Oh, England. Once again, you leave a tournament empty-handed. No, it’s not coming home – that dream will have to wait another four years. But whatever you say about the team, the players or the fans – there’s rarely a dull moment when a team is playing international football. The final of Euro 2020 was no different. An early lead, an equaliser, 120 minutes of heady football, a penalty shootout – this match really had it all. But in the end, it was Italy who emerged as the home winners. The British, so optimistic that this year has finally become the year, are coming in second.
But once the dust settles and the inevitable disappointment begins to trickle in, fans will want to see just how far they’ve come as a team.
Remember, this is the same England team famous for succeeding in the group stages of international tournaments before failing at the first hurdle. or, in some cases, failing to qualify from the group stage. Or even the tournament itself.
Yes, there are things Gareth Southgate could – and should have – done differently. or better. But, even despite the heartbreaks of the last two tournaments, it is worth noting that England reached the World Cup semi-finals and the Euro finals.
One of these things had not happened since 1990. The second never happened until 2021.
Practicing positivity in defeat is often difficult. But in this case, England really have little to feel negative about.
England is developing as a unit
It is understandable that England fans put a lot of pressure on their football team. The passion for the game is more than anything and they want their team to do well.
However, what rubs opposition fans the wrong way is a perceived arrogance that exists among a section of fans. Of course, it’s worth noting that the intention here is not to paint everyone with the same brush. But this attitude of “we invented the game so we have to be good at it” is baffling.
Especially when you consider England’s record in international tournaments.
Yes, the sparse nature of the World Cup and European Championships makes it a bit difficult to win. It is not like the domestic league, which happens every year. But even so, England are international underachievers despite their status as the inventors of the game.
a World Cup win. No European Championships. These are not pretty numbers, but they are the reality of the situation.
To make things worse, the ‘golden generation’ of the early to mid 2000s largely failed. This was an England team with superstar names all over the ground – and a few on the bench for good measure.
But, as English fans will learn the hard way, superstar names don’t make a team. Especially when they play an old style of football that doesn’t really play to the strengths of most of their star players.
When Southgate took charge in 2016, he knew there was still a lot of work to be done. The disastrous Euro 2016 campaign had just ended, as had the one-game stint of ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce that followed.
Since then the work is still not complete but the results have been good overall. He was an unfamiliar candidate when Southgate took over, but has since impressed enough that the FA are keen to extend his contract.
players gain experience
Think also of the England players, most of whom are yet to reach their peak. Any championship winning team will have a good mix of youth and experience as well as a number of leaders in the squad.
But they will also have players with big game experience – players who know how to win. Italy is proud of players such as Jorginho, Marco Verratti, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci who lead both by example and with their words. But there are also players who have been operating at an elite level for years — and know how to win big games.
England, in contrast, were stripped of two important leaders in the group stages – Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire. It’s also worth noting that Harry Kane, England’s biggest talisman, has a notable lack of big game experience.
Kane appeared in only two cup finals in his club career, losing both. It is a blot on his career, which he is hoping to walk away from at Tottenham Hotspur.
Still, reaching the final and pushing the Italians to the limit is something the team will learn from. It’s also a learning experience from Southgate, who fumbled his way through the final.
But was it a defeat that England should be ashamed of? No, and it was probably the manager who summed it up best with a line after the game.
“They have done more than any other England team in more than 50 years.”