Football: Hodgson stands by under-pressure Wilshere
LONDON (AFP) - England manager Roy Hodgson says that he retains faith in Jack Wilshere despite the midfielder struggling to hold onto his first-team place at Arsenal.
Wilshere, 21, has been dogged by ankle problems for over two years and faces renewed competition at the Emirates Stadium following Arsenal's club-record acquisition of German playmaker Mesut Ozil.
Ozil's arrival, coupled with the stunning form of Aaron Ramsey, has seen Wilshere exiled to an unfamiliar left-wing role, and he was dropped to the bench for the mid-week victory over Napoli in the Champions League.
Hodgson, however, says that the tenacious and technically refined central midfielder remains a pivotal part of his plans.
"He's in an Arsenal team at the moment where the competition for places in midfield is very strong anyway and will be even stronger when (Santi) Cazorla gets fit," said Hodgson, whose squad will assemble on Monday to prepare for their final two World Cup qualifiers.
"But he's an important cog in our midfield thinking. I don't have any concerns for him.
"I believe in him, I think he's a very good player, and I'm hoping that he'll turn up on Monday fully fit to play and then it'll be up to me to decide whether I want to put him in the starting line-up." Wilshere was this week pictured with a cigarette in his mouth while on a night out, but Hodgson said he would leave Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to address the matter.
"By the time he gets to me on Monday, this is a story which will be long gone and I trust Arsene to deal with that situation," he said.
England tackle Montenegro at Wembley Stadium on Friday before facing Poland at the same venue four days later, with six points required to guarantee a place at next year's World Cup in Brazil.
Hodgson's side twice failed to beat Ukraine and have also been held to draws by Poland and Montenegro, but he feels that expectations that England would sweep through Group H were unrealistic.
Citing the row that erupted when John Terry was accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, brother of his England colleague Rio Ferdinand, Hodgson said that he had had a particularly testing introduction to the job.
"I think I've presided over a team in something of a transitional period, a team that's had quite a lot of issues, not least with the Terry-Ferdinand (affair), which has occupied a lot of my time," said Hodgson, who succeeded Fabio Capello prior to Euro 2012.
"It depends what attitude you take; whether you take a realistic attitude towards the England national team and where it is today, or whether you live on past glories and say, 'This shouldn't happen.'
"But to be fair, if we don't qualify - and I don't think this will ever happen - it won't be the first time and it certainly isn't the first time an England team has had to use qualification matches or play-off matches to get through." However, Hodgson says he has given no thought to what would it mean for his job if England failed to qualify.
"What's the point of me thinking about those things?" he said, during a briefing with journalists at Wembley.
"I don't think we're going to lose the games, I think we're going to qualify. That's what I think about." He also said he would have no need for rousing pre-match speeches, using an anecdote from his time as manager of the modest Swiss club Neuchatel Xamax as an example.
"I don't think players appreciate Churchillian speeches these days. Tub-thumping's not necessary," he said.
"Contrary to popular belief, people do really care about playing for England and getting to Brazil.
"I never forget a European tie at Neuchatel. I come out before the game and the two teams are standing there (in the tunnel). And the noise and aggression coming from the other team had to be heard to be believed.
"And these Swiss players - (there were) one or two Egyptians in there as well - they just stood there, the quietest team in the world. But it didn't stop us winning 5-1."