Roy Hodgson’s vision for England is beyond Europe

England face Estonia in the Euro 2016 qualifiers on Sunday, but their veteran coach seems to be building a team that will peak well past his own retirement, writes Richard Jolly

Roy Hodgson, left, seems to be building the England team around Raheem Sterling. Glyn Kirk / AFP
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The essential futility of facing San Marino was summed up when, courtesy of some joke votes, Joe Hart was named man of the match in Thursday’s 5-0 victory. The goalkeeper’s nine touches of the ball clearly impressed the electorate.

If Hart emerges from Tallinn tonight with the individual honours, it is safe to say he will have deserved them rather more.

The chances are that he will not be overworked, though, as Estonia are ranked 81st in the world and have scored seven goals in their past 12 competitive games.

One goal proved enough to defeat a more-fancied Slovenia team last month, but Estonia remain ­underdogs.

An ever-cautious Roy Hodgson can argue that there are reasons to guard against complacency – Slovakia beating Spain, Albania defeating Portugal, Kazakhstan leading against Holland – but the pool gives England plenty of margin for error. Switzerland, supposedly the second-strongest side, are still awaiting their first point.

So while hosts France are the only side guaranteed their place in Euro 2016, England seem all but assured of joining them.

So if opponents are not presenting enough of a challenge, England are intent upon testing ­themselves.

Both Hodgson and Danny Welbeck have spoken of trying to win all 10 qualifiers. It is not enough to emerge unbeaten, as they did in World Cup qualifying.

Yet if the short-term aims are eight more victories, they are looking longer into the future. This is a campaign where England are offering a sneak preview of the years to come.

Hodgson, 67, packed many of his club sides with experienced players, but he finds himself guiding the next generation, whose peak will probably come when he is in retirement.

Eight of those who featured on Thursday were 25 or under. Phil Jagielka is the only man in the side who has celebrated his 30th birthday and, were Phil Jones and John Stones fit, the Everton captain would probably find himself on the bench.

So while the old firm, comparatively, of Gary Cahill and Jagielka have been reunited, it is a time where the experiments continue elsewhere.

Jack Wilshere made only one competitive start as the midfield anchorman, in September’s win in Switzerland, before being shunted to the side of the diamond against San Marino.

The Arsenal man needs more experience at the base of the midfield, to see if he can split defences with passes from deeper positions and cope with the responsibility of reading the game and shielding the centre-backs. For better or worse, Hodgson should see how he fares as Steven Gerrard’s successor.

In any case, James Milner, chosen as the holding player against San Marino, is as much a stranger to the role.

The specialists among current England players are not in the squad and, despite Gerrard’s international retirement, Hodgson has not turned to Hull’s Tom Huddlestone, West Ham’s Mark Noble or Aston Villa’s Ashley Westwood.

With defensive injuries and arguably his most potent striker, Daniel Sturridge, recuperating in Merseyside, Hodgson has more options in midfield. It is the department of the team that offers most intrigue.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain offered dynamism in his cameo against San Marino and seems to be perceived as an impact substitute for club and country, but he surely merits a start soon.

Adam Lallana brought brightness on Thursday and may be competing for a place with his Liverpool teammate Raheem Sterling, who requires a rest at some point.

The interest lies in the shape as well as the individuals.

The diamond, configured in part to suit Sterling, is more applicable against superior opposition. England required width against San Marino.

But away from home against the more competent Estonians, it represents another chance to use the vogue formation that allows four central players to start together, along with two ­strikers.

As much as England may deny it, they already are road-testing players and formations for France. It should make them the envy of much of Europe.

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