Had this European Championship gone ahead on the dates planned, three of the players who started against Germany would not even have been in the squad.
No Kalvin Phillips, Bukayo Saka or Jack Grealish, none having made their England debuts by summer 2020. This is how open Gareth Southgate is to youth and fast-track promotion.
Michail Antonio, at 31, may feel his best chance of playing at a World Cup lies with Jamaica but Mason Greenwood will have taken leave of his senses if he even picks up the telephone to entertain that call.
Mason Greenwood should not represent Jamaica when he can play under Southgate’s England
It used to be imagined that Southgate had an affinity with England’s young players because he coached the Under 21 team. John Stones, Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard — these were his boys from the 2015 European Championship.
Yet Saka did not play for the Under 21s until last September. Phillips did not play for age group England teams at all.
This is not about familiarity. This is a philosophy and a deep-seated belief that the culture of a team can be forged by players who approach representing their country through fresh eyes.
It is why Southgate eased out senior figures such as Wayne Rooney. He wanted a squad that could be shaped and taken in a new direction. He wanted a connection with the country, he wanted players who would buy in. And he found it in the Premier League’s generation Z. What young player would not want to be part of this movement?
Matters of national qualification are becoming ever more complex. Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham said last week that 80 per cent of players in England’s age group teams had dual nationality.
And there will be some who are lost because their natural affinity lies elsewhere.
Jamal Musiala was born in Germany and plays in Germany. He can hardly be blamed for feeling German. Greenwood was born in Bradford. He came through a Manchester United development school in Halifax.
He has Jamaican parentage, but so do more than 100 footballers playing in England including Mason Holgate, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and, yes, Phillips. Yet if Greenwood did feel at all impatient for his chance, Phillips is the example of what can be achieved with Southgate’s England.
Midfielder Kalvin Phillips is the example of what can be achieved with Southgate’s England
He does not play for a Big Six club, he did not represent his country at junior level and this time last year he wasn’t even on the radar for a place in the European Championship squad.
An agent, Devon Porter, approached him on Jamaica’s behalf. ‘The possibility of consistently playing for Jamaica far outweighs that of playing for England,’ said head coach Roy Simpson.
It was the argument initially used to sell Ireland to Grealish and Declan Rice.
Yet Southgate has changed that presumption of exclusion. He has made a future with England not just attainable, but preferable. And in doing so he has changed the culture, too.
In a market where 80 per cent of young footballers have a choice, Southgate will win many more than he loses.
WHY LIVERPOOL WILL GET TO KEEP MOHAMED SALAH OUT OF OLYMPICS
Liverpool are likely to win their dispute with Egypt over Mo Salah’s presence at the Olympic Games this summer, but clubs in Spain may not be so lucky. This is because Spanish law does a better job protecting the Olympic football movement than FIFA, who plainly see it as a threat.
In Spain, clubs are compelled to release players if selected for the Olympics. Barcelona may wish to resist the call-up for Pedri who, in his first full season, played 52 domestic club matches, eight internationals and every game at Euro 2021.
But unless the player asks to be withdrawn, Olympic coach Luis de la Fuente has the final say.
No such principle exists in Egypt, meaning Liverpool can pull rank because the men’s Olympic football tournament is not included on FIFA’s international match calendar.
Liverpool are likely to get their way, with Mohamed Salah unlikely to represent Egypt in Tokyo
Of course it isn’t. FIFA would not want to bolster any competition that could be viewed as a rival to their World Cup.
They are happy to have an Olympic presence, but not to give the competition any clout.
JUST THE TICKET FOR COVID
In the days when English football hooliganism was a constant problem, those travelling abroad to matches could expect to be challenged at the airport departure gates.
Police would check their records for evidence of football-related convictions and ask to see proof of a match ticket. Anyone without legitimate means of entry would not be allowed to board.
And yet 20,000 Scottish football fans were allowed to travel to London amid a pandemic, despite only 2,600 tickets being available.
Now, approaching 2,000 cases of Covid in Scotland have been linked to that unnecessary excursion. The fans weren’t hooligans but they certainly congregated without social distancing and against all advice.
What was to stop police in Scotland’s major cities adopting the airport policy at stations? Why are you going to London? Do you have a ticket for the match? If not, you can’t board. The police, like the Scottish government, talked a lot but did nothing.
WHAT OPTION AWAY FROM MADRID DOES GARETH BALE REALLY HAVE?
Having played an unnecessary game of tease over his future, Gareth Bale reacted rather childishly when asked about it this week. There was hardly much mystery anyway.
What club would pursue him, having seen Tottenham meet a significant portion of his wages in the hope of being propelled to glory, only to end up in the UEFA Conference League?
Chinese suitors wouldn’t pay a transfer fee and once Bale reiterated that his season was all about getting fit for this tournament and Wales, he stopped being a saleable commodity in Europe.
Gareth Bale looks likely to see out his final year at Real Madrid, whose fans he has alienated
He would thrive in Major League Soccer, but those clubs haven’t got the financial clout, so what is left?
Far from causing a stir with his next move, Bale’s only option seems to be to see out his final year at Real Madrid, whose fans he has alienated with more teasing. The money’s good, but the joke’s on him.
