Redemption boys: Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cleverley are keys to Hodgson's new look England
22:31 GMT, 8 September 2012
Roy Hodgson, it seems, has the measure of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It should be said there is no malice about the boy: he is enthusiastic, bright and talented. But he is 19. And he does need to learn.
Hodgson clearly likes him a lot — Oxlade-Chamberlain will surely be one of his team’s key creative players assuming England reach Brazil 2014 — but he is not beyond reproaching him when necessary.
Learning curve: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has made a great start to his England career but has a lot to learn according to England boss Roy Hodgson
It was Oxlade-Chamberlain himself who revealed last week that he received Hodgson’s first proper telling-off during Euro 2012, for showboating in training.
And although Hodgson claims he does not remember the incident, he did lace praise for Oxlade-Chamberlain’s display in the 5-0 win against Moldova on Friday night with another small reminder of his responsibilities.
‘I thought Alex was very good first half,’ said Hodgson. ‘But we made it clear to him we were going to take him off after 60 minutes, so I think he forgot to play in the 15 minutes of the second half. But that will be an interesting lesson for him as well: especially when I tell him.’
Confession: Oxlade-Chamberlain recently revealed he was the subject of Hodgson's first England telling-off – for showboating in a training session
It should be said Hodgson had the hint of a smile as he delivered his admonishment. And he added: ‘We’re very pleased with him anyway. He did what we wanted and I selected him to do what he actually did in the first half extremely well.’
There will be no need to tell him of his mistake when the squad gather in Watford today. The point has now been made, publicly.
But Hodgson knows Oxlade-Chamberlain is an emotionally mature 19-year-old, as he demonstrated with his self-depreciating line about being told off. He can take it and will learn from it.
And he does need to learn, because he has the potential to be a key player in England’s evolving style.
His former Arsenal team-mate, Robin van Persie, underwent a similar tutorial when he was dropped by Arsene Wenger. When he asked Wenger’s assistants why, he was simply told to watch Robert Pires.
Slowly it dawned on the Dutchman, as it is beginning to on Oxlade- Chamberlain: there are times to play it simple — that is, in your own half — and times to take risks, in the final third of the pitch. And you can never just coast. If you do, there is always someone — on this occasion Theo Walcott — on the bench to take your place.
The build-up to the match in Chisinau was dominated by the return of the old guard who duly delivered, with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard utterly dominant in their slightly deeper midfield roles.
Yet the younger players also caught. the eye. Along with Oxlade-Chamberlain, there was Tom Cleverley, building on his impressive Olympics and England debut against Italy last month in a role somewhere between midfield and attack, looking very much the modern footballer.
Traditional centre forwards are sliding out of fashion these days and Cleverley played as Cesc Fabregas often does for Barcelona, and as Santi Cazorla is for Arsenal.
Redemption: The new look England has a good blend of youth and experience with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cleverley seemingly set for massive roles in the team's future
Of course, this was only Moldova and Hodgson now has to assess whether he can do the same against considerably better players on Tuesday when England play Ukraine at Wembley. But clearly he has the footballing intelligence to understand the role.
‘I suppose you could say Tom Cleverley is an attacking midfield player, but he’s an attacking midfield player in the same way Cesc Fabregas is,’ said Hodgson.
‘He’s quite capable of coming back into a central midfield role and quite capable even, of coming back to win a ball when it’s necessary.
Master and the apprentice: Frank Lampard celebrates with team-mate Tom Cleverley after scoring England's second goal in the 5-0 destruction of Moldova
‘He’s just a good midfield player and he took, I suppose, a bit more responsibility for getting closer to Jermain Defoe and allowing Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to get on the ball in deeper positions where they are comfortable.’
‘The Olympics were important because that’s where I sort of discovered him. I knew him when he was at Watford and I’d seen him play a few games as substitute for Manchester United. But he got injured very early in the previous season.
'So I suppose the Olympics was the opportunity for me, really, to cast the rule over him — and it was good that I could do that because it means that when we were selecting squads, he was one of the names I wanted to add to my list.’
Job well done: Roy Hodgson, seen here congratulating Cleverley, compared the United star to Cesc Fabregas
Hodgson was naturally delighted with their performances — he also singled out James Milner — especially in view of the key players missing going into these World Cup qualifiers: Wayne Rooney, Andy Carroll, Ashley Cole, Ashley Young and Chris Smalling.
But with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cleverley, there is a 4-2-3-1 formation evolving with England that is much more flexible and vibrant than the traditional 4-4-2 with which Hodgson is associated.
With England being out-passed at Euro 2012, when Hodgson had just taken the job, there was a fear that they were reverting to type under his management.
But his message to players has been a different one to public perception: he emphasises the need to keep the ball, he encourages his full-backs to attack aggressively, and he asks his attacking players to show fluidity and movement in their positioning. In short, he is no Luddite, resisting the flow of the modern game; he is pointing England in the right direction.
Keep you chin up: Hodgson was pleased with Oxlade-Chamberlain's first half performance but said he 'forgot to play' after half-time
Whether these players can complete that journey is a moot point. After all, this was only Moldova.
Ukraine, Tuesday’s opponents, were one of those teams that comprehensively out-passed England during Euro 2012. Nevertheless, Hodgson’s team still managed to beat them 1-0 in Donetsk.
The Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau, with its parochial charm and 10,400 capacity, felt a long way from, say, a potential quarter-final tie in the Maracana in 2014, when Hodgson’s team will truly be tested.
But with players like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cleverley to the fore, it is at least a step along the road to redemption.