Few England football fans were happy when Gareth Southgate took over as England manager. After the trouble with Sam Allardyce and the ill-fated reign of Roy Hodgson, it seemed to be yet another underwhelming appointment by the FA.
Southgate had been the heir-apparent for a while, spending time with the Under 21 side whilst managers above him fumbled the senior squad. The so-called ‘exciting young team of 2014’ flopped in Brazil and when Southgate stepped up, he was seemingly picking up a poisoned chalice.
In the World Cup 2018, a new dawn broke. An England team expected to go no further than the last 16 made an appearance in the semi-finals, perhaps as much by the luck of the draw as anything, but it showed them in a new light.
New faces such as Kieran Trippier shone and in Harry Kane, a national hero emerged. The feel-good factor swept the country and results since have suggested it’s no fluke, with Croatia comfortably beaten as revenge for the semi-final defeat.
Gareth Southgate – By Антон Зайцев – soccer.ru, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The latest round of Champions League matches also show that English football is back from the dead. For the last couple of years, our top teams have failed to make an impression in the world’s greatest club competition, but this year it’s been different.
In four ties involving English clubs and German sides, England won all four. There will be an English club in the semi-finals after Spurs drew Manchester City, but with Liverpool set to face Porto the Merseyside giants are surely red-hot favourites to join them in the latest football betting.
Even Manchester United, so long in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson and his team, have emerged with character in their own right. It might be a little early to label them as possible winners, but their performance against PSG was nothing short of brilliant.
Has English football finally moved forward? Germany had to reinvent itself after 1998, but did so with style. England has lived in the shadow of so-called European greats for years, but now all eyes are on the home of football.
The young players coming from our academies are attracting attention from abroad, even players in League One are being linked with moves to Germany. Our clubs are once again dominant in Europe and there’s a belief that the summer’s Nations League could bring the first piece of silverware to the FA’s trophy cabinet in many years.
St George’s Park – By redboxdesigngroup – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
It didn’t start with Gareth Southgate, but he typifies the changes. A stoic, measured man who has come up as part of the fabric of St George’s Park. He was part of the last great England team, part of Euro 96 and witnessed our club teams successful in Europe.
Now he’s central to the revolution, the international side bringing young players into the fold early, sometimes before they’ve established themselves with their clubs. If the rate of progression continues, it would be remiss to discount England’s chances in the next European Championships, especially with the final at Wembley.
At last, football might be coming home both internationally, and in domestic European competitons.