Hodgson plays 'wise game' as he halts Barkley bandwagon
The England manager has kept expectations in check, but he has complete faith in his players
Roy Hodgson is usually regarded as an affable gentleman, but on the eve of the World Cup the veteran England manager has adopted a steelier tone, scolding the press for championing certain players and even criticising some of his squad in public.
In the aftermath of England's draw with Ecuador he felt obliged to draw the sting from glowing reports about Ross Barkley, the Everton starlet who made his first start for the Three Lions in the match, by publicly pointing out his flaws.
"For every good turn there was a time when he lost the ball and put us on the back foot defensively," he said, refusing to address the media "obsession" with the player.
Now he has done something similar with Raheem Sterling, another of the young squad members who have become the focus of much media attention. There is a groundswell of opinion that says 19-year-old Sterling, with four England caps under his belt, should be in the England team to take on Italy.
But he was sent off for a rash challenge against Ecuador and Hodgson has now declared that Sterling has rather "blown his chance", as he will miss England's final warm-up against Honduras on Saturday.
It is unusually strong language from Hodgson and it has left many in the media taken aback, but he is determined to nip any unwarranted excitement in the bud.
"Hodgson loathes bandwagons and does not appreciate players being built up as potential world-beaters," says Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph.
But he too believes the England manager has been too harsh, in public at least. "Hodgson, sensibly enough, wants to keep a lid on the bubbling pot of fervent hope and glory but he needs to balance criticism of a developing talent such as Barkley with commendation, especially in public. He should be liberating the players, not inhibiting them."
Hodgson has "baulked" at almost every sweeping statement hurled at him by the press, says Oliver Holt in the Daily Mirror, noting that he even tried to play down the talents of Wayne Rooney when he was described as "exceptional".
He has taken umbrage at the media on more than one occasion. "If I concentrate totally on where the clamour is, I’d be changing my team every other moment," he complained earlier this week. And he is playing a "wise game" says Holt. "The England boss is trying to calm the frenzy."
In attempting to retain a sense of perspective inside and outside the camp, Hodgson appears to have reversed the usual ploy of praising players in public and whipping them into shape in private.
And despite his comments about Barkley's ability to keep possession and Sterling's red card, Hodgson has also made it clear that he has complete faith in his squad. "You don't have to have any doubts about how we feel about Raheem Sterling," he said before the Ecuador game. "We feel he's an exceptional player and we're hoping he'll be a very useful cog in our wheel at this World Cup. He's ready for that." ·