New year, new hope: England's charge into the Euros lights up 2021
New year, new hope for the beautiful game… bruised by 2020, football offers a sunnier 2021, lit up by England’s charge into the Euros, less intolerance, stronger governance and sparkling young talent
- For 2021, what lies ahead this year just might be football’s golden summer
- The notion of England winning the European Championships is not so fanciful
- Their three group games, the semi-finals and the final will all be at Wembley
- Gareth Southgate’s side are about far more than the unimpeachable strikeforce
It is hard to conceptualise it as we enter 2021 in the grip of the Covid variant, but what lies ahead this year just might be football’s golden summer.
The European Championship, concluding in London on July 11, will throw open these islands’ doors for a carnival of rediscovered freedoms and companionship, built around sport’s most beautiful game.
And, what’s more, the notion of England winning the thing, just months after the nation staggers from the depths of a deeply difficult winter, is not so fanciful.
What lies ahead this year just might be football’s golden summer for the England team
Gareth Southgate’s side are about far more than their unimpeachable strikeforce
Their three group games, the semi-finals and the final will all be at Wembley. The team will be led by a manager who listens, adapts, delegates and happens to knows the value of a little self-effacement.
Gareth Southgate’s side are about far more than that unimpeachable strikeforce of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. Two players who have erred in the past, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, might be the ones who bring the gold dust to a Euros final, perhaps against Joachim Low’s Germany or Luis Enrique’s Spain, 191 days from now.
From today’s deeply uncertain place — with the variant beginning to grip football so unpredictably that the suspension of the Premier League is not unthinkable — consider for a moment what such a final might mean.
Jack Grealish and Phil Foden (above) might be the ones who bring the gold dust to a Euros final
Street parties. The live feed in Hyde Park. Appropriate acts of remembrance for the boys of ’66 whom we lost in 2020. Covid meant that Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles were not afforded the send-off they so richly deserved.
The carnival will not belong to England alone. Scotland’s qualification, with a group fixture against England on Friday, June 18, offers them a first tournament appearance since 1998.
Wales must venture to Rome and Baku for their group games, though from Cardiff to Caernarfon, the mood of national excitement will be no less.
Scotland’s dramatic qualification offers them a first tournament appearance since 1998
Wales must venture to Rome and Baku for their group games as the national excitement grows
Some of the stars at the tournament will seem far less removed from our everyday lives than before. Rashford, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have demonstrated that the contribution of players to society need not stop when they leave the field. The colossal wages in the modern game have bred cynicism about those who play it at the elite level.
In the depths of the pandemic, players such as Rashford restored some faith.
Perhaps their self-confidence and powers of articulation, which swept away the anti-intellectualism attached to football for far too long, might persuade other players to follow their lead this year.
The push to extinguish racial intolerance and prejudice, also led by the players, will continue this year with the Kick It Out organisation properly funded at last.
In the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, players such as Marcus Rashford restored some faith
The standout moment in a documentary on that subject, to be screened this month, is the contribution of a white former player and coach to a discussion about the bigotry faced by a black colleague.
Beneath the game’s top reaches, it is not all wine and roses. One of the grimmest moments during football’s existential crisis in 2020 was Project Big Picture, the proposal to effectively hand control of the game to the top six clubs in return for cash to prop up the pyramid.
October’s coup failed but we know about the elite’s intentions now. The sanctity of competitive balance means nothing to them and their cash machines. Who knows how that plan might be revived?
And while there are owners who have been huge assets to our national football life — from Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens galvanising Aston Villa, to Steve Parish’s shrewd stewardship of Crystal Palace — we know from the wreckage of 2020 how clubs’ financial needs make them prey to predators lacking any respect for their principles and history.
One of the grimmest moments during football’s existential crisis was Project Big Picture
There was no more wretched example last year than Wigan Athletic, bought by the odious Au Yeung, who dumped the club into administration within a week, ‘like litter thrown from a speeding car’ — to quote one excellent analysis piece.
The EFL, who had agreed to the takeover in the first place, then spat them into League One with a 10-point deduction.
The club’s demise highlighted the trap that Championship clubs are stumbling into — spending millions to win a share of the Premier League’s £8.64billion three-year TV deal.
Wigan revealed the desperate need for proper financial fair play rules, requiring clubs to spend only what they make.
A wage cap is likely to bring sanity to Leagues One and Two in 2021 — another positive impact of the 2020 crisis. Some believe this could be the year League Two and the National League merge into two regionalised divisions, in the name of financial sustainability.
Last year asked for strong leadership. Football got Greg Clarke and Gordon Taylor, leading the FA and PFA. Little more need be said.
If sense prevails, Heather Rabbatts will be appointed at the FA as they deal with urgent matters
But 2021 will bring new leaders for both organisations. If sense prevails, Heather Rabbatts will be appointed to chair the FA, a body providing little notion that vital issues — the long-awaited report into abuse in football and the link between dementia and football — are matters of urgency.
And while the PFA chief executive role is not one Gary Neville aspires to, his leading contribution to proposals for an overhaul of football governance suggests he might be persuaded to bring his common sense and intelligence into a leadership position.
Beyond the boardrooms we look, above all, for something wonderfully uncomplicated: new football talents from within these shores.
Regardless of political views on Brexit, the new visa regime will mean fewer imports of ordinary players and more room for neglected English talent to emerge.
That’s more chance for teenagers like Ramello Mitchell at Southampton, Villa’s Louie Barry and Chelsea’s Lewis Bate. And hopefully a different route for players like Ryan Sessegnon, who got just seven full games after his move to Spurs before going on loan to Hoffenheim, desperate for regular football. He’s faring well.
Gary Neville could bring his common sense and intelligence into a leadership role at the PFA
The new visa regime will not reduce the Premier League’s scope to sign the world’s best players, though the last year was testament to the sublime consequences for those managers who place their trust in young talent from these shores.
There is no finer example of that than Liverpool, where Curtis Jones, Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips are all flourishing.
The influx of international talent to the Women’s Super League need not deter young British talent there, either. Look out for 18-year-old Maya Le Tissier at Brighton and Birmingham City’s Hannah Hampton this year.
In short, a sport buffeted and bruised in 2020 can look forward to a sunnier, shrewder, more spectacular 2021, illuminated by the football festival of midsummer.
The Euros represent England’s best chance of winning a second major trophy since Baddiel and Skinner were providing the soundtrack and Paul Gascoigne and Co were doing the dentist’s chair celebrations back in 1996.
And if our hopes come to nothing again, then we will celebrate anyway. We had once taken football for granted. The game as we once knew it will be back.
Share this article
Source: Read Full Article