Time for Hodgson to look to the future & trust the new boys

COMMENT: The England coach will make nine changes for Tuesday's dead rubber against Costa Rica - but Ross Barkley has a chance to shine as Three Lions look towards Euro 2016
By Greg Stobart in Brazil

Roy Hodgson feels so secure in his position that at the end of a disastrous World Cup campaign he can still risk the ultimate humiliation of returning home with zero points.

When the draw was made in December, Costa Rica were expected to be the also-rans in Group D but that fate has befallen England as the two sides prepare to face each other in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

England cannot get out of Brazil quick enough and will fly home immediately after their final fixture hoping to have restored a degree of pride.

Hodgson has promised to make changes to the side that started against both Italy and Uruguay and managed to become the first England side to exit a World Cup finals at the group stage since 1958.

Against Costa Rica, the Three Lions boss will ensure that every outfield member of his squad can say they have played in the World Cup.

He has confirmed that Ben Foster, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, James Milner, Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley will all start as he makes nine changes to the side.

In some ways it sums up the way expectations have fallen through the floor. It’s like he’s running a school team. We’re just pleased to be here.

But with his job safe and the FA backing him until Euro 2016, Hodgson also has the chance on Tuesday to think about the potential core of his squad in two years’ time.

Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Wilshere, Shaw, Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will form the basis of the team in France; along with more emerging talents like Everton defender John Stones and some established members of the squad such as Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Gary Cahill.

Barkley’s inclusion, in particular, will provide some intrigue to the dead rubber against Costa Rica.

The Everton midfielder came on in the 64th minute in the 2-1 defeat to Uruguay but, despite some glimpses of sharp link-up play, struggled to influence the game largely from a wide right position.

His potential, though, is unquestionable. He has the natural ability and the bravery on the ball to become England’s most influential midfielder since Paul Gascoigne.

Hodgson must be aware of that, despite his ill-judged criticism of the 20-year-old’s decision-making following an impressive display in the warm-up fixture against Honduras.

The feeling at the time was that Hodgson was trying to deflect the media attention off Barkley while keeping the cocky Scouser’s feet on the ground.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Hodgson is a naturally conservative coach, while Barkley likes to take risks, drive at defenders, embarrass them with nutmegs, and shoot from long range.

In the right areas it should be encouraged. It would be a disaster if Barkley’s instinctive ability was coached out of him, as some feel has happened to Rooney, or if his supreme self-confidence was diminished.

Even observing England training sessions at their Rio de Janeiro base during the tournament, it has been clear just how much faith Barkley has in his quality, constantly screaming for the ball and looking to be at the heart of the action.

During shooting drills he hammered more balls into the top corner than the rest of the participants, including Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Lampard. One with his left foot, another with his right, a piledriver followed by a curler. His talent stood out.

Barkley’s day-to-day boss certainly has no doubts about the Toffees' academy product’s potential.

“He is the biggest talent for his age I have seen in European football,” Martinez said earlier this month.
“He is a special player, a unique player and that is so rare. He has power, pace and technical ability - elements you rarely find in a player.

“He would look at home in the Spanish, German or Dutch models, no doubt about it. We have a responsibility to develop his talent and to protect and nurture him.”

If Barkley can show that talent in an England shirt against Costa Rica, the long flight home on Tuesday night may not be so grim for Hodgson after all.