Interview: Alan Smith previews England's Euro 2016 campaign

Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith speaks to Sports Mole about England's upcoming campaign at Euro 2016.

England have not tasted glory at a major tournament since their historic 1966 World Cup triumph, so the nation may just have a glimmer of hope rather than expectation heading into Euro 2016 in France.

However, Roy Hodgson has an opportunity to unleash an attack-minded group of young, fearless and hungry players when the Three Lions take on Europe's best this month.

England suffered a disappointing group-stage exit at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but they travel across the Channel with the hope of giving supporters memories to rival those created during the team's semi-final charge at Euro '96.

Before the tournament kicks off on June 10, Sports Mole caught up with former Arsenal and England striker Alan Smith, who is hopeful that Hodgson's men can take inspiration from Leicester City's against-all-odds Premier League glory.

Alan Smith pictured in a fetching pink tee in July 2015© Getty Images

Everyone has been talking about Marcus Rashford. Do you think it's the right decision to take him to the Euros, and do you think there's a danger of people getting carried away and expecting too much from him?

"I hope not. Hodgson would have thought about that before selecting him. I think the manager's seen enough - probably in training as much as in the friendly against Australia when he scored - to think that he can handle the situation. He might see him as the answer to playing on the left with a 4-3-3, which he tried against Australia.

"Rashford's a bright, young talent and he's going to be around the international scene for years to come, so, great for him to get experience so early. How much action he'll see, I don't know, but it's lovely that Roy has gone with him at Andros Townsend's expense, you could say, but Rashford's the man in form."

Do you think Hodgson made the right call in taking five strikers?

"Yeah, I quite like that. I think our strengths lie in our attacking positions, so I think Roy Hodgson is recognising that, where he's top-loaded the squad and he's hopefully going to select formations that take the game to the opposition and allow us to score goals because our weakness is at the back, as it was in Brazil, so if we can attack - the best form of defence as they say - he might be working on that theory."

What are your thoughts on Andros Townsend and Danny Drinkwater being dropped from the squad alongside injured Fabian Delph?

"I was a little surprised about Townsend, but obviously with Rashford going, somebody had to drop out. Townsend did really well for Newcastle at the end of the season - he's been in the shadows for most of this campaign while at Tottenham - but at Newcastle, he burst onto the scene, did really well, scored some good goals. He couldn't quite do enough to save his team, but he offers England something a bit different. He's a player that's going to take on his man and give you a little spark. He has a good shot from distance. I wondered whether Roy would have kept him in because of that, but you can only take 23."

Marcus Rashford looks on before making his England debut against Australia at the Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016© Getty Images

Were there any players that didn't even make the provisional squad that you feel should have been included?

"Not really. I think it's one of those rare times where there was no standout person that everybody's crying for. Michael Carrick, perhaps, is somebody that could have had an argument for it. Aside from that, I really don't think so. I think Roy Hodgson has pretty much got it right."

Theo Walcott was one player who failed to make the squad. It puts a big question mark over his international future, but also his club future. Do you think that he needs to leave Arsenal to get back in the England squad?

"Well, he's been at Arsenal a long time. Only he could answer the question of whether he's gone a bit stale and needs a change. Sometimes it can kickstart your career again and Theo does need an upturn in fortunes, there's no question of that. He's been around for a long time now, he came into the England squad when he was a raw teenager. It's been a difficult season for him. He was actually scoring goals before his injury when playing through the middle for Arsenal, but he just hasn't been able to pick it up again. Whether or not Arsene Wenger sees him as a long-term player for the club I don't know."

There's been a lot of debate about Wayne Rooney on whether he should start at the Euros and what position he should play, particularly now as five strikers are going to France. If you were in Hodgson's position, what would you do with Rooney?

"I would probably go quite adventurous and play a diamond in midfield and play Wayne at the point of the diamond, behind Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane. I think that is a formation that would be able to score goals against teams. Whether Roy goes for that for the first game against Russia, is another matter entirely. It might be that he plays the captain on the left of an attacking three - he's done it before, he did it against Italy at the World Cup. Wayne's got the experience to adapt to that.

"I think his experience is very important. There was a time when a lot of people were wondering whether he should actually be in the team, but with the likes of Kane, Vardy, Dele Alli and all these boys who are fairly inexperienced, I think we need Wayne Rooney's vast experience at this level to complement that youth."

England captain Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring his 52nd goal for his country during the 2-1 win over Australia at the Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016© Getty Images

So do you believe that his leadership skills in the dressing room will be just as valuable as his experience on the pitch?

"Yeah, he's the country's captain, he's our record goalscorer, he's been one of the best players we've had for a number of years. You put him alongside the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. He's one of that clutch of our world-class players at their peak. So, you don't discard that lightly. We saw against Australia that Rooney's looking sharp - he took his goal really well. I think he'll really be looking forward to this tournament because it's been a long time since he's made his mark on a tournament - we go back to Portugal all those years ago at the Euros."

