Last Tuesday marked the beginning of the 100-day countdown to this summer’s World Cup. That means a couple of things: oversized, garishly colored countdown clocks will appear all over the Internet; and the tremors of self-loathing that always accompany English coverage of the English national team will start to intensify.
I don’t have the technological expertise to place a giant clock on In For The Hat Trick’s home page. But although I live in the United States – where, comfortably insulated from the national trauma playing out on the other side of the Atlantic, I tend to handle tournament disappointment stoically, with a stiff upper lip and only the occasional temper tantrum – I know exactly what Roy Hodgson should do to avoid total humiliation in Brazil. So here goes.
Leave Tom Cleverley behind. More than 18,000 people who really, really hate Tom Cleverley have signed an online petition calling for the FA to ban him from England’s World Cup squad. In the comment section, some of the signers have also explained their thinking. “Tom Cleverley is footballing genocide,” writes Shuan Babbage of Canterbury. “His lack of ability and beady little eyes lead me to believe he might actually be Welsh,” adds Paul Godbert of Blackpool. “Hes got a shit haircut,” opines Tom Pilling of Bolton. Cleverley definitely shouldn’t make the squad – Adam Lallana, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, and Leon Osman all deserve a chance – but the petition is titanically stupid. If England fails to reach the Round of 16, it won’t be because of Cleverley. It will be because the Premier League doesn’t have a winter break, Hodgson doesn’t have an attacking strategy, and the FA doesn’t have a clue.
Pick Luke Shaw. A debate is raging about whom Hodgson should bring to Brazil as England’s second-string left back. Amazingly, people actually care about this – though, to be fair, the choice is at least semi-consequential, because including Luke Shaw would almost certainly end the international career of Ashley Cole, either the most or the second-most loathsome person in the universe, depending on whether or not you signed the Cleverley petition. Personally, I think Hodgson should pick Shaw: he’s young, fast, and not yet a rapacious asshole.
Unleash Wayne Rooney. Easier said than done. Rooney’s had a weird season at Manchester United: he wanted to leave, then he started scoring goals, then he signed a lucrative new contract, then he stopped scoring goals. Rooney played brilliantly before the last two World Cups but then collapsed, along with the rest of the England team. Here’s a daring prediction for this year: If Hodgson can somehow convince Rooney to play well – perhaps by personally delivering beer and chips to his hotel room; Wazza appreciates the little things – England might scrape a draw against Costa Rica.