Roy Hodgson has defended Jack Wilshere and is confident the controversy over his comments this week will not affect the Arsenal midfielder in England’s final World Cup qualifiers.
Wilshere sparked a fresh debate over player eligibility this week after responding to suggestions the FA would pursue Manchester United’s Belgian youngster Adnan Januzaj by saying only English players should play for England.
The issue has dominated headlines since, but Hodgson does not expect there to be any impact when England take on Montenegro at Wembley tonight.
“First of all I think his comments, if not misunderstood, were translated in a way people wanted to translate them,” Hodgson said. “People are always complaining that players don’t have an opinion or that they say nothing worth listening to, so I don’t think it’s quite right to criticise someone for having an opinion.
“The subject matter is worthy of debate and, at the end of the day, it will be a policy decision taken by the FA.
“From my point of view, it hasn’t affected Jack. I think he just shrugs it off.”
Wilshere has been a focus of attention for several reasons even before this week’s interview.
He has frequently been playing out of position for Arsenal, stationed on the left due to the outstanding play of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey in the centre, and was then photographed with a cigarette in his mouth after the Gunners’ victory over Napoli.
But Hodgson said the 21-year-old is keeping his head down and not allowing events to distract him.
“I think we expect so much from Jack and that can be a slight problem for him,” he said.
“When someone comes on to the scene with incredible talent you expect so much from them and every time they fall below those standards alarm bells start ringing.
“But he’s put behind him the unfortunate furore over his quotes and it’s not affected him one bit on the field. I think England will get a lot out of him in these next two games and for a long, long time to come.”
England go into the final rounds of qualifiers at the top of Group H, one point ahead of Ukraine and Montenegro, and can guarantee their ticket to Brazil with victories over Montenegro and Poland.
Hodgson reported a clean bill of health for his squad, and said he was excited by the attacking options he has with Daniel Sturridge present, while declining to confirm the Liverpool striker would start alongside Wayne Rooney.
“It’s been a very good week’s training,” Hodgson said. “We’ve got a fully fit squad of players. It’s not only the strikers I’ve been impressed by. The whole squad has had a very good week’s training. I’m just happy the game will come along tomorrow night. We feel ready for it.
“I haven’t named the team yet so I can’t make any comments before the start of the game (on individuals), but it’s nice to see a player like Daniel Sturridge come into the squad and be so comfortable at an early stage and to strike up a good relationship with the more senior players he’s been partnering this week.
“It’s also nice that so many strikers come into this game having had good games with their clubs and having scored goals for their clubs.”
Hodgson was quite forceful in his belief that England will qualify for next year’s World Cup and insisted that there are no concerns in the camp.
“We’ve never discussed not qualifying within the camp; we are convinced that we are a good team, we are convinced that we are good enough to qualify and with two home games to come we are convinced that we will do the job,” he said.
“Words like fear or anxiety or concern haven’t really crossed our minds or certainly haven’t crossed our lips and I’ve been very impressed by the quality of training.
“I know that we need to deliver, I know we will deliver and I’m convinced tomorrow night you will see a very, very good England team.
“There will be lots of good teams that won’t get to Brazil next year but I’m convinced it won’t be us.”
Hodgson also chose to play down comments made by Harry Redknapp in his new autobiography, suggesting that the Football Association was clueless and that he “would not trust them to show him a good manager if their lives depended on it”.
Some have seen that comment as a deliberate swipe at Hodgson, but the former Fulham, Liverpool and West Brom boss does not see it that way.
“I don’t see that as a criticism of me, it might be intended to be, but I didn’t read it that way,” he added.
“I don’t really have any comment to make upon what people say in their book; it’s his book, it’s his life story, it’s his prerogative to say what he thinks in every situation he’s found himself in.
“As far as I’m concerned it has nothing to do with me whatsoever.”