Euro 2016: It's time for us all give Roy Hodgson a break


Sports writer Alistair Mason gives the much-maligned England boss some hard-earned praise.

Right, England fans - we need to have a chat about Roy Hodgson.

You don't like him - you've made your feelings about that pretty clear. But you need to give him a chance and here's why.

England are doing well in this tournament. It's hard to adjust your perspective to realise this is the case, but it genuinely is.

Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring for England

They've played two games, both of which they dominated, taking four points from a possible six.

They've conceded two goals - one of which, against Russia, was a bit of a freak, and the other of which was largely down to a goalkeeping error.

England have even played some good football - in the first half against Russia, especially, but also in patches as they chased the game against Wales.

Hodgson has been doing this job long enough now to know that, as England manager, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Roy Hodgson in an England training session (Mike Egerton/PA)

In the first game against Russia he picked a team which, give or take a Wayne Rooney in midfield, most people agreed was about right.

With a couple of notable exceptions, they played pretty well - so he stuck with the same team.

When those notable exceptions didn't play very well again in the next game, he took them off at half-time and went with a more attacking line-up.

On came Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge. Both scored, but rather than see this as good use of substitutions, swathes of England fans used this as proof Hodgson had picked the wrong line-up in the first place.

Jamie Vardy celebrates scoring for England

Fans have been calling for England to be more positive, but when they did exactly that in the second half it was seen as a sign of desperation from Hodgson, not a good tactical move.

When Hodgson selected five strikers in his squad, people questioned whether he really needed them. He used them all in pursuit of victory against Wales, but fans were not lining up to say they were wrong for questioning the selection.

After the victory, Hodgson revealed this was more or less what he'd been planning all along, to go on the front foot in the second half when perhaps Wales would be tiring.

"I wanted to keep one or two up our sleeves," he said. "The changes were pushed onto me maybe a bit early, although it was always in our mind to get Vardy and Sturridge on the field."

Roy Hodgson and Marcus Rashford on the touchline

It sounded like a plea for fans to trust him. He might as well have said: "I do know what I'm doing, you know?"

Hodgson has a lot that doesn't go in his favour - whether it's his speech impediment, his unique talent for unusual facial expressions, or the fact he's not afraid to show off his intelligence.

These are not qualities that make him what people in the game like to describe as a "good football man".

They make him mockable, and easy to dismiss.

Roy Hodgson in an England press conference

But look around the world of international management. Can you see anyone better?

Antonio Conte, yes. Joachim Low, probably - although he's had some pretty good raw material to work with. Beyond that, there isn't anyone you'd rush to put in charge of England ahead of Hodgson.

He's a good manager - and he's shown one quality in particular that puts him ahead of pretty much every other England boss of recent years.

He's been searching to find formations that work for his best players, rather than squeezing his best players into a formation that he likes but doesn't really suit them.

England manager Roy Hodgson talks to his players in training

You get the feeling, for example, he would never have played Paul Scholes as a left winger.

Of course, all this comes in the context for England fans of years and years of disappointment and underachievement.

It would be natural enough to be pessimistic in this situation, but that's not what England fans are - they're constantly expectant but ready to tip over into a kind of resigned fury at any moment.

And that obscures the truth of the situation, which is that England are playing as well as anyone at this tournament. Nobody can really claim to be playing better, not Germany, not Spain, not France.

Daniel Sturridge scores for England against Wales

Every team has struggled to find a way to unlock the deep-lying, well-organised defences which have so far been the hallmark of Euro 2016, but England managed it with Sturridge's winner against Wales, which was deft and intricate and as good as anything we've seen in France this summer.

So England fans, put your kneejerk anger to one side for a moment and just enjoy a team that's trying to play good football in your name.

Being an England fan is a joyless enough endeavour without going out of your way to find the downside when they're actually doing all right.