Euro 2020: England's new golden generation aims to be best possible representatives of a nation

The rivalry among this crop of England players is rooted in mutual respect and teamwork. Instead of seeing themselves as individuals banner carries of their teams, they are invested more in elevating each other’s chances as a successful international unit.

Srijandeep Das June 06, 2021 13:34:22 IST
Euro 2020: England's new golden generation aims to be best possible representatives of a nation

England's Bukayo Saka celebrates with captain Harry Kane after scoring against Austria during their international friendly. AFP

England expects. The European Championship is imposingly propped up in the horizon as a semi gray lump of sea faring nimbostratus.

Where do we start with England? Or rather, when? I think back to how Frank Lampard's shot hit the underside of the crossbar, crossed the goal line and bounced out. A perfectly legitimate goal disallowed vs Germany in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup, among the shrill confusion of vuvuzelas.

We are older, now. There’s a streak of grey angled on my temple that I put down to watching too few football matches as a neutral. This is the era of post-VAR, post-Brexit and post-pandemic PTSD.

Firstpost is on hand to look at some of the most integral abstracts in England’s Euro Cup equation.

The Metropolitan, metrosexual European-Englishman manager

Euro 2020 Englands new golden generation aims to be best possible representatives of a nation

Southgate is a far cry from the lowbrow sensibilities of past England managers. Reuters

“I did hear it,” said Gareth Southgate of the recent booing from the stands towards bent knee gesture against racism in their recent 1-0 warm-up win over Austria at the Riverside stadium.

“It’s not something on behalf of our black players that I wanted to hear, because it feels as though it is a criticism of them. I think we’ve got a situation where some people think it’s a political stand that they don’t agree with. That’s not the reason the players are doing it. We are supporting each other. So, I was pleased that was drowned out by the majority of the crowd, but we can’t deny the fact it happened.”

The most important thing to any long-term relationship is stark, honest communications. Not so much about boundaries as it is about guidelines to know by instinct once you approach something unacceptable. Xenophobia is unacceptable. And more often than not, it has been a topic the English administration and management often shied away from on the count of being uncomfortable to talk about.

Southgate is a far cry from the lowbrow sensibilities of past England managers. The cut of three piece Armani suit that the England manager sports is complimentary to his nuance when dealing with issues beyond the tactical.

He was quick to acknowledge that there must be a knowledge gap between what the gesture is about and what is is being perceived as among those jeering. That insight helps in not alienating the misinformed few and instead opened a conversation against the 'casual’ racism one encounters in the stands.

In the role of the spokesperson, you’ll be hard pressed to find an English manager who sounds more in touch with what’s tasteful, unifying and topical. And this is a crucial facets when dealing with and around this new crop of young, sensitive, multicultural English footballers at his disposal.

Far gone are the days of English players staying in England out of fear of failing miserably and being ill-adjusted overseas. Jadon Sancho of this England squad, is a shining beacon of that. Following very closely is his Borussia Dortmund teammate, Jude Bellingham.

The imperiously talented 17-year-old is expected to fill in the role of battle-hardened Jordan Henderson, while the Liverpool man recovers from his injury. You’d expect nerves, but not as much.

This current crop of England players are the most tactical competent and creatively porous as any. They don’t simply abide by the English sensibility (or lack) of grunt work but ply a more European sense of economy in their movement, touch and cleverness. This is a generation that has grown up playing FIFA street football tournaments and futsal, indoctrinated by the need to do tekkers, tik toks challenges, have the flyest shoes, and the most gradual of hair fades.

All off that panache is however informed by a leaning towards a continental style, informed by their culturally diverse teammates dotted in their domestic teams. They aren’t barrel-grown crabs flushed out in the stormy waters anymore. Their understanding has been laced by the knowledge of their world class domestic managers too, from Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, and Thomas Tuchel (all three Champions League finalists in the recent seasons) among others.

To that end, the father figure that Southgate embodies is not one which practices strict distance of a detached disciplinarian, but quite the opposite. He’s hip with the lingo on the training pitch, he’s in tow with the world around him.

For the first time in a long time the feeling is that England has finally found a manager that can not only facilitate the growth of the players, fans and his own development through them. And fail together if the need presents itself in terms of the long term.

Hate is a strong word

Euro 2020 Englands new golden generation aims to be best possible representatives of a nation

The rivalry among this crop of England players is rooted in mutual respect and teamwork. AFP

Former Liverpool legend and England captain had this to say in his 2015 autobiography about having to be in the same training camp as Manchester United players on international duty:

“I had been taught [from childhood] to loathe Manchester United. It was tattooed into the head of every Liverpool fan that we have to hate Manchester. We had never liked each other, as clubs or cities, but the animosity had become deeper. For more than 26 years, I’d always felt compelled to show fire towards them. They were the enemy.

"Their shirt is the only one I won’t allow in my house. I have a big collection of shirts I’ve swapped with other players — but not one from United.”

