Dunkirk

Towards the end of the gloriously good Oscar-winning film, Alex and the other survivors are seen getting off Mr Dawson’s boat and there is an old man handing out blankets. He keeps muttering, ‘well done lads, well done lads’. As Alex approaches to pick his blanket he notices that the man doesn’t even look up to acknowledge him. ‘well done lads’,the old man repeats as Alex picks his blanket. ‘All we did was survive’ Alex retorts to which  the old man replies ‘That’s enough.’ Alex later complains about how the British people are so ashamed of the survivors they cannot even look them in the eye. However later on we see the man stretch his hand and hold another soldier’s face as if to signify that the old man is indeed blind.  Whichever way the players want to look at this semi-final exit, blind or not, fan or rival, one thing that remains is the fact that there is no shame brought whatsoever to the millions who watched them from Russia as well as afar.

images

They might be known as the three lions but after seeing the progress Southgate has had on the team, he did not just give them belief,  he took lions and clipped wings on them daring them to fly and boy did they fly! The wax may have melted off the wings but they flew nonetheless and I genuinely can’t remember handling a tournament defeat this well. It is one thing playing with expectations weighing on your shoulders but have you tried playing without any expectations? A bunch of kids let off in the playground with only one instruction; express yourself. What is not up for debate is that Gareth has taken a significant weight off the England jersey and the generation to come surely have a free punt at this.

Raheem+Sterling+Jesse+Lingard+England+vs+Panama+6dnLAHeuWoCl

However there was also something very English about this exit. It seems the narrative continues in that when England comes up against  half a decent team they either struggle (Colombia) or crumble altogether (Belgium and Croatia). This is still something that Southgate needs to work on immediately, as there is the small matter of the this place playoff this weekend.

With all the furore it might be lost on us as to how good Croatia actually was. They matched their class of ’98 by getting to the semis and went one better by getting to their first ever final. To refer to my point about ‘heavy shirts’, Modric and Co have been carrying ghosts for over a decade. They might not have shown it but the penalty shootout against Turkey haunted the players including Modric and Rakitic who took and missed spotkicks that day. With a relatively light burden on their shoulders now, there is no guessing which Croatia side will turn up on Sunday.

Their street-smart nature also disarmed England quite effectively. When push came to shove, Croatia pressed the right buttons while England scrambled to read from the manual. In extra time, if Croatia was a brand new intercooler engine simply whooshing past, England was a 20 year engine spluttering and spewing smoke trying to get to the next gas station. Understandably England did not have someone who could take the game by the horns and control the midfield. England should not feel bad about this as not only did England not have a Luka Modric, the rest of the world does not have Luka Modric. Peerless, genius and a lovely man to watch altogether. No matter who you were supporting yesterday it was weird not to clap whenever this gorgeous conductor sprayed passes with the outside of the boot or simply took the sting out of the game with dummies and cute little passes. Player of the Tournament for me.

Dh48VkxW4AEhoB1

How liberating it must feel to vanquish ghosts of penalties past. Both England and Croatia have emerged with greater mental strength after the paths trodden to get to the semi-finals. How satisfying it must be for the man whose penalty miss cost England in the Euro ’96 to be the first England manager in 20 years to win a penalty shootout. There was nothing lucky about the penalties England slotted in. In the buildup to the tournament, Southgate reiterated the fact that England had been practicing penalties and it was tempting to wonder whether these were just the ramblings of a deluded man seeking to bolster his squad’s confidence. However you look at the technique the players used and Trippier in particular and one gets the sense that they have been doing this for a while. This is such a gigantic mental victory that will be appreciated for years to come.

4E23DDA700000578-5944481-image-a-6_1531352315889
The Beckham Bury!!

However the rebuilding now begins. Southgate need not slack off in his quest for impeccability. Kyle Walker has been decent but at centre back? Probably not his best position though the manager’s decision to play him as part of a back three has hardly been the biggest mistake in the world. This also looks like its Young’s last tournament thus a replacement should be groomed from early on. He should also seek to get a defensive midfielder who will be calm in his passing under pressure, not the Henderson type who just punted long aimless balls upfront hoping Kane gets a nibble.

The English U17 and U20 are the reigning world champions, the U19s are Euro winners, the U21 are Euro semi-finalists and the senior team are the world-cup semi finalists. It doesn’t take a genius to see that there is something special brewing in English football and with Southgate at the helm it’s quite obvious that we are in safe hands. Southgate has done the impossible job of turning fans and media alike from being self-deprecating creatures to a bunch of people who were willing to get behind the team and most importantly the manager. The players know what it feels to feel the love of a country and the various appreciation from their social media handles prove that.

Southgate

All in all Russia has brought more joy than pain. The players can hold their heads up high and drink in the accolades because they deserve each and every one of them. After the game, Southgate noted “In international football you give everything for your country and play in a way that you hope connects with the fans.” You sir, have certainly done so.

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. and even if this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old. – Sir Winston Churchill after the Dunkirk evacuation.

Also, the video of thousands of England fans singing 70 minutes after the final whistle waiting for Southgate to finish his media duties so that they can serenade him makes me shiver!! Truly truly, not all super heroes wear capes, others wear waistcoats.

Dh5Z4QIXUAAjlgt
Southgate you’re the one 

 

 

Advertisements

What Next? 

​Gareth Southgate has finally taken charge of games as the permanent manager this week and it was a good week for the three lions. An encouraging display against Germany in Dortmund followed by a good win against Lithuania at Wembley yester night. We can see some aspects of Southgate’s imprint on the team but one thing we are noticing is that there is progress. So what should Southgate sort out before the next round of international matches?


