Bigger Mind Games to Follow as England Go Through the Gears

Posted on June 30, 2021

It’s strange how sport works. On big occasions, there always seems to be ‘sliding doors’ moments that make or break games. Even more bizarre is that these defining moments generally fall in favour of the team or individual who is the calmest.

Last night, when Raheem Sterling lost possession to Germany and Muller was sent through, he seemed destined to miss. Had he scored, England would have been on the ropes and another heroic tragedy could well have unfolded. However, it just didn’t feel like one of those evenings.

Hyperbole and Passion

In tournaments past, England have been engulfed in hyperbole and jingoism that transferred from the tabloid press to the morons on the terraces, and, eventually, several of of the players. These games always ended up in chaos. Red cards, chaotic goals, calamitous unforced errors and tear-jerking near misses.

After a while, it appeared to me that these ongoing failures could not just be coincidence. There had to be more to it than that. It then started to dawn on me that the ‘lack off passion’ that England football teams got accused of, was a myth. That, in fact, under media and fan pressure, England showed too much misguided passion. In turn, that played into the hands of the opponent.

Rather than embarrassing references to 20th Century wars, the current manager, Gareth Southgate, manages his team to play against another football team. Everything else is taken out of the equation. You won’t see players dressed up as St George in The Sun newspaper or coming out with ‘fight them on the beaches’ speeches during radio interviews.

All that old nonsense is left to a dying breed of xenophobes who are ignored by the players and the manager. These are players young enough to find such behaviour utterly bizarre and, importantly, a manager old enough to confirm to them that it is. Gareth Southgate is part of a system that teaches these incredibly wealthy young men to respect their profession and act like responsible adults.

Sticking to Tasks

During the game against Germany, the players stuck to their task and took the bit of luck that came their way. Emotions didn’t get past or near boiling point. The result was a composed performance and victory. It could have been better, but the result never felt in doubt. It wasn’t about exorcizing demons that are carried by older fans, it was about winning a game of football.

It was a character test passed with flying colours but perhaps not as much as a test as the hurdles approaching. With ludicrous assumption flying around the media that England are as good as in the final, the manager must now deal with potential complacency. Southgate needs to put the Germany game to bed and concentrate on beating Ukraine. Contrary to popular opinion, Ukraine won’t roll over.

In 1990, it is said that Bobby Robson told his players that there are no byes in football, but a meeting with Cameroon in a quarter final was as near as one could be. England were torn to pieces but were just about rescued by two Gary Lineker penalties. It was almost the worst day of all the worst days in English footballing history.

Dealing With Assumption

England of 2021 are now heavy favourites to reach the final. From what I have seen so far, Southgate is the man to deal with that. His squad trusts him, and he will refuse to get blown off course by social media football managers who know best. His plan to utilise Grealish as an ageing Germany tired, was a masterstroke.

England have not been flamboyant, but they have also avoided hyperbole, WAG culture and stories of bitching between selected and unselected players. Yes, they have been pragmatic, but they have also moved through each phase with little alarm and much composure.

That 0-0 thrashing by Scotland already seems a distant memory.        

1 Reply to "Bigger Mind Games to Follow as England Go Through the Gears"

  • Norman House
    June 30, 2021 (6:56 pm)

    I agree that Southgate keeps the mood right and the camp seem happy and not over-burdened. As far as the quarter-final, I would say it is right not to think England are through. We have had very close games with Ukraine even in recent times.

    However, they were absolutely out on their feet v Sweden, I think they will struggle to recover physically. Yarmolenko looked like a player who had only started 7 games in 3 years for his club and was then asked to play 4 matches in two weeks.

    I suspect Southgate will revert to a back 4 and maybe Henderson will come into midfield, possibly Mount. I doubt there will be wholesale changes but freshening up and giving a bit more attacking zip wouldn’t go amiss. While it was right to tactically outthink Germany and match up their wing-back threat, this match should be more about being on the front foot.

    If England win the QF I would expect the semi-final to be tougher. My tip at the start of the tournament was for Italy to beat England in the final – hopefully, I’m close but not quite right!

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