The final is set, the crowds are expectant & Wembley awaits…
But before delving into ‘that’ game, it’s important to look at the players that have helped make this tournament a success. With France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal & the Netherlands all failing to make the last 4, it’s a tough ask to identify too many players that should be considered. There are some players that have indeed shone, that did not make the semi finals, and they still deserve mention.
Romelu Lukaku has shown himself to be a world class striker, with the influence of Antonio Conte (at Inter Milan) refining his game to that next level. His ability to score, his build up and hold up play, his sheer working presence make him one of the worlds elite strikers. If not for some injuries and some rather inept management from Roberto Martinez, we would surely be seeing Lukaku leading the Euro 2020 scoring charts, if not for the early exit.
For France, we see the Paul Pogba that Manchester United thought they were signing. For whatever reason, whether it be patriotic or simply trying to engineer a move, Pogba has had a very good tournament. The France team is littered with world class & elite talent, and Paul Pogba has been a leader on the pitch this summer. His ability on the ball was never in question, however his Didier Deschamps failings have perhaps stopped this team from conquering further. A Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kante & Blaise Matuidi trio allowed Kante to press as a roaming destroyer & Pogba to prompt attacks. It seems strange that a manager nicknamed ‘the water carrier’ would not replace the last version, with a new. The gamble to attack on waves paid off at times, and was exhilarating to watch, but the double pivot of Kante & Pogba simply did not offer the best protection to a fragile defense. Both Pogba & Kante suffered an early exit by not having a system built around them, and for that neither can be considered as player of the tournament.
Germany are a team with a true lack of identity right now, and the return of old faces (Mats Hummels & Thomas Muller) should have been ignored for new opportunities. No Germany player excelled more than perhaps Kai Havertz, and the in coming manger (Hansi Flick), will no doubt mould an attack around this superstar in the making. Joshua Kimmich being shunted to a wide role added to a weird midfield combination, made Germany a side that could never venture too far. With Joachim Low now gone, and under new guidance, they will surely be back.
Portugal are a strange side to consider, with a team still built to service the goal scoring talents, of one Christiano Ronaldo. He may well leave the tournament as the joint top scorer, but the fact is he does not perform to a level in enough games, any longer. Renato Sanches is now showing the potential quality that was always there. Make no mistake, the Swansea period is no mark on this player, that was a learning curve for a young lad abroad. His form for Lille this season demanded he played a part for his country, and he leaves the competition with a viable claim for team of the tournament. This group of younger players is sensational, and based upon the sometimes explosive exploits Renato has shown this last month, it was a shame to see him head home.
The Netherlands were fighting a losing battle as soon as Virgil Van Dijk declared himself unfit for selection. A team built upon the granite rock foundation that he offers, meant this tournament (as Liverpool’s) was an up & down struggle. There can be an argument that Gini Wijnaldum had a solid tournament, but his possible Liverpool replacement (Renato Sanches), out performed his fellow midfielder, with ease. With no stand out player, and Marius De Ligt doing strange things without VVD to orchestrate, the Dutch bowed out all too easily.
Sergio Busquets possibly stands out amongst the Spain squad, as their most important player. His recall saw a solidarity form around him, and his legendary status allowed other less experienced players that much needed guidance. Koke was good enough, but other than that, no Spain player will be ear marked for player of the competition.
There is a few other mentions that should be noted, of those not in the final. Patrik Schick had a breakout tournament that could lead him to move clubs, again. His talent and wonderful left foot mean that showcase goals will always be apparent, and he stood out for his country. As it stands, he will be sharing the golden boot with Cristiano Ronaldo. Another left footed wizard that shown with his scoring talents is Shaqiri, the Swiss power cube. David Alaba was moved around the pitch like a chess board, and with better managerial guidance, they both could have achieved more.
Denmark, so courageous and respected in the aftermath of the Christian Eriksen incident have players that should be proud of their exploits. Kasper Schmeichel has been very solid, Martin Kjaer been determined and impressive, and Thomas Delaney has run himself ragged to help push his nation as far as possible. Kasper Dolberg (much like Schick), has reignited some early career promise, and many clubs will be looking at him after a fine showing this summer.
Now onto the final two. Italy have been masterminded by a great management performance of Roberto Mancini. The shining lights consist of the unlucky and injured Leonardo Spinazzola and Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal. Leonardo Bonucci has been great in defence, and Lorenzo Insigne joyful up top. But the two that probably stand out from this great crop of players, are the controlling Jorginho and the menacing Nicolò Barella. Marco Verratti and Manuel Locatelli have rotated in and out, but the two before mentioned players could well cement their player of the tournament credentials, this Sunday. Jorginho is a Mancini favourite, and has allowed a fine balance of both possession, and when to spring attacks. He was celebrated at Napoli, and his signature sought far and wide when leaving Italy, and this is why. With a game and stature not dissimilar to Fergie’s Michael Carrick, he has also been under appreciated. He is a system player that allows others to play their game, none more so than the rampaging dynamo, Nicolò Barella. His all around game make him the stand out midfielder in this competition. There are few flaws to his game, and if he performs once again Sunday, both he and Italy could be taking away some silverware.
With England, it’s a strange scenario. Their best player, their most potent threat and their most decorated domestic player is Raheem Sterling. He stands out, especially after an emphatic performance versus the Danes, as the competitions best player. If England are to win this tournament, they will need him more than any other to perform. Gareth Southgate knows this, Pep Guardiola knows this, and England fans should start to acknowledge this. Maverick players that are tasked with breaking lines, committing players in the box & taking half chances, will inevitably lose the ball quite often. The outlet ability, running ability and off ball work rate is astounding, yet still questions are asked. Sterling offers a constant threat and his in game intelligence is on point, which under a Pep regime is no surprise. This is why Jack Grealish was sacrificed versus Denmark (after coming on), as he needed players that knew how to see out games, and still offer sound decision making.
Jordan Henderson coming into this game alongside Phil Foden & Kieran Trippier is another sign of the need for certain mentalities. Of the players mentioned, their current domestic coaches are as follows; Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp & Diego Simeone. That list of managers is probably the top three in world football right now, and the players under their umbrella know how to manage huge games, under intense pressure. Raheem Sterling has been England’s brilliant and best player, and to this point, the tournaments best. Luke Shaw has been very good, Harry Maguire impactful & Kalvin Phillips deserves a mention, but none are close to Raheem.
If Raheem Sterling is once more England’s best and most effective player this Sunday, then England will probably win the Euros. His value and impact on the side is simply to that degree, and if England do win, he will surely be crowned player of the tournament.