England were the sick man of Europe last week, in desperate need of a grassroots revolution to transform their future. Now, after two games against dross, Roy Hodgson has proved himself as a remarkable leader and is off to Brazil at the helm of an excellent side that can play great football. The constant hyperactive crises surrounding the England team seem pretty much the most forced movement in the country since Millenialism, people desperately looking for signs of importance in a dull hangover between two more significant eras, ignoring the upheaval before and yet to come.
In fact, England are probably fine. They're going through a transitional phase, but the last generation of players were about the right level of talent and depth for the size and standing of the country, and the youngsters coming through probably will be now. It's not an exciting narrative, but it's a lot closer to the truth than the myths peddled about England being in some desperate state of disrepair that requires fixing, or Hodgson being a managerial genius.
England got out of the group because they had the best squad by a mile. They won all the games they would've been expected to win, and drew all the games that were remotely difficult. They played dull football, and were frequently flattered by scorelines, never moreso than in the final two games. The difference between playing exciting football and conceding a worrying amount of clear-cut chances appears to have been lost in the celebration of their success.
Part of Hodgson's attraction seems to be based on the fact that he is not Harry Redknapp, the man who was the favourite for the gig. There's an odd movement to cast Redknapp as out of his depth, useless, a dinosaur with no hope of effectively managing a football club in 2013. This seems to be entirely based on Redknapp's status as a favourite with the English media and his occasionally obnoxious public persona. Which is all well and good, but it doesn't mean he can't pick an effective starting eleven.
Perhaps this is due to a more recent trend to reject all the works of artists who may have, at one time, said or done something morally questionable. While of course it's good that people get called out, and bad actions recognised, the man doesn't mean you can't enjoy the art. If you think like that, not only will you miss out on Redknapp, but plenty more great men - P.G. Wodehouse, Richard Wagner, Elvis Costello, Dom Passantino.
In any case, Hodgson is hardly a loveable uncle type - he may have come across as such while managing Fulham, the nation's most inoffensive team, but his bumbling-old-fool schtick afterwards only worked because it was at Liverpool, a widely disliked club. There's also the whole Apartheid business, but we won't talk about that. England doesn't want to hear about that.
When England go to Brazil, it's quite obvious what will happen based upon their results in qualifying. They'll beat the bad teams in their group, draw or lose against the strongest one, and go through to the knockout stages, where they may get to the quarter-finals with a favourable draw but will ultimately lose against the first good side they come up against. There is absolutely zero chance that England will emerge victorious from games against Italy, Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, Argentina. It cannot happen under Hodgson.
Of course, all of those have much stronger squads than England, but a bit of uncertainty wouldn't go amiss. In competitive games, the only diversion from England achieving the result that had the shortest odds at the bookies have been a handful of dour draws. Hodgson has had an easier ride than any England manager for a very long time, taking advantage of a sudden drastic reduction in expectations from the nation and the press, but whether that will hold until the tournament actually begins is highly doubtful.