You mentioned the weakness in defence. As we know, Hodgson has only selected three centre-backs. Is that quite a big concern for you?

"If we get a couple of injuries to our centre-halves it would be really bad luck, but it would leave us in a bit of a fix. Eric Dier would have to drop back, perhaps he can do that, but it's quite a big ask when he's played midfield all season, and he's only 21.

"It's an area of the pitch where Hodgson's maybe thought, 'well, I have to take a chance', because he's top-loaded it with his strikers but I hope we can find the right combination at the back. We didn't quite get it in Brazil with Phil Jagielka or Gary Cahill. Chris Smalling will definitely play, it's whether it's Cahill or John Stones. There's been a lot of talk about Stones getting the shout because he's going to be somebody that's going to be around for 10 years to come hopefully. He's a vastly talented player and someone who's comfortable on the ball. He had a trying season for Everton, particularly at the back end, but there's no doubting his talent."

In contrast, Sol Campbell recently said that something "drastic" would have to happen for John Stones to be in a first-choice centre-back pairing. In your opinion, should he start?

"There's talk of a little niggle to Cahill. Gary's got much more experience at club and country. I think a lot depends on how they look in training. If they feel that John Stones is looking confident... I wouldn't go along with saying something drastic has got to happen. I know you can look at his Everton form and go 'well, he can't possibly play for England on that form', but he can almost wipe the slate clean on Everton now. He's an England player and he's looking ahead to four weeks of football, hopefully. So, if he gets his confidence up - because I do think it did take a hit - I think he's gradually building it up again. If that's the case, he's got the ability to fill in there."

Big John Stones in action during the international friendly between England and Turkey on May 22, 2016© Getty Images

How do you think England should approach the Euros? Rio Ferdinand suggested that it should be a "development tournament", but isn't it time that the team got closer to challenging? They can't keep using tournaments as preparation for the next one, can they?

"I don't think you can afford to always say, 'well, let's get settled in this tournament and really go for it in Russia'. When it's your time, it's your time. It could be that things could click now with the players that we've got, and if we get off to a good start and score some goals and get a bit of momentum, it could just be that France is our time. You can never predict it with any certainty. Yes, we've got a lot of young players in there, but with that fearlessness of youth, it might be just what we need at this time."

England have got Russia, Wales and Slovakia in their group. You would expect them to qualify quite comfortably, wouldn't you?

"Yeah, obviously in Brazil we didn't get out of our group and that was bitterly disappointing, but if we get to the knockout stages, the last 16... you're looking to top your group if you can. If we do top our group, we get a more favourable tie. Wales will be a tricky game, I don't think Russia are the greatest side in the world and neither are Slovakia, so we should top that group without question."

First up is Russia on June 11. How important is it to start well?

"It always is. It's no longer quite so vital - you certainly don't want to lose - but we've just got that little bit more leeway now with the different format (the bottom side of each group will be knocked out and the two third-placed sides with the lowest points), but you just want to get your confidence up straight away and hopefully score some goals. There's nothing like goals to give the whole squad a lift."

Roy 'Woy' Hodgson watches on during the international friendly between England and Turkey on May 22, 2016© Getty Images

Hodgson has claimed that he wants to stay on as England manager after the Euros but will step down if the fans want him out. He won't be offered a new contract by the FA if the team exit the tournament early, though, will he?

"No, I don't think the public would allow that, and I don't think Roy would want to stay. Now he might say he does but it would be a case of returning to England with your tail between your legs. Having said that, there aren't a whole lot of candidates queuing up if you're looking for an Englishman, but hopefully it won't come to that and Roy will be able to take this young squad over to Russia (2018 World Cup) in a couple years' time."

Were you not a bit surprised, though, that Hodgson kept his job after England failed to get out of the group at the 2014 World Cup?

"Maybe the FA looked at the likely candidates and didn't see anyone that they felt would be a better bet. I like Roy Hodgson, he's a hugely experienced manager on the international scene as well as the club one, and there aren't many people like that about. I think the players have an affinity with him, and I think that counts for a lot."

Given the squad that England have and the type of opposition that they will be up against, how far do you think that they can go in the tournament?

"Leicester City have just won the Premier League, so nothing is impossible! England could win the Euros, but I still put them behind Germany and Spain in terms of quality. Maybe on a par with France, but with France being the host nation they might be a team to watch. I go back to the words momentum and confidence, and if we get things rolling and within the camp there's some belief, who knows. The semi-finals are certainly not beyond us."

Alan Smith was speaking at online bookmaker Betway's Euro 2016 Kick-Off Show. Watch the video and read more in-depth Euro 2016 opinion at

Roy Hodgson watches on during an England training session on March 28, 2016
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