This feeling of partisanship was mutual among the last golden generation, in which Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea superstars like Gerrard would be sickened at the sight of each other. This eroded team chemistry, most notably with the Gerrard-Lampard debate, when two world-class midfielders were out on a personal game of oneupmanship. This created internal turmoil and politics often at the expense of team shape and tactics and morale.

The Alex Ferguson era of the Premier League has long since died, and with that a lot of the mutual civic hatred that the former United manager used as fuel to burn his immediate rivals.

The rivalry among this crop of England players is rooted in mutual respect and teamwork. Instead of seeing themselves as individuals banner carries of their teams, they are invested more in elevating each other’s chances as a successful international unit.

It’s a step towards a less juvenile and a more young-adult looking England, plagued by fewer internal monologues and motives. While it may not look like it from the get go, this new spirit of collaboration that England has attained through the lessons of their past but also the level-handedness of Southgate, could make this the golden generation that England has always deserved on and off the pitch, technically, tactically, in theory and in practice.

This is a young England team that had time to take in all the things that compromised the England things of yore. Henderson was 20 years old in 2010 when Lampard’s shot struck the underside of the bar. Raheem Sterling was 16, Mason Mount aged 11 and so on. They suffered vicariously as fans, and would know better than to repeat the mistakes of their fallen idols.

The golden generation but lo-fi and socially conscious

England's narrative even before heading into a major International competition, is not so much "England expects," as much as "England is ready to feel hard done by again." A return to a hyperlink to a footnote of collective traumas, addled by anxiety. It’s of little narrative value that England lost that match vs Germany 4-1 in South Africa. It takes away from the sense of injustice.

This England team is another golden generation, but one that is only spoken about in hushed voices. The expectation is cowed down, the festival surrounding the occasion infringed upon by the lack of transcontinental travel and a central venue (11 different venues across Europe).

The travelling England fans pride themselves in being somewhat of a party setter. Guzzling beer, loud banter, lots of expletives, and louder music and even louder face paints. The England team fed off that energy but also let it go to their heads.

There’s little to celebrate this time around, at least tastefully. The loud brazen numbers have been replaced by lo-fi beats played through England dressing room to induce a sense of calm and focus. This campaign has a feeling of an end of season bootcamp mixed with a concert tour and spa retreat. And perhaps, rightfully so?

The domestic season cauterised by the plague was an exercise of expediency, like the nervous hurried ending of Bibl No Aozora by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Many teams in the league for whom these England players turn out for seemed like they’d love nothing better than to tap out post December 2020. And on the back of that physical and mental toll is an international competition that England as the nation that birthed football has never, ever, ever won.

But if there’s anything a hiatus of football has done to the collective fan psyche, is it to induce empathy. Empathy for the fact that the fans are lucky to have football in their lives at this juncture of human history and vice versa. Empathy for the fact that it hasn’t been easy for either of them, the fans and the footballers. Additionally, almost every low income family in the UK has had their pride and stomach linings eroded by an acute food crisis.

England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, had turned from merely a footballing prodigy to working class spokesperson for the disenchanted and the disenfranchised, organising food drives across the country. Following his lead other England footballers, like Henderson took on heavy social responsibility.

While his compatriot was on sustenance duties, The Liverpool skipper became the very first NHS Charities Together ambassador; calling fellow footballers up for fundraiser’s to support medical personnel on the frontline of the heaviest damage. His efforts added onto 241 NHS charities.

This last season, the perceived separation between fans and footballers fell like an invisible Berlin Wall. English footballers stood up and placed themselves firmly beside their fandom not merely out of loyalty.

So, it’s little wonder why the pressure on this England bunch has been eased up. Fans, for this sacred moment of time, not only see their weaknesses and insecurities reflected in multimillion dollar footballers, but understand that despite it all, they are still humane. What they appreciate most was the lack of look-at-me-I’m-doing-a-good-thing attitude about their England idols. Pity that couldn’t be said about most of their elected representatives, who were twiddling thumbs waiting on sportspersons to take the lead on asserting positive real-time policy changes, like free school meals.

The pressure to do well in this upcoming tournament has sheared off from the ruthless British sports media too, who in most parts were complicit in the positivity the often-critiqued footballers brought to general welfare of society.

When Julian Knight, the Conservative MP tried to scapegoat well earning footballers for not doing enough charity during the pandemic, or with wage cuts and deferrals, the large portion of UK media jumped to their defence. English eventually affected more change overnight through petition and personal letters and calls than 10 Downing Street thought was bureaucratically prepared for.

For the first time in a long time, the England team looks to be best possible representatives of a nation. Not just in terms of their technical awareness, and talent, but also with social awareness of their roles.

This is an England team aware of its privilege. And this weathered England fanbase is aware of what a privilege is to be to be represented by these genuinely good lads. Whichever way the Euro pans out for them, there’s a contentment in that simpatico.

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