Hodgson should pick the young ones, not the young once
Drop big names and select rising stars to shine at Euro 2016
(Ross Barkley 29, Giedrius Arlauskis 35-og, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 62)
England's stroll to Euro 2016 qualification said many things, most of which were pointless.
Uefa must consider a pre-qualifying campaign for lesser nations to avoid the tedious farce of an average Three Lions side winning all 10 games by scoring 31 goals and conceding just three.
Beating Lithuania 3-0 yesterday morning (Singapore time) with England's reserves offers about as much insight as Wayne Rooney beating Sir Bobby Charlton's goal-scoring record by knocking in penalties against the likes of San Marino.
The draw essentially handed Roy Hodgson the winning lottery ticket, with the indecisive manager still unsure of how to collect his winnings.
Despite a perfect 10 in qualification, his best 11 isn't certain, England's playing philosophy remains elusive and as for the brand of football, well, there isn't one.
Another limp performance in a quiet, archaic stadium in Lithuania neatly summarised Hodgson's campaign. They came. They saw. They plodded around for a bit, exchanged a couple of passes and sort of conquered.
But at least the kids delivered. Against Estonia and Lithuania, Ross Barkley's youthful confidence proved infectious. The boys just want to have fun.
Even allowing for the limited opposition, Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jonjo Shelvey, Harry Kane and subs Bamidele Alli and Danny Ings all performed with a refreshing lack of inhibition.
Those traditional English shackles that stifle Three Lions fixtures were cast off. They improvised. They tried stuff that didn't always come off, but were invigorating nonetheless.
ROONEY, AN EXAMPLE
If England are to have any chance of success at Euro 2016, then Hodgson must stand up to the household names and unleash the kids instead.
Ever since Sven-Goran Eriksson, England's managers have displayed the dumbstruck giddiness of teenage groupies, bowing at the cult of celebrity. They see stars. Others see has-beens.
To use the most obvious example, Rooney is viewed by all as a loyal, committed player past his prime, with the obvious exception of the only man whose opinion actually counts.
With Rooney rested again against Lithuania, Barkley flourished once more in the vacant space, smashing home England's deflected opener from 20m and encouraging others to do likewise.
Kane continued to carve out opportunities with a incisive scalpel. He was unlucky that his angled drive went in off Lithuania's goalkeeper for an own goal, but he alone had engineered the chance.
It's hard to recall the last time Rooney dominated the penalty box with such aplomb.
Shelvey, Alli and even Oxlade-Chamberlain, who scored an outstanding goal, are not likely to make the first 11 in France, but Hodgson has little to lose and everything to gain from finally cutting loose what's left of the old guard to go for broke with the kids.
Unlike Jose Mourinho, Hodgson will always have John Stones at his disposal.
For the first time since some cocky kid called Rio dribbled the ball out of defence and past a handful of humiliated West Ham veterans, England have a centre back who can play out of danger.
To live up to his pun-worthy name, the Everton man should be the cornerstone of England's defence for the next decade.
If Barcelona are reportedly interested, then Hodgson should be.
Chelsea's calamitous defending underline how invaluable Stones would have been and how inconsistent Gary Cahill has become.
The title winner brings a name and a resume to the England camp, but he doesn't bring form.
Chris Smalling does. So did Luke Shaw before his tragic injury. If the Manchester United men are fit and healthy by the time Euro 2016 comes around, they should pick themselves.
But their teammates, Rooney and Michael Carrick, are yesterday's men. Age has withered them less than that demoralising United defeat at Arsenal. Pace kills and France will be no country for old men.
Barkley, Raheem Sterling, Theo Walcott, Kane and Oxlade-Chamberlain are the available game changers, with Daniel Sturridge no less potent in attack if he ever finds his fitness.
But that's a debilitating waiting game Hodgson should not play. Before previous tournaments, the injury progress of England's superstars in suffering, David Beckham and Rooney, turned into silly soap operas.
They deflected attention and lost focus, forcing the England camp to rally round crocked celebrities rather than adequate alternatives.
Hodgson already has a nucleus of nascent stars ready to light up the night skies of France. If the Three Lions build around Barkley, they may come. They may deliver.
It would be churlish to dismiss the youngsters as inexperienced, particularly when England's performances at previous tournaments were so immature.
The grown-ups had their chance. It's time to pass the baton.
MAIN MAN: TNP columnist Neil Humphreys believes that the England team should be built around Ross Barkley, if the Three Lions want to have a good chance of success.
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