Euro 2020 has arrived, albeit one year late. The air of expectation, euphoria, potential celebrations and inevitable heartbreak all await in this coming month of International football.
Gareth Southgate, a somewhat untested manager prior to his appointment, once again leads the Three Lions into an international tournament, with questions still lingering over much of the team. The squad is picked, the players are ready, we just await the first group game.
After watching Italy comprehensively dispatch Turkey in the tournaments opening game, the realisation is that England may just lack that level of management needed to succeed, compared to Italy’s Roberto Mancini. Mancini, despite ups and downs, has true pedigree on both the pitch and the sidelines, in his football career. He has navigated his team to the finals with a great run of form and balance throughout the side. The rhetoric of dark horses echoing from the pundits seems naive, given the quality of both players and manager. Italy are a force with legitimate guidance, and could grow further from an impressive start.
England have perhaps the richest array of talent in the final third, with devastating talents in international novices Foden, Grealish and Sancho. These are just some of the players that the England support are desperate to see explode, in the upcoming games.
With Harry Kane leading the line (as well as the team), England have a world class striker that can be relied upon for his goals. His ability and performances can inspire the young pretenders that can hopefully overshadow the potential weaknesses within the defensive line. Gareth Southgate has tinkered, toyed, dropped and redeployed various players and systems prior to this tournament, but must now decide upon who and how to navigate this tournament. A solidity and structure must be found, but perhaps more than that is needed for ultimate success.
After watching Italy cruise to victory, I was reminded of a documentary, ‘Baggio: The Divine Ponytail’. It is a story of the remarkable player that was once the bright spark of the Italian side. Such players and gifted performers can instigate and drive a team forward with inspiration and performance. The documentary focuses on Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy, and Baggio-led run to the 1994 World Cup Final. The eventual Baggio miss in the penalty shoot out handed Brazil their fourth World Cup, yet the story around his drive and ability to propel his team to this point, is a story in itself.
Paul Gascoigne once lifted England’s hopes of victory sky high. His performances in the 1990 World Cup, and later in the 1996 European Champions are well remembered by the England fans. He was a magnificent player and show man when the ball was at his feet, with few players that could match him, when at his best. With a raft of good and great players through both squads (in each tournament), the exploits of one man inspired not only a team, but a nation. 30 years of hurt were almost extinguished by the genius of one mans footballing genius, and he is perhaps England’s most talented ever player.
This tournament begins when life as we know it has been so different and affecting. It is where we hope a new genius of international football, can help give us much needed inspiration.
Phil Foden represents the pure joy of modern football, a young man cast into the limelight with a smile and an ability to be such a player. Though added pressure on a young man’s shoulders can be detrimental, there is a feeling that he can elevate those around him, and give Gareth Southgate his own bleach blonde talisman.
To recall truly memorable moments from the international stage will often see Maradona’s weaving run, or hand of god. The brilliance of Gazza’s skill to lift the ball over Colin Hendry, or the sheer passion, as Stuart Pearce eradicated past hurt with a fine penalty. These moments will live in the memory of those that witnessed it, despite the eventual short falls later on.
As a country of football fans come together once more, we hope that new moments are created, and that new heroes are born. With a nervous opening game ahead, and expectations as ever, sky high, the question remains whether football is finally ready to come home.