From Sterling’s fall to Van Dijk’s injury, what would the Euro have looked like a year ago?
“If is the most important word in football, son,” Bobby Robson, a man whose career was defined by failing to reach the final as England manager, used to say when asked him to remember that night in Turin in 1990.
As Gareth Southgate prepares for a night that will define him forever, “if” has become the biggest word in the English language. What if the wet market order had been for “cheese and tomato” rather than “bat with all the trimmings”?
What if the most interesting thing about Wuhan was that it has the world’s largest bike-sharing program? What if Euro 2020 had actually taken place in 2020?
In England, the tournament was reportedly framed by Liverpool’s swaggering Premier League triumph. Virgil van Dijk, a man in the shape of his life, is said to have been the central figure of the Netherlands squad.
He would surely have taken the cross from Tomas Holes’ head to prevent the Czech Republic from starting Dutch disintegration in Budapest.
Jordan Henderson, whose death, vision and leadership helped shatter a Liverpool hoodoo that nearly equaled England’s record against Germany, is said to have been the central figure in the midfielder.
His Euros are said to be remembered for more than his goal against an already battered Ukraine and for a touching message of support he sent to a gay English fan who was brave enough to come to Wembley in make-up.
Joe Gomez, who was part of a Liverpool defense that conceded 21 goals in 29 games when the pandemic ended football, was reportedly the first choice in central defense.
It would also have created a story. The media love nothing more than the internal tensions in a camp, underlined by the mother of Adrien Rabiot turning to the father of Kylian Mbappé after the missed penalty of his son against Switzerland with the words: “It should take it down a notch or two. “
In November 2019, just before the qualifying match with Montenegro, Raheem Sterling faced Gomez in the St George’s Park canteen. The food was sent through the ground.
Sterling was dropped because of this and, had the tournament started seven months later, Southgate might have thought Sterling was rather more trouble than worth it.
He hadn’t scored in a dozen games for Manchester City and was miserably out of form when the pandemic struck.
Much like Glenn Hoddle with Paul Gascoigne before the 1998 World Cup, but without a tape of Kenny G playing in the background, Southgate could have made Sterling sit down and tell him it would be in everyone’s best interests if he didn’t. was not playing. He wouldn’t have thought of daily questions about whether crunchy nuts had been thrown in for breakfast.
The shutdown came at a good time for Sterling, who scored 11 times in 12 games when football resumed. Without him there wouldn’t have been an electrifying winner against Croatia. No breakthrough against the Germans.
And, perhaps almost as important, no reporting on what a black kid who could see the Wembley Arch from his street could achieve inside the stadium.
It happened at the right time for Kalvin Phillips. As of May 2020, he was “The Yorkshire Pirlo” only within Broad Acres limits. Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds had yet to play in the Premier League and it would have been a call for Southgate to select a league player.
It would have happened far too soon for Bukayo Saka, who in the summer of 2020 was 18 years old and exceeded requirements when Arsenal won against Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
It wouldn’t have been Thomas Müller for what appeared to be a certain German goal at Wembley. He was reportedly rejected again by Joachim Löw, who decided that Germany needed younger players and then, in a symbol of the confusion that engulfed the biggest tournament team of them all, changed his mind.
The curse might never have been broken. “Sweet Caroline”, a song written while England were still world champions, wouldn’t have advanced much beyond Radio Norfolk’s lunch playlist.
There would have been no knee grip, which the English players did not adopt until last June. There would have been no boos and Southgate would not have been moved to write his letter “Dear England” which, in Gary Neville’s often ruthless eyes, referred to him as a better chef than some he could mention. .
Most poignant of all, there wouldn’t be the dilemma that will eclipse the home of Lee Anderson, the Tory MP for Ashfield, who has vowed never to look at England as she kneels down.
At 8 p.m. tomorrow, Anderson could watch a program whose title sums up the question this England team tried to answer in this tournament: Who do you think you are?