England manager Gareth Southgate – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Dan Davis (@dan_davis20)
England manager Gareth Southgate’s flirtation with pragmatism and good old-fashioned romance has proved the perfect combination to reunite a country with its national team.
The Three Lions’ buccaneering escapades at last year’s World Cup has helped shake off the heavy feeling of apathy that shrouded the typical England fanatic. Countless showings from the national team before the brighter days of Southgate had blunted the average England supporter’s capacity for emotion.
Instead, they were hauled down into the depths of despair, discovering that the lines between the need to watch football and the vivid technicolor of ragged ecstasy and agony had long since faded away.
Everything feels drastically different now. Step forward Southgate, adorned in the finest waistcoat money can buy and immaculately groomed. The former international guided the nation to a fourth place finish in Russia, before steering England through a difficult Nations League group and into June’s semi-finals.
Club and country have been bound together in a refreshingly healthy union, leaving supporters free to dream of the tantalising taste of success that perhaps lays just beyond the horizon.
But of course not everything is so cut and dry when the stakes are this high. Every decision will have its dissenters, and the path to glory is winding and still undoubtably agonisingly long. Plenty of choices are yet to be made.
Take for example this afternoon’s squad announcement for the upcoming Euro 2020 clashes – no matter the amount of sheer pride that Southgate has conjured back into his ranks and the deep reverence felt towards him, there will always be something that is wrong.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka can undeniably feel hard done by after his exclusion from the 25-man party. Instead, Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and the much-maligned Kieran Trippier have been favoured ahead of the Crystal Palace man, despite him possessing better defensive statistics than the alternatives Southgate has opted for.
Time is Wan-Bissaka’s friend, of course, but the feeling of frustration that stemmed from the squad announcement appeared to largely revolve around the 21-year-old’s absence.
The full-back is an indomitable force charging down the right flank, and has rightly drawn lustful gazes from the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City. But whilst his club form continues to electrify Selhurst Park, uncertainty around whether Wan-Bissaka will finally earn a hard-earned call-up remains.
One man’s despair is another’s opportunity, however, as encapsulated perfectly by Declan Rice’s first call-up since switching his allegiance to England.
“His form warrants his inclusion. It’s obviously been a well-publicised situation,” Southgate explained.
“When you’re asking a player to transfer association he’s got to feel he has a future with you. But he can play as a holding midfielder or as a centre-back and I think he will fit in well into the way we work.”
The West Ham starlet’s numerous qualities are evident, and align spectacularly with the system that Southgate is moulding his side into. Under the watchful eye of Southgate, Rice is certain to flourish on the international stage, further aided by England’s newfound policy of blooding youth and trusting them even in the harshest battles.
The 20-year-old may even prove the perfect tonic to England’s stagnation in the centre of the park, and his relentless energy and passion for a tackle will provide a much-needed combative edge for the Three Lions.
Other notable inclusions are Borussia Dortmund’s lightning winger, Jadon Sancho, and Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson. There can be no doubting the quality present within England’s strike force, and the prospect of a fully-fit and firing Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling is an enviable one.
Long gone are the days of a geriatric Wayne Rooney and a manager whose unwavering belief in their faltering systems threatened to stunt the development of the country’s finest talent. England are all the better for it.
“We qualified for a semi-final in the summer, so it would be strange to make huge changes to that squad,” Southgate stated.
But frustratingly there lingers an overriding air that had he been a little more ambitious, Southgate could have further endeared himself to the nation for many years to come.
England’s full 25-man squad for Euro 2020 qualifiers:
Jordan Pickford, Tom Heaton, Jack Butland
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Michael Keane, Harry Maguire, James Tarkowski, John Stones, Danny Rose, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Ross Barkley, Fabian Delph, Jordan Henderson, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Declan Rice
Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Callum Wilson