Win or lose, it could be the start of a golden age for English football
Of the heroes of 1966, only Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt and George Cohen remain. After Sunday night, they and their teammates have ascended to the pantheon may no longer be the ultimate benchmark in English football.
This is the scale of the historic shift within the gift of England from Gareth Southgate, who faces not only a talented Italy at Wembley in the final of the European Championship but a vast pit of turbulence linked to a past out of step with The perceptions. Despite the high impression we have of ourselves and our place in the world football order, England have not been good enough in a long time which reinforces the importance of Sunday’s fixture.
Italy are four-time world champions and former Euro winners in 1968. That’s five gold medals in total, three of them since England won their only major trophy. England have yet to beat Italy in the football tournament. Just let go of that thought on the idea of supremacy which for too long has distorted impressions and hampered our outlook.
Southgate cut off some of the mythology, allowing an appropriate perspective to develop. His arrival at the post five years ago effectively marked the end of history, ridding us of the false understanding of England’s past and creating the possibility of a future worth living.
Sam Allardyce was the last of the ancient dynasty. England ideologically evolved under Southgate into a thoroughly modern unit capable of winning a major tournament, instead of struggling with the idea that we should triumph by right, a relic of the years when the FA were the game’s world guardians. .
English pride was so deeply ingrained that when Bobby Moore stroked the Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley, held aloft by Hurst and Cohen, no one imagined that 55 years would pass before England argued at again a final. However, this victory, beautiful as it was, was the end of something, not the beginning.
A decade earlier, the notion of English preeminence had received a mind-blowing shock at the feet of Hungary. The Magical Magyars, or the “Golden Team” as they were called, were the forerunners of total football which later attached to the imperious Dutch ensemble of Johan Cruyff.
On a hazy night in November 1953, Hungary beat Walter Winterbottom’s collective six times to inflict England’s first defeat at Wembley by a side outside the home nations. Six months later, Puskas and Co put seven defeats against England on the return to Budapest to herald a change in the world order, playing a style of football with which the English were completely unfamiliar.
Under Gusztav Sebes, Hungary gave us the first sighting of the false nine, or withdrawn center-forward in today’s lingua franca, providing the esteemed Billy Wright, so far considered the best center-back in the world, only a shadow to mark. This tactical innovation was part of a larger doctrine of versatility in which players had to master any position. Fake new ones, fake full-backs, they were all there under Sebes.
England’s triumph in 1966 was a combination of factors, including the decline of Hungarian football after the 1956 revolution and its brutal repression by Soviet forces, a Brazilian team crushed by injuries and a frightening core of exceptional players culminating in the same time in Charlton, Moore, Hurst, Cohen, Martin Peters, Alan Ball and Gordon Banks. It created the false impression that England were about to dominate the game once again.
In truth, the nation was on the verge of a painful decline and after West Germany’s defeat of the 1966 squad’s rump in the quarter-finals to Mexico in 1970, England would not qualify again. for a World Cup than in 1982. There have been brief eruptions since. Gazza gave us Italia 90 and, at least what was left of it, Euro 96 as well. But it was never like that.
Just as the barren years did not happen by accident, the rise of England did not happen by accident. It is the result of increased development and considerable investment. The riches of the Premier League are not wasted. Southgate has selected the best of a generation born from academies with considerable resources. From nursery to first-team, these boys have enjoyed immersion among world-class players operating under world-class coaches.
For its part, the FA has given us the center of excellence that is St George’s Park, the result of an in-depth reform which has given rise to the Under-17 and Under-20 world champions. What was once the preserve of nations like Germany, France and Spain is now an arena in which young English footballers are proficient.
Players like Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish have already enjoyed success in the junior age groups and have brought a winning mentality and fearlessness to the England senior squad. . Southgate itself is a product of the system, part of the coaching overhaul that transformed the national setup.
He is also a thoughtful and intelligent man who brought a rare sensitivity to the role, forging a sense of oneness and oneness within a diverse group. His handling of the main socio-political drivers of the time, not to mention a global pandemic, showed Southgate to be a shrewd leader as well as a facilitator.
Not only the players joined the project, but the country as well, communities which until now believed that the England team did not represent them. The sense of social responsibility, accountability, broader cultural representation associated with this team has had a transformative impact on and off the pitch.
It feels like Southgate is at the forefront of a movement as much as a team, converging on a moment that has the potential to define the era. It’s big stuff, bigger than football. However, the good game and a match of this importance should be the source of such optimism and a symbol of unity. No sport has done more to get us through the dark times.
So let’s bathe in the light of a new generation of heroes, our own “Golden Team” if you will, and trust that we won’t have to wait another 55 years for them to return.