2020 Euro Qualifiers | England needs a few tweaks to become better than you think


The English, maybe because they invented football, have always been a stone’s throw from relevance when it comes to international football. Yet when it comes to them, England have never really done well enough to evolve from relevance to dominance, but that might just change under Gareth Southgate.

In a fictionally perfect world, a book would exist. On its cover in big, bold, and rather friendly letters (so as not to scare people away), would be written Don’t Panic. For anyone associated with English football or the England national team (football that is), those two words are what they need to keep in mind every time England play. It might be an antithesis to everything they believe about the Three Lions, but the words Don’t Panic needs to be or rather has to be engraved in their minds.

Even when they watch England concede three completely avoidable goals, all they need to do is close their eyes, not panic and instead change the channel. To a century where the English were a good side and where they played possibly the most gorgeous physical football that the world has ever witnessed. It was a time when passing and triangles hadn’t even found their way into football, but raw physical body thumping football flourished. Johan Cruyff and Arrigo Sacchi amongst many other’s influences was eventually going to seep in, alongside the Mighty Magyars and that eventually lead to the Premier League.

It gave English football their second truly great golden generation, after Moore and his ’66 World Cup winners, and for once fans were thrilled. It meant that the influence of foreign managers and new tactics saw English football change and that leads to the Don’t Panic statement. Why? Well this side, the one that will compete at the 2020 Euros and the succeding World Cup has brilliant players. Yes, they are English, so naturally, they’ve been hyped but yet this is a group of players that have proved why they’re overhyped. They’re much like the 2006 World Cup side, a brilliant team that proved that mere brilliance wasn’t enough, but they’re also not like the ’06 side.

They (2006) never managed to get further than the quarter-finals despite an incredible amount of talent and world-class ability at their disposal. They had the team and the players but just couldn’t fit them in the right holes to help them flourish. Yet this 2020 side looks eerily similar, with similar attacking prowess, individual errors flood the team and an unstable midfield. Not for the same reasons, but if there is one thing that this team does have like-for-like to the ’06 side, it’s their front-line. It’s a brilliant front-line from any angle, and in Raheem Sterling, they have genuine world-class.

In Harry Kane, they have a reliable and maybe even level-headed penalty-taking striker, which is a rarity these days. It’s the right where Gareth Southgate has to decide because he has quite a few options and options always make for great experiments. He has time to play around and change his offensive line, but in the end, there should be only one choice. That choice is a certain Englishman in Germany, playing brilliant football at an insanely consistent rate. But that’s not where the issues really lie.

That’s not what has caused people to panic and freak out, as they usually do when it comes to the perennial underachievers that England are. It’s not why they were knocked out by albeit a brilliant Croatia and dumped to fourth by Belgium. It’s not why people are panicking, because that reason is sitting tucked in behind the front three. The other seven men on the field have caused the real problems, especially over the last few games. Not even the seven outfielders, because the defence does lack a few names (thanks to a myriad of problems). So it’s actually three players that have caused problems. They just happen to be very inefficient in possession and more than anyone, Ross Barkley emphasises that point.

He’s good but he’s not really that good, making him just a shade above average. You can see what Southgate is trying to do, play a refined style of football and help that front-three flourish even more. He’s trying to play an attractive brand of football, and create a team that can battle the best of the best, and look good doing it. This is Southgate’s aim, his challenge, however, will be to find his best midfield three (if he does continue with a 4-3-3). Because every good English side has had brilliant midfield pairings and this does not just include their recent past.

The ‘66 World Cup-winning side had Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles, the ‘90 had Bryan Robson, Paul Gascoigne and David Platt (with manager Robson alternating between the trio) and then the Golden Generation had the Golden Generation. This new group have the players to make it and it will be Southgate’s masterpiece if he does find the right combination. He finds that right fix between confidence and complacency, and then picks them and only them to ensure stability. Then his next job will be to re-write their destiny and that’s simply not possible when it comes to England. They simply seem to have that knack of crumbling at the most inopportune moments, ending any chance they had at a trophy.

David Beckham’s reckless red-card proved that Harry Kane not passing the ball 20 years later further adds to that and then there is the collapse against the Netherlands in the Nations League. History keeps repeating itself and for England, it just seems to keep happening over and over and over and over again. It’s all up to Southgate to stop that from happening and it is much much harder than it looks. He’s eliminated the English’s well-known issues with major tournament penalty shoot-outs in 2018, but the rest is still ever-present.

But if that doesn’t happen, then fans can always fall in love with a scintillating offensive line, something the English have not had for many a year. And remember, Don’t Panic.

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