KALVIN PHILLIPS IS WALKING A DISCIPLINARY TIGHTROPE… AND THE RISK-REWARD IS TOO GREAT
If Gareth Southgate is picking his team for Saturday with an eye on England’s four yellow cards, one player is in jeopardy.
Kalvin Phillips’ disciplinary record is a worry. Phillips picked up 10 bookings in 29 Premier League games last season, an aggregate of one every 2.9 matches. This compares poorly with Declan Rice (13 bookings, 131 games, average 10.07), Harry Maguire (36 bookings, 173 games, average 4.8) and Phil Foden who has not been booked in 69 league appearances. Foden’s yellow card against Croatia was his first in all competitions this season.
The presence of Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham means Southgate could play percentages in central midfield.
He might also be tempted to do that with Maguire by introducing Tyrone Mings, but there is a danger of sending out the message that Saturday’s game is a formality.
It is far from that. Southgate should play his best side but the risk-reward around Phillips is too great.
UEFA HAVE MADE IT MILES HARDER FOR THE SWISS
Congratulations to all those who spotted Switzerland beat France on Monday and concluded, therefore, that the 9,239 miles they had flown prior to the game due to UEFA’s ridiculous scheduling made no difference.
Two points. The first is that Switzerland didn’t beat France. They drew and progressed via a penalty shootout.
If shootouts were victories, the goals would count like those scored in extra-time. They don’t. One might as well argue a match can be won on a coin toss.
Secondly, just because Switzerland went through against the odds does not make UEFA’s planning just or inconsequential.
A referee might make a terrible penalty call and somehow the affected team still wins. It does not mean when the final whistle blows, however, that his decision becomes correct.
It was still wrong but did not have the imagined consequence.
That is what happened to Switzerland. They rose above their circumstances and progressed despite UEFA’s best efforts. Maybe it will catch up with them in St Petersburg against Spain on Friday night.
But, whatever the outcome, no country should be made to fly more than 12,000 miles to play the quarter-final of a European tournament.
Switzerland stunned France in Bucharest, having travelled more than 9,000 miles already
VIEIRA TO RAISE PALACE’S PROFILE… BUT EASY ON THE EYE STYLE UNLIKELY TO FOLLOW
Patrick Vieira is an appointment that will certainly raise Crystal Palace’s profile and no doubt that is what the American side of the ownership want.
This feels different, however, to their pursuit of Lucien Favre, who was considered a coach to take Palace’s football to the next level.
Vieira’s record in France with Nice was good — he finished seventh in his first season, then took them into the Europa League the next — but his reputation was for defensively tight, if unexceptional, football.
A lot of passing, not all of it forwards. That has worked at Palace before, of course, and may do so again. Vieira must hope, though, that his employers are in it for more than just clicks.
HISTORY WILL JUDGE UEFA VERY HARSHLY
Monday, June 28, brought the worst daily coronavirus death toll in St Petersburg since the pandemic began. UEFA didn’t care.
What is a local emergency when there is a quarter-final to be played?
In response to the 110 deaths, which topped the previous high recorded two days earlier, a UEFA spokesman announced: ‘This changes absolutely nothing. There are no plans to change the location of the match.’
Not even a consideration. Not even 24 hours to reflect on possible options. Football’s plague ravers have a jamboree at Wembley planned for July 11 and are hurtling towards it, no matter the cost. Yet St Petersburg is a Covid hotspot.
More than 300 fans who followed Finland to the city for two group games have now tested positive and Finnish health authorities are still trying to track down many of the 6,000 believed to have attended. Daily infections in the country have quadrupled from 50 to 200.
The football has been enjoyable, as it is at most tournaments, but history will judge this competition and all involved in delivering it very harshly indeed.
STAY AWAY FROM THE HUNDRED, PURISTS…
A survey by the Cricket Supporters Association found that 63 per cent of members had a negative attitude to the Hundred.
Still, not to worry, cricket lovers — like most of the ECB’s ideas, it’s not for you anyway.
THIS STRANGE OLD SEASON SHOWS NO SIGN OF STOPPING
There were three teams with 100 per cent records coming out of the group stage at Euro 2020 — by Friday night, two will be eliminated.
Portugal and Germany were in the Group F ‘Group of Death’ – but neither are in the last eight
Equally, Group F was the strongest and all three qualifiers were seen as potential champions. Not one made the last eight.
This strangest of all seasons continues to confound.
ITV VIEWERS, LOOK AWAY NOW
Just who is doing the negotiating on behalf of ITV for the European Championship games? Wales’s round-of-16 match went to the Asia Despatch, so did England versus Germany.
Now details of the quarter-finals are out and England’s match is with the Asia Despatch again — plus Belgium versus Italy. One can only imagine the conversation when ITV’s representative reported back to the office.
‘Guys, you’ll never guess who we’ve got.’
‘England! Fantastic, viewing figures will be through the roof…’
‘Well, not exactly…’
ITV have come out on the wrong end of the negotiations for Euros matches with the Asia Despatch
‘Belgium versus Italy? Brilliant! Tie of the round. Do you think Vincent Kompany will be available?’
‘No, not them either. I secured Czech Republic versus Denmark and Spain against Switzerland.’
(Exits, to the sound of silence. Executives turn to each other). ‘You know, Charles, I always said we shouldn’t have employed Ed Woodward.’