The stage was set for football’s homecoming, a longstanding fanfare that has only seen the light of the day once – 55 years ago when England won the World Cup. However, the Italians quickly turned it to an #AzzurriParty, one that was thoroughly deserved as they were the best team in the competition.
Effective and efficient are words you’d use to describe England’s performance on the road to the final, but those words weren’t present in the way they played when it mattered most. From feeling so high as early as the 2nd minute, Gareth’s decisions quickly took things South – a Gate many feared he’d enter all through the tournament.
Before Gareth Southgate took over the England job, the English national team had always been a divided group. More often than not, it has never been about a lack of talent in the past, but a lack of unity in purpose, and personal aggrandize. Southgate, for all of his tactical timidity, brought unity to the squad and it felt like they were united in one purpose. The England camp was devoid of drama, envy, or any personal vendetta. As the tournament progressed, despite the core being relatively inexperienced at this stage, kept going and growing in belief. Many are of the opinion that playing most of their games in front of the home fans helped their course. While this might be true, you can’t fault the effort of such a talented bunch that never even played to their full potential.
Back to Southgate. While the former England International brought harmony and unity into the team, he never seemed to have enough in him to exploit the full potential of a clearly talented squad. The number of talent in the England squad would give any manager a headache, but it is not an excuse for making poor decisions. For an ex footballer, one would expect the manager to understand the psychology behind the crucial moments in a game of such magnitude as this final. A series of decisions leading to the penalty shoot out were questionable. While he has come out to take responsibility for it, it is a scar that might never be erased for the players involved.
Firstly, one would wonder the basis of taking off a UCL winning captain like Jordan Henderson at such a crunch time. If anything, the young footballers needed the most experienced heads with them during a shoot out. Bukayo Saka missed the last penalty that ultimately handed Italy the trophy, but you have to question why a 19 year old had to shoulder the expectations of such an important penalty. If he had scored, his mentality would have been praised and the coach for trusting him – however, is such a gamble worth it at that time? A country that waited for 55 years before reaching the final of a major tournament, definitely had no time to experiment at such a moment.
With all that said, the tournament has come and gone. Football went to Rome and lessons came Home. However, the England squad should be proud of themselves and what they have done. More importantly, they must forge ahead with more confidence now more than ever. The unity, talent and genuineness in the current group must be harnessed. Even if a more tactical and fearless coach would replace Southgate, he must keep the group together the way Southgate has done.
The Euro 2020 never came Home, but the Three Lions have all it takes to roar into the future without a doubt. For now, let Rome enjoy their victory, the gladiators deserved it.