Why did he do it?
Why did he do it? Why take such a needlessly cavalier risk with the country’s future and his own? Maybe he thought his luck would hold. Well, it didn’t. It’s hard to see a path back to the European summit from here. Yes, facing Iceland rather than Portugal turns out to be a slice of good fortune. But then it’s likely to be France in the quarters, and if it comes to that Germany or Spain in the semis. The final seems a very long way off. And all because Hodgson took a gamble against Slovakia, in the mistaken belief that he was in control of his own destiny.
I never had Hodgson down as a Cameron-style chancer. I thought he was more methodical, a little unadventurous, better suited to the hard grind of the qualifying rounds than the cut-throat competition of the finals. But here he was trying to second guess the future by putting out a second-best eleven. He wanted to rest key players so that they would be ready for the tougher challenges ahead. But by getting ahead of himself he lost control of his fate. He should have thought harder about what could go wrong: that if England didn’t beat Slovakia they might find themselves trapped in the wrong half of the draw, with a far tougher route to the final. He still felt that he could pull it out of the fire if he had to, falling back on his bench once it became clear that plan A wasn’t working. He left it too late and got burned.
Hodgson might say that he couldn’t have known which teams would finish where in the other groups. It was out of his control. All he could do was focus on preserving his own side’s strength for whoever lay in wait. That’s nonsense. The team that finished second in England’s group was always likely to face the team that finished first in France’s group in the quarters, and that was always likely to be France themselves. This is what had to be avoided at all costs. England’s success in this tournament will be judged on whether they get to the semis or beyond. So, in the end, will Hodgson’s entire managerial career. Taking a chance on facing the hosts in the last eight was a blatant failure of foresight. Hodgson has mismanaged the risks.
Perhaps Cameron will say that he was a victim of circumstance. He couldn’t have known how poor Labour’s campaign in the referendum was going to be. But that’s not true either. Once Corbyn became Labour leader, Cameron could have been pretty sure that his fate in this referendum would be tied to the performance of his opposite number. It was the luck of the draw, but it was also a draw known well in advance. Everything depended on getting the Labour vote out. Cameron should have guessed that Corbyn was unlikely to be up to the task. But he didn’t seem to care. He carried on playing his own party political games, confident that he could pull it out of the fire if he had to. It was too little, too late. And now his career will be judged a colossal failure, regardless of what else he may have achieved.
It isn't just hindsight that says Cameron should have worked out where the biggest risks lay and guarded against them, rather than trying to ride his luck. If England lose to France, it won’t just be hindsight that says Hodgson should have done the same.