Wednesday, October 20

Euro 2020 and the big exit can help restore the collective value of football | Euro 2020

WWe want to be free, to do what we want to do. We want to throw beer into the air. We want to dress up as Gareth Southgate in his gracious Victorian undertaker stage. And that’s what we’re going to do (with proper clearance and a favorable infection curve). We will have a good time. We are going to have a party.

Seeing the announcement of England’s squad for next week’s triple World Cup qualifying title, it was easy to get lost in the familiar tropes, the muscular memory of a spring tournament. Here’s a serious man in a suit behind a lectern marked FA. There are heated discussions here on radio shows about defensive midfield options. Here, as always, is The Problem With The Squad.

This is a key part of the show. There must always be some flaw lurking to identify. In the past, this could have been key player injuries or a shortage at a certain position, perhaps even a century of angry-eyed training by men in blue cotton tracksuits.

This time we have something new. At the time of writing this report, the main problem appears to be that England has too many good players. Bundesliga Tyros, age group prodigies. The options, well, the options are overwhelming. This is what he’s going to do for us at Euro 2020. England is simply too good at soccer.

It’s certainly a departure from the normal series of events as we enter the familiar period of blame and recrimination before a big tournament.

Except, of course, that actually all of this feels a little out of step with where we are now, a place where shared anxieties about disease and economic collapse must now intersect with shared anxieties about the midfield axis. Grealish-Foden and the “excitability” of England’s number one goalkeeper.

Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, two of England's most exciting offensive talents, in action against Iceland in November.
Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, two of England’s most exciting offensive talents, in action against Iceland in November. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

It’s probably worth taking a step back at this point. These euros feel vital and urgent, but for reasons that go beyond the usual and delve into notions of what this embattled and relentlessly more sophisticated game is really for.

We can get rid of football stuff pretty quickly. England are pretty good and could do well, although so are the five teams above them in the UEFA rankings, and frankly, it doesn’t matter much either way.

Southgate should choose his most energetic team, full of young, fun and exciting players.

He should play three at the rear and a midfield pivot from Declan Rice plus one because that’s how tournament games are won, although it should be emphasized, no, really, that this doesn’t really matter either.

The four forwards should be a fluid mix of Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Marcus Rashford, because these are the best players and it doesn’t matter much anyway.

And this is the real point. It never really mattered if England won these tournaments. It definitely doesn’t matter now, and not because this one is less important. Quite the contrary, in fact.

There is no need to reaffirm here that this has been a miserable, atomizing, and pain-drenched time for so many. What has become clear is that this process is not about to reach a natural final note. There will be no hat-in-the-air moment, no VV day in which we embrace in public squares and it is abruptly declared that life is good again.

And while, like me, you may instinctively recoil at the thought of forced footballing joy, of sport as a cajoling national celebration, the fact is that the closest we’re ever going to get to a ceremony taking place right now is football.

That’s what these euros are for. If all goes well (yes, I know), meeting restrictions will be lifted on June 21. The next day is England against the Czech Republic at Wembley and Scotland against Croatia at Hampden Park. Needless to say, you can imagine the scenes.

And let’s face it, we need this. We need a good time. We need to feel the sun on our back, drown a little in honey. I don’t care if the Belgian attack is too agile, or the Spanish midfield is capable of recycling possession with annihilating efficiency. I don’t care if England somehow ends up playing three right-backs (they will). I haven’t even seen non-English people since last year and it’s just a lovely prospect to have everyone here.

Crowds in Hyde Park watching England's 2018 World Cup semi-final.  Comparable scenes won't be possible this summer, but something akin to collective joy may return.
Crowds in Hyde Park watching England’s 2018 World Cup semi-final. Comparable scenes won’t be possible this summer, but something akin to collective joy may return. Photograph: Simon Dawson / Reuters

I want to dodge vomit on a ladder. I want to see a TV report about a butcher in Rotherham with a 6 foot Tyrone Mings offal pie. I want to be shoved on the tube by the kind of middle-aged England fanatics who seem to be about to rob a C&A branch in 1987. Even if this is all just a summer haze, a month lost between the second And the third wave, I just want to feel something

Who knows, it could end up being one of the great summers of British sport, and for reasons that have nothing to do with winning trophies. This is the other thing about Euro 2020, this displaced brand event, an intruder from another timeline. If these euros can give us anything, it is a return to that basic sense of collectivism, of sport as a shared experience in real time, as opposed to last year’s digital corporate entertainment product.

At a time when the right of assembly and the joy of shared human space have become politically difficult concepts, soccer will once again be what it always seems to be: a source of dissent, unity and joyous disobedience.

There is a temptation to end by saying that the release of pressure, the sensation of a free kick, could have a liberating effect on the field, a rare moment of grace in a big tournament. But for now it feels like a time to bond.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *