Duplicitous and canny curmudgeon that he is, Roy Hodgson threw many of his detractors a curve ball with his selection for England's plucky defeat to Italy last Saturday. By choosing Raheem Sterling in a central role and shunting Sky Sports News perma-story, Wayne Rooney, out to the flank, the England manager had seemed to make the boldest of moves.
Hodgson's sides, over his self-celebrated career, have tended towards a certain homogeneity. With caution the watchword, the itchy faced general has overseen dour sides playing turgid football in a rigid defensive shape. As one might expect, the result of playing in such a fashion is the attainment of mundane mediocrity, a state in which the England manager has reveled up to now. However, with the expectancy of a nation now weighing on him, Hodgson has broken with tradition somewhat and selected a bold squad full of exciting young talent. It must be a terrible source of discomfiture for the poor man.
Of course, in the build up to the tournament, the former Fulham boss was up to his usual tricks, lowering expectation with aplomb, his homiletic press conferences filled with tales of oppressive heat, young inexperienced players and the magnificence of the opposition. Liverpool fans endured this particular circus for a half season that has still to be extirpated from this scribbler's traumatised mind and one can only imagine how England supporters felt as they listened to Fleet Street's darling regale his fawning acolytes with tales of how, really, it was just great to be part of it all.
With so many Liverpool footballers, including Luis Suarez of Uruguay, so utterly central to England's hope of escaping their World Cup group, fans of the club are understandably invested in tomorrow's clash between the two countries. Both sides having succumbed to defeat in their opening fixture, there is the added tension that anything other than victory will leave qualification uncertain going into the final match. Glen Johnson, for better or worse, will start at right back and Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson are likely to reprise their roles, with Hodgson missing the obvious lesson from Liverpool's fine season under Brendan Rodgers that Henderson needs another alongside him to maximise the captain's potential on the park.
In order to bring in somebody like Adam Lallana in this position it would mean that one of Rooney, Sterling or Daniel Sturridge would have to make way and frankly, the only candidate for eviction there is the comically thatched Manchester United man. Rooney's status, however, both amongst Hodgson's mates in the press and in the coteries of ersatz expertise that make up television punditry panels, is unquestioned. The discussion on at least two channels following the last match was about how England's players and coach had failed the burly number 10 by not playing him in his best position. Remarkable stuff.
Of course, with the hacks gently prodding him in that direction, it is now eminently possible that it will be Sterling who is moved to the flank to accommodate the self proclaimed "big man." The kinetic Liverpool forward, however, is utterly unfazed by this possibility and, with a humility that he has seemed to learn under Rodgers' tutelage, he claims to be happy to serve the team in any capacity and stresses the valuable educational and experiential aspects of young footballers playing across a range of positions whilst in the developmental stages of their careers.
"I would be happy to play anywhere the manager puts me," Sterling insists. "I am a team player. I will be working for the team regardless of which position I play in. I don't think the team was built around me necessarily. I just think the manager thought that was the right position for me at the time, with my pressing and my closing down. I know there have been some great players who have played for this country so for me to be selected in the national team was a great achievement for me."
"It was a big occasion for me - my first competitive start, so I tried to think of it as just another game and give it my best shot," he said. "It wasn't enough at the end of the day but the team did some really impressive stuff and we will go out on Thursday ready to go again. We have been looking at them, trying to find ways in which we can really hurt them and I think the manager has been preparing really well for this game."
England's Liverpool contingent will know all too well what threat is posed by the proposed return of clubmate and Uruguay talisman, Luis Suarez, to full fitness. They will also know, that like Henderson, Suarez has had to be saved from himself on occasion by the club's medical staff, who prevented him from over-training or returning too quickly from injury. It is a fair assumption, that with their tournament hanging in the balance, Uruguay's management will not be so discerning. Even a half fit Suarez is a genuine threat, however, and one Sterling would prefer not to face.
"I'd rather not see him on the pitch, really," the spectacularly coiffured attacker offered, smiling warily. "He is a great player, we all know that. But we can't be too focused on just him. We've got to realise they've got other world-class players as well, like Cavani. We've really got to think about their positives and negatives, not just Luis."
Realistically speaking, it is massively unlikely that either Suarez or Sterling will return from Brazil bedizened with the auriferous glinting of winners' medals and with the Premier League fixture list announced just today the mind of this particular scribbler has been drawn firmly back to Liverpool's season to come. No doubt, like me, many of you will enjoy the clash on Thursday night in a highly qualified fashion, with the avoidance of injury to Anfield men being the priority. However, this is England under Roy Hodgson at the World Cup and if that doesn't pique your interest, for whatever reason, then football's probably not for you.