1. A definite style of play.

Southgate has tinkered with the team quite a lot since his appointment but his favoured formation has always been 4-2-3-1 where the front three sort of tuck in and give more space for the fullbacks to fly forward. However after the Slovenia game in October, we felt it proving to be a problem with England as the movement wasn’t that swift and the game was for most parts, dull.

Against Germany, he lined up with a 3-4-3 formation and it was excellent to say the least.  It has to be said that England did not deserve to lose. Michael Keane has to be singled out for his performance that night. For you to make your full international debut against the world champions and come out without any blame surely can’t go unnoticed. It will be interesting to watch him in the next few games.

On Sunday Southgate marshalled a 4-2-3-1 formation and there were a few jitters about the formation but to some extent it worked. It’s nice to note that the players are actually flexible to handle the tactical switch. Going forward it will be interesting to see what Southgate sticks to. He wasn’t very outgoing in his post-match press conference by claiming England is at an advantage in that they can shift their formation so it will keep teams guessing.

I would rather the 4-2-3-1 formation as it actually encourages a lot of build-up from the midfield where the bulk of England’s talent lies. It will prove to be a difficult formation to resort to if the opposition actually come out as it means the fullbacks have to go back and the wide players need to track their markers which is probably not their strongest asset.

2. Player Call-ups

There were definitely eyebrows raised when Theo Walcott wasn’t selected for this round of international matches despite being the second highest scoring Englishman. Southgate claimed that Theo had been given his chance the last time and he was unable to replicate his club form. He also added that he had more options in Barkley and Rashford and was looking to try something new. Wayne was also left out though why this was a shock to people I don’t know. Southgate got a lot of stick for selecting Livermore but look around and notice anyone who watched the game against Germany has changed their stance about Livermore. The boy was efficient with his passing and tackling. 

Not Mr Nice Guy after all eh? He is a man keen to stamp his personality on the team and the train carrying joyriders seems to be slowing down to a halt. However it will be important for some consistency so as to ensure that partnerships and chemistry are built. He’s got to have a definite spine in the team on which to build the rest of the team. The team will be built around Harry Kane because his outrageous goal return so far demands that. Alli has also started curving his own niche as the first choice number ten and it hard to see him being dropped for anyone else. 


However the rest of the squad needs to follow suit.

3. The Rooney situation.

The one thing that has refused to go away for Southgate. I feel it’s unfair that Southgate has to deal with Rooney at every press release yet Mourinho rarely has to deal with the same. Deep down we all know there’s no way Wayne is usurping any person selected to play number 10. Alli and Lallana have excellent movement and Rooney’s lack of pace is definitely something that’s in stark contrast to the rest of the number 10 contenders. A call-up should be as a result of form and not status. He’s captain and record goal scorer but how does that affect England for the 90 minutesif he lasts that long that he is on a pitch?

Southgate however still insists that Rooney has a future role in his team and still regards him as his permanent captain. Whether he is simply delaying the inevitable or is simply according him the necessary respect remains to be seen.

4. Jermain Defoe.

This was definitely a shock call-up. Southgate really took a gamble by placing his trust on the Sunderland forward. He referred to him as a natural and someone who knows his way around goal so there was nothing to teach. Thankfully his plan did not go awry and he was rewarded with a goal early on with Defoe admitting the manager had backed him to score that day. Hats off to Defoe for displaying the professionalism that he’s always possessed. However the hype about his continued presence should be contained.

His last involvement was in 2013 and one might argue his sudden exile from the national team was too sudden. However we need to come to terms with the fact that he is 34 years old. By the time the World Cup will be coming around, he will be a few months shy of his 36th birthday.

Going back to the issue of formation, both the 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 demand a lot of movement across the front three and front four respectively. It’s the only way players e.g. Lallana and Vardy will have a chance at goal. The full impact of the front three was felt in the Germany game where Vardy, Alli and Lallana kept switching all half long and Alli should have done better in trying to beat Ter Stegen and Lallana hit the post. Defoe thrived in the 4-2-3-1 situation but in the event the manager wants something else, he will stick out like a sore thumb.

Not to take away his positives. He is the 22nd player to reach 20 goals for England so surely that has to count for something. He is what you want to be in the box. His poaching instincts are a beauty and he must be applauded for his impeccable positioning but I simply believe England has more to offer than to rely on the 34 year old.


Southgate alluded to this by admitting that they should have moved the ball quickly and the runs in behind the defence were not enough, something that definitely changed once Rashford and Vardy came on. 

5. His Back Four

Much has always been made about England’s back four and for good measure it must be said. The pairings have just not been good enough and have been susceptible for individual mistakes or just looked alien. Cahill against Germany was susceptible for Podolski’s goal. Take nothing away from the finish but I think Cahill should have done better than just stand there and be used as a wall and Hart saw it too late. There was simply no way of keeping that out still.

I don’t want to rush it but Michael Keane was phenomenal over the course of the two games. It’s not a system he is used to but he took it like a duck to water. He was also excellent next to Stones yesterday and they hardly put a foot wrong all game long. Cahill is 31 while Keane and Stones are in their mid-20s. It might be seen as too early to decide on this but I think they would make a good base for the national team. Both are comfortable on the ball which will go a long way in implementing Southgate’s all-passing team. Walker is definitely first and second choice RB, probably even third! His movement up and down the right side is a joy to watch and it is simply an honour watching such an athlete doing his job. Keeping him fit is definitely of importance. The LB position is still of worry. Danny Rose is definitely first choice but his deputies need to pull up their socks. Bertrand did a good job this past week. Shaw needs to take the little chance he gets to justify his position if at all he is called upon next.

13 out of 15 points at the halfway stage is not a bad return. The job is far from done as England must learn to replicate its qualification form to the major events that they go otherwise they will simply be regarded as minnow participants. For now, England is far from good enough, but under Southgate, fans have a reason to smile.