Now that domestic football has wrapped up, all thoughts turn to the World Cup in Brazil next month. For England manager Roy Hodgson, he hopes their campaign will not end in the usual failure.
He is anxious that Wayne Rooney will end all the disappointments of the enigmatic striker’s two previous World Cups and finally excel in this one.
Rooney made a huge impression in his first major tournament, Euro 2004, and was even tipped by Sven Goran Eriksson, the England manager at the time, as the new Pele.
But with the weight of expectation, Rooney has pretty much imploded ever since, and although his tally of 38 England goals may eventually overhaul Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 49, in the biggest tournaments, he has been a letdown.
The Manchester United striker was not fully recovered from injury for the 2006 World Cup, and a combination of injury and personal issues distracted him at the 2010 tournament.
At the European Championships there has been few highlights as well because England failed to qualify in 2008, and two years ago Rooney missed the first two matches through suspension and made little impact when he did play.
Hodgson says he expects a fired up Rooney to finally deliver in Brazil, which sounds more optimistic than realistic considering the catalogue of disappointments so far.
At 28, Rooney is at his peak, but opposing defenders are aware of his danger more than any other Englishman and will use whatever methods necessary to snuff out his threat – as they have frequently in the past. Many play opposite him in the Prem anyway and, he has long lost that air of surprise.
Rooney is in Portugal this week, working on his conditioning with the rest of Hodgson’s squad, there for light training and more technical preparation. Hodgson is likely to partner Rooney with United team-mate Danny Welbeck or Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge as England’s starting attack.
Hodgson is wary of over-training, as happened under Fabio Capello before the last World Cup, but nonsensically abandoned plans to make this a week of total rest and recreation.
Considering the physical and mental demands of a 10-month season all his players have just endured, a few days of no football activity at all is a logical step. It is not as if the players will lose their fitness and focus completely in that environment on the eve of such an important assignment.
Players are getting individual training programs depending on their workload during the season and current fitness.
They have been divided into units – goalkeepers, defense, midfield, attack – and taken through tactics for Brazil in meetings rather than on the training pitch. It all sounds too technical and analytical, yet Hodgson believes that the game has evolved so much these are key components to success in Brazil.
However he prepares, England is still likely to struggle to get out of the group stages and is no better than a quarter-final side at best.
No wonder England captain Steven Gerrard will retire from the international arena afterward. He just cannot play at that level anymore and still maintain his Liverpool form.
The Reds will need Gerrard, 34 next week, for as many games as possible next term for Champions League competition and in attempting to capture the Premier League title they so excruciatingly allowed to slip out of their grasp in the final weeks of the season. Added to that, he is becoming even more injury prone, meaning common sense dictates that international retirement is a good career move.
Chelsea’s Frank Lampard is England’s vice-captain who turns 36 next month, and he too is likely to retire from the international stage.