Steady as we go….

Published: Monday, 05 July 2021

Steady as we go. So far everything has gone to plan, so England can’t let it go now. As Arsene Wenger said on beINSPORTS just this week ‘England are super favourites’.

That’s not by luck either. Gareth Southgate has made some big calls and so far got them all right. So much of what I’m watching reminds me of 1966. As a wide-eyed 9-year-old what I watched from our holiday base in Cornwall was incredible. Majestic Bobby Charlton cruising through Portugal’s defence. Roger Hunt working a shift. Geoff Hurst crashing his way into the history books. Alan Ball running himself to a stand still. Sir (he should’ve been) Bobby Moore regally marshalling his troops. It was all there. And all those Union flags at Wembley. My goodness - that’s something that certainly has changed, - they’re English flags now - but it was a magical time all the same.

Sir Alf Ramsey went into the tournament predicting England would win it. It wasn’t arrogance - but belief. Mind you, none of us really thought they would. Ramsey was calm. And he made big decisions. None bigger than leaving a fit Jimmy Greaves out for Geoff Hurst. I didn’t understand all of that then, but getting to know Jim many years later, I got to understand how that decision cut him to shreds. Yes - far too late, all the boys got a medal - but it’s never the same as being immortalised as part of the starting X1. Greaves was Messi before Messi. A little genius. How could Ramsey leave him out? But he did, because he had a plan.

So many of these memories have come flooding back watching Southgate. He’s calm. He’s made big calls without flinching and he knows how much they hurt the individuals affected by them.

I don’t know if you saw him grab Jack Grealish on the whistle the other night. We all want to see Grealish in. And Foden wants to start, but Southgate has got a plan for every game and he’s sticking with it. He knows he’ll need Grealish if things are tight v Denmark, but I bet he’s not going to start him. So keep him onside. Keep him happy. Don’t ignore him. Clever.

Southgate also knows that England have to win this tournament now. Everything is going their way - results, the draw, home advantage - so stay calm and carry on. A semi-final defeat is unthinkable. Anything less than winning this tournament is failure. I said that last week. Southgate knows it, but he’s not showing it. So far, there’s no sign of the turmoil he must be feeling inside. Turmoil and excitement. Imagine forever being spoken of in the same terms as Sir Alf.

I’ve had a few people ask why I haven’t been more excited about England’s progress when I’m on tv. Let me answer that. I work for an Arab broadcaster. I front the ‘English speaking’ channel. We are NOT an ‘English’ channel. Therefore - as with everything here in Qatar - everybody’s tastes and loyalties are catered for. When we broadcast England mean nothing more to us than - say - Denmark. 😂. Especially if you have big Peter Schmeichel sitting next to you. 😂😂. If England beat the Danes - and perhaps meet Italy in the final - it will be a lot easier beating up Gianfranco.

It’s been a brilliant tournament. I’ve loved every minute of it - well, most minutes. Belgium’s chess matches have sent shudders down my spine. I repeat what I said last week - I really hope we’ve passed the high water mark of tippy tappy scientific football. Most teams seem to want to ‘play’ and it’s been so refreshing. The PL got stale as a result of the obsession with passing sideways and backwards. No more guys. No more. Belgium still seem to want to play like that, but Italy made them look old fashioned.

Congrats to Palace and Patrick Vieira. It’s good to see another black coach working at the top level. Slowly slowly, we might be making progress on that front as well.

And one last thing. Please - no more X-Liverpool players telling Evertonians how lucky they are to have Benitez at Goodison. No they’re not. Most don’t want him. The majority will tolerate him, but they don’t want lectures on how they should be feeling from across Stanley Park. It will end in tears. It always does with Benitez.