Did football still come home?
This World Cup year has been a whirlwind for England fans. At the start of the tournament, reaching the semi-finals was merely a pipe dream for the vast majority of England fans, however it seemed that football was coming home straight after the first match vs Tunisia.
Being in France the day after the World Cup final was amusing as many smug locals went out of their way to ask me if it “actually came home” knowing full well that we lost to Croatia who they beat in the final.
Most people would correlate ‘it’s coming home’ as England winning the competition, however this is up to debate; as reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 1990, having our own golden boot winner in Harry Kane, and Southgate tube station being temporarily renamed as ‘Gareth Southgate tube station’ are all synonymous with “it’s coming home.”
As the second youngest squad in the whole tournament, the incredible campaign that England went on has highlighted the potential of our squad for the next 4 years. Many of our key players are still to reach what is called the peak ages of 27/28 years old. For example; Pickford, 24, Rashford, 20 and Harry Kane, almost 25 all have so many years to gain experience and improve their technical skills on the pitch.
Kieran Trippier with his pin point crosses, runs up and down the wing and his Ronaldo-esque free kick against Croatia were assets to the team that stood out to me and he deserves more credit than he’s been given. Harry Kane was clinical as expected and Jordan Pickford made some wonder saves – one in particular was from Mateus Uribe’s 35-yard volley. Jesse Lingard gets a mention because he was also a player that made the difference in games whenever there was a slight lack of creativity or inspiration.
Did Sterling prove himself? Should Dele Alli watch out for Loftus-Cheek?
Despite all the criticism of Raheem Sterling in the media, Southgate started him in almost every game. From his impressive and arguably best season with Man City, he would’ve usually been a first choice for everyone, but unfortunately his City form hasn’t been reflected in his form for England. He is a very technically gifted player no doubt about it. No matter what is said, his attitude is in the right place.
So what is it?
Towards the end of the tournament, Sterling was making chances and getting into good positions, but it never quite happened for him. One of the only answers to this is that Southgate was playing him as an inside forward behind Kane. As his natural position is on the wing, he is not as effective in a central and more physical role. Loftus-Cheek has had a memorable season for Crystal Palace and has helped turn potential relegation into secure survival in the premier league. He is a dynamic player who has the physicality to defend but also the tactical nous to pick out passes.
After Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was ruled out of the tournament and Dele Alli got injured vs Tunisia, the world cup turned into his opportunity to impress... and impress was what he did.
The young players coming through and the tournament experience they will have gained will be instrumental for England in years to come. This quality of individual and team performance was not just down to natural quality on the ball but team cohesion that was created by the manager Gareth Southgate.
Throughout the tournament there seemed to be a positive atmosphere around the England training camp in Repino near St Petersburg. Gone are the days where there was animosity between certain players due to playing for different clubs. Now the ethos of the England camp has turned to camaraderie and consistency.