Having lived in England for almost a quarter of a century and overseeing the national team most of the time, I can tell you this run to the semi-finals feels different. (I’m in a hurry to add, though of course that doesn’t mean they’ll win Euro 2020; History shows that they usually don’t get a trophy.)
Make no mistake, some things are the same. Few countries, at least among the larger nations, for example, have the ability to switch from ecstasy to dejection based on a single outcome.
If you win, experts and fans – at least those who make the most noise – will be talking about how deep inside England can beat anyone and that anyone with the Three Lions on is “world class”, or whatever they like to say , “therefore.” If they lose, they are at best clumsy zero-hopefuls, at worst a spoiled, ungrateful bunch of disinterested stains on the national character.
That is not to say that the media and supporters in other countries will not get carried away when they excel or turn into angry villagers with pitchforks and torches when they are defeated. They definitely do; it’s just that there’s usually not the 180 degree flip from game to game.
But while that part hasn’t changed Englandwhich has a lot to do with the man at the top of the team, Gareth Southgate, and a little with the kind of players who make up his squad. Here are five ways this page is different.
1. Southgate is personable and humble and normal
England’s coach is probably more relatable than any of his seven permanent predecessors. Recall that the list includes a man who lost his job after saying he believed in reincarnation and that people with disabilities were punished for sins in a previous life (Glenn Hoddle), a guy who Quit out of the blue in a post-game interview at Wembley (Kevin Keegan), a guy who had an affair with a Football Association employee and who was deceived by a man disguised as a wealthy sheikh (Sven Goran Eriksson) became the armband (Fabio Capello) and a guy who had to leave after a single game because of an undercover trick where he talked about “circumventing the rules” to register players (Sam Allardyce).
Well, there is a context and a different side to all of this, and none of it means that the above managers were worse managers than Southgate; In fact, most of them were probably better from a purely footballing point of view. But it does mean that the current England boss has managed to avoid controversy and drama to an extent that others have not. Furthermore, he did it while being humble and sincere, traits that people find attractive.
2. Southgate is not overly influenced by the media
Whether it plays Kieran Trippier Left-back (and not playing) Ben Chillwell at all), stick with it Kalvin Phillips in midfield Raheem Sterling a fixed point or start Bukayo Saka against Germany, Southgate made a number of decisions that most could describe outside of common wisdom. That is, the same popular wisdom that forced previous managers to put Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and the occasional Paul Scholes in the same midfield.
Southgate also doesn’t freak out when the performances leave critics unhappy, like the 0-0 draw against Scotland or the second half against Czech Republic in the group stage, where the latter managed England to record 0.0 expected goals (which is tough to be honest).
He has a plan, he sticks to it and he knows that although he can be measured in the short term by how well his teams play (and therefore risk a media fight), in the long term it is measured by how far they progress in tournaments (Sun. far, it’s good).
Southgate is getting a basic concept that others seem to be missing: club football – with its 38-game league season – generally rewards teams that attack and play well and do more than they admit. Tournament football, on the other hand, is another animal that risk-taking is discouraged.
France Won at the last World Cup by essentially sitting low, not giving in and waiting for superstars on the other end to do something special. England hasn’t gone quite that far – and maybe not because Philips doesn’t Paul Pogba, Declan rice ain’t no N’Golo Kante, Sterling ain’t no Antoine Griezmann and there are none Kylian Mbappe in sight – but the concept is not dissimilar.
3. England’s players look like they want to be there
After most of the tournament disappointments in recent years, the English media carried out its investigation into what went wrong. This would be a known process. The coach’s decisions were (always) criticized and usually there was a big theory, sometimes with a single scapegoat, like David Beckham 1998 or David Seaman 2002 or Wayne Rooney most of the time and sometimes experiencing a collective breach of duty.
Another sub-topic inevitably was whether these players really wanted to wear the Three Lions and whether there were internal rivalries that tore the group apart. Eriksson famously noted how players would eat and hang out with their clubmates, other managers have spoken about England’s players feeling “less protected” than they did at club level, and others still noted that given the environment, the players felt like ” Duty “felt around the national team.
But I don’t think so, because after the World Cup semi-final defeat there was no more Croatia in 2018, and everything indicates that unlike previous expeditions, there is no poison in this English camp. This is due not only to Southgate, but also to this group of players.
4. This group has the right mix of leaders and foot soldiers
There is no question that this England is as strong as any non-French speaking team in Europe in terms of depth, especially in attacking positions. But there is also humility towards the players that Southgate has entrusted most over the past few weeks. Compared to the past, there are very few alpha males, superstar types among the regulars.
Rice, phillips and Jordan Pickford Watch the Champions League on TV. The three Man City players are important to their club team without being indispensable, partly because of the strong collective ethos of Pep Guardiola and partly because of the talent around them. Masonic Mountain is not yet an A-Lister. Luke Shaw plays for Man United but has had its share of setbacks. Harry Maguire is a natural leader but was in Hull City until the age of 24.
The only exception is Harry Kanewho has carried Tottenham on his back for many years, but cannot be confused in terms of ego and personality Zlatan Ibrahimovic sometime soon. It’s a blue collar team for a blue collar style of play with lots of talents and game changers going in and out of the bench whether it be Jadon Sancho or Phil Foden or Jack Grealish or sake. This isn’t a crew built around two or three people – aside from Kane, though even then you see him without service for long stretches and he hasn’t complained – and that makes it different.
5. Success creates success and trust
It feels different for the simple reason that many players know what success in the national team looks like. England have reached the semi-finals of major tournaments only six times, with Southgate and much of that team making it twice, as did Sir Alf Ramsey and Co. in 1966 and 1968.
England had gone more than 20 years without reaching the last four of a competition before Southgate took them there Russia. It doesn’t mean the pressure is gone, but it doesn’t matter because once a cycle begins it’s hard to slow it down.
Once you have experience of accomplishing something useful, it becomes easier to do it again. This English team doesn’t play with pride, but the players seem to have calm confidence. And that can be even more important.
Southgate’s England has managed to break the feedback loop of drama and disappointment. Not by necessarily playing better football or having better players – at least as far as the players who actually make it onto the pitch are concerned – but by the way they support themselves and the environment in the camp towers over them.
Maybe it’s not entirely the manager. It can be the players. It may be the fans and the media who are just a little more relaxed and happier after 18 months of pandemic and want to highlight the positive.
It may or may not be enough to win the European Championship, but it’s a goddamn sight different from the past.