wilshere.
But it would be rash to pitch him back into this environment so soon. Players who have been out for long spells can occasionally be susceptible to muscle injuries and it would be maddening for all if Wilshere tweaked, say, a hamstring playing in a match when he wasn’t desperately needed.
‘A full game would be too much at the moment,’ Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said recently. ‘I will speak about it with Roy, but what is important now is that he gets back to his level. People have to be a little bit patient to see the best of him again.
‘It is a friendly. Jack should skip that. What is important now is that he gets back to full fitness for this team. Once he is back he will play for England again.’
Of that there is no doubt. There are plenty of suitable dates in the future for Wilshere to wear Three Lions on his chest – against Brazil at Wembley in February, for instance.
Asking him to do it again in Sweden, however, might not be the wisest move – even if this is not just ‘another friendly’ for Hodgson.
WHO HODGSON COULD TURN TO…
Steven Caulker – Tottenham
A superb loan spell at Swansea last season has been rewarded with promotion to the Tottenham first-team under Andre Villas-Boas and the 20-year-old is adapting well.
Has international experience after representing Great Britain at the Olympics and it seems only a matter of time before England caps start to trickle in.
Carl Jenkinson – Arsenal
Jumped up two leagues to join Arsenal from Charlton a year ago and it showed in his first full season as the right-back struggled to adapt.
But Arsene Wenger’s patience and coaching has paid off well and a much improved start to this season means the 20-year-old, who is capped by Finland at Under 21 level, is firmly in Hodgson’s plans.
Raheem Sterling – Liverpool
Will he play for Jamaica or England At just 17-years-old it all seems premature but his performances since breaking into the Liverpool team have caught the eye of many and Hodgson will be keen to get him into the England set-up as quick as possible – if you’re good enough, you’re old enough as Michael Owen proved.
Mark Noble – West Ham
There’s been no way in to the centre
of England’s midfield in recent years with Gerrard, Lampard, Scott
Parker, Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick all playing regular parts, but
Hammers fans will argue a case for Noble to be capped. The 25-year-old (pictured, below)
is approaching his best years and looks confident defending or attacking
a penalty box.
Tom Ince – Blackpool
The son of former England captain, Paul. The winger’s performances in the Championship have highlighted the attention of many Premier League clubs with Manchester United the latest to be linked with the former Liverpool player. Has no Premier League experience but it seems only a matter of time before the 20-year-old gains it one way or another.
Sammy Ameobi – Newcastle
The younger brother of 11 years to Shola is one to watch at Newcastle, with his confidence and ability on the ball in attacking areas marking out his potential. The 20-year-old’s versatility to play in a striker’s role as well as on the flank, especially the left, would also help plug a problem area for England. Needs more starts for Newcastle but is improving fast.
Charlie Austin – Burnley
Steve Bull, Dave Nugent and Jay Bothroyd have all played in an England attack while representing lower league clubs, so why can’t Austin The 23-year-old striker has scored the most goals in Europe this season with an incredible record of 20 goals from 17 games playing in the Championship.