7 Reasons Why England’s Euro 2020 Team is Particularly Special
The current England national team is special – there’s little doubt about that. For only the second time in history and the first since 1966, England’s senior men’s national team has reached the final of a major tournament.
It’s an achievement that most fans have never witnessed first-hand before but it is no fluke. Win or lose against Italy in the final, this is a special team, and here’s why:
Positivity On & Off the Pitch
Attitude and mental strength are incredibly important in top-level sport. The current England squad is filled with exemplary individuals both on and off the pitch.
England captain Harry Kane is the archetypal leader by example and is a consummate professional in everything he does. Meanwhile, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is a more vocal leader that has undoubtedly played a major role in the dressing room whilst not playing. Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford has campaigned vehemently for social justice off the pitch and is another leader by example.
Finally, Raheem Sterling deserves a mention for his incredible mental strength. The 26-year-old has been (unjustly) criticised by the media for years and came into Euro 2020 with large swathes of fans questioning his form. Yet despite the deafening noise, Sterling has risen above it all to produce several man-of-the-match performances whilst continually carrying himself with class.
2. Club Rivalries Put to One Side
Past England squads have been fragmented and disrupted by club rivalries. Several members of England’s so-called ‘golden generation’ of circa 2006 have described the cliques that formed and the disharmony that caused on the pitch.
Club rivalries haven’t disappeared but they are less fractious than they used to be. A case in point is the current first-choice England back four made up of Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire (Manchester United), and John Stones and Kyle Walker (Manchester City). That fierce Manchester rivalry has been absent on England duty leading to five consecutive clean sheets at Euro 2020 and no goals conceded from open play heading into the final.
3. Manager with a Plan
The job of England manager is notoriously difficult. The English media can be unforgiving and the amounts of pressure heaped on the manager can be difficult to manage. In light of that (and the obvious on-pitch achievements) Gareth Southgate deserves a lot of plaudits.
Southgate may come across as polite and softly-spoken but he has stubbornly ignored the clamour to set up more offensively and change the system mid-tournament. Despite the overreaction to England’s 0-0 draw with Scotland, Southgate chose to stick with two defensively-minded midfielders in Declan Rice and Kalvin Philipps, helping to address England’s defensive fragility.
4. Talented with a Point to Prove
There is an absolute abundance of young talented players to choose from. The likes of Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Reece James, Jude Bellingham, and Jadon Sancho are all 21 or younger yet have shown maturity in how they have played despite having their minutes managed.
In defence, centre-back partners John Stones and Harry Maguire have been heavily criticised for various reasons in their careers. Stones was nowhere near the England squad a year ago whilst Maguire came into the tournament still injured, yet both have played with a point to prove.
In goal, there have been question marks over Jordan Pickford’s starting spot but the Everton keeper has barely put a foot wrong. Even the usually untouchable Kane was greeted with reactionary calls to be dropped after the group stage. Since then, he has responded with a timely reminder of his world-class finishing in the knockouts.
5. System-First Approach
We’ve already touched on the pressure Southgate faces as England manager and that extends to his player selection. The temptation to squeeze as many of Mount, Grealish, Foden, Saka, Sterling, and Sancho into the starting XI is obvious.
Despite this, Southgate has stuck to his guns, putting his system first and picking players accordingly. There is only space for three of those names in his side and he refuses to deviate from that. The players evidently understand and respect that and it has paid dividends.
6. Squad Depth in All Departments
As touched upon above, England have enviable squad depth in virtually every department. The fact that Rashford, James, Chilwell, and Calvert-Lewin, have barely kicked a ball is testament to that.
In fact, looking further afield, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jesse Lingard, Dean Henderson, Nick Pope, James Maddison, and Danny Ings aren’t even in the squad for one reason or another. The competition for places is strong and the utilisation of the squad has been excellent.
7. Winning Mentality
Where previous teams wilted under the pressure, this side have risen to the occasion. England bounced back from the backlash of the Scotland draw, they overcame the media hype of the Germany game, and they came from behind in a semi-final against a strong Denmark. The self-belief and will to win is evident.