England have always been a weird side. Grace Roberton’s England retrospective explains it so much better but the basics of it all is that they’ve been good when they were supposed to be bad, bad when they were supposed to be good and average with their very best, to a certain extent.
And yet, at the middle of it all, has been their obsession with nostalgia. They’re just a weird country especially as an international footballing side and that is where the problem begins. They’ve never been great on the international stage and for a country that has been hyped up as much as they have been in the past, one World Cup is simply not enough. Their record speaks for itself; the 1966 World Cup winners, fourth place at two more world cups and two semi-finals at the Euros over the years.
As an international giant, they lag so far behind and yet every tournament, any and every competition, England are always considered to be favourites. Whether it’s because, in recent history, they’ve got the most marketable league in the world and thus that plays in the country or whether it’s because of their ability to keep churning out an above-average level of talent. Either way, nobody knows although their obsession with nostalgia and to make everything bigger than it helps with the cause.
Think Scotland, Italy, Wales, Croatia, the Netherlands, France and basically every single team on the planet although there is a little drama in the German rivalry so to speak. Especially when you look at historic numbers and realise that England never lost a single game until after the 1966 World Cup. That trophy was the pinnacle of their achievements with them beating Germany 4-2 after extra-time at Wembley no less. It’s why it’s been hyped up so damn much because their record against Die Mannschaft has been bang average with the English winning just six out of the 25 games since.
And those losses have weighed so very heavily on everyone. 5-4 on penalties at the 1990 World Cup, 7-6 on penalties at the 1996 Euros and 4-1 in the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup. Big losses, at the biggest possible stages with humiliation a key factor in them all. Gareth Southgate missing the penalty at the 1996 Euros might have played a part in all the pre-match hype this time but with France knocked out, England need to stop dilly-dallying about.
Because Euro 2020 has that rare air of danger surrounding it. Now, most international tournaments have that but the added bonus of being a tournament at the end of one of the most exhausting, tiring and down right chaotic seasons ever has added to it all. A little more spice and extra drama than we all needed but we’re enjoying it anyway because who would have imagined we’d get 14 goals, two bouts of extra time and France getting knocked out.
Just let that sink in for a moment. France, the reigning world champions, have been knocked out of Euro 2020 with Portugal and Croatia joining them. The Euro 2016 winners, the 2018 World Cup winners and the runners-up of the 2018 World Cup. That’s just insane and yet it’s exactly the chance that England have starring them right in the face because this is set rather perfectly for them. Three potential contenders knocked out in the round of 16 with Spain and Italy the only genuine ones left.
Now don’t get it wrong, nothing in football is ever straightforward and this game doesn’t even look like it could be and yet this could be as straightforward as England want it to be. Think about it like this; there are two teams, one is ranked 4th in the world and topped their group at a canter, conceding zero goals along the way and the other is ranked 12th, just about finished second in their group with four points, winning just the once. Strip everything else away, rip it all away and all you’re left with is just that.
Two teams, at either end of their progress with England, easily, the better side. But given the chaos surrounding the team, the no Jack Grealish or Jack Grealish drama. The four right-backs drama, the centre-backs drama, the fact that Harry Kane hasn’t scored yet drama, the tactics and everything. The Germans have certainty about a lot of things including their shape and who they want to play and yet the sum of the parts isn’t greater than the whole.
England most definitely don’t have the problem. They’ve got arguably one of their most talented generations, a proper coherent idea and structure in place and a manager who has some idea of what he wants to do with the team. The real problem isn’t that. Their real problem is the fact that this might be their chance and being England, they could very well throw it all away by looking backwards.
History is always there. You can embrace it or you can ignore it, but you most definitely can’t erase it and yet you can’t make it define you. It’s always staring you down, whether you want it to or not, but you can’t let it define you and somehow England have managed to do that over the years. And yet with Germany perfectly encapsulating their head coach’s ideas over the last three years and far from their usual calm, professional, efficient and effective way, this is a chance.
A chance to erase ghosts, a chance to do things no other England side have managed at a Euros and with a bracket set up so superbly, this is their chance. Because as a bracket for a round of 16 goes, this is set up superbly, and maybe even unfairly for some, in England favour and now all they’ve got to do the exact opposite of what they’ve done in the past.
Babe Ruth is considered to be one of baseball’s best but even he had only a .342 batting average, which is the hits divided by the number of at-bats, and he knocked it out of the park. But the arguably biggest difference between England and baseball’s superstar is the fact that he hit it big on the biggest stage possible. England need to calm down, concentrate and just knock it out of the cluckin’ park.