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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Explained: Why ‘Club England’ philosophy is key to success at Euro 2020

England are on a ten-game unbeaten run, but this team doesn’t have the stardust of the so-called ‘golden generation’.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: July 1, 2021 7:10:15 am
From left, England's Declan Rice, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish celebrate at the end of the Euro 2020 soccer championship round of 16 match between England and Germany, at Wembley stadium in London, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. England won 2-0. (Andy Rain, Pool via AP)

England’s win in the Round of 16 Euro 2020 fixture against Germany at Wembley was the healing of a 25-year-old hurt. In the 1996 semifinal, they had suffered a penalty shootout heartbreak against their old nemesis at the same venue. Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions are on a successful run, which has followed a culture reset and creating a ‘Club England’ mentality.

Why was culture reset necessary?

England are on a ten-game unbeaten run, but this team doesn’t have the stardust of the so-called ‘golden generation’. England teams comprising Garry Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney didn’t win anything.

The reason, according to many former England players, is that they failed to play as a team. Time and again club rivalries proved to be the national team’s undoing.

England’s Harry Kane, center, celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship round of 16 match between England and Germany at Wembley stadium in London, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (AP)

Former England centre-forward Jermain Defoe, who made his national team debut in 2004 and played alongside the golden generation, saw the “clique culture” first hand.

“When I first came into the squad, there were cliques,” Defoe told Sky Sports in 2018, adding: “I would just sit with my friends. Not for any particular reason, that is just how it was. There were the Manchester United boys and the Chelsea boys. They were competing at club level and when they came away with England they could not get that bond that the guys have got now.”

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When Southgate took charge in 2016, his primary task was to reset team culture and make things more inclusive.

How ‘Club England’ formed

During tournaments, England football team’s official Twitter and other social media handles post different team-bonding pictures and videos. For example, ahead of the Euro 2020, a picture captured Tottenham Hotspurs’ Harry Kane and West Ham United’s Declan Rice watching a cricket match at a ground that overlooks St George’s Park.

After taking charge, Southgate started role-specific training sessions, taking a leaf out of England rugby team head coach Eddie Jones’s book. Southgate also introduced walk-through training sessions, where players and the manager walk around the ground while chatting without the ball, as a part of team bonding. Only last week, Southgate, an avid cricket fan, took his players to Lord’s, for he wanted them to feel a piece of history.

The England manager has created the team in his own image – unassuming, humble, honest and yet fiercely competitive, with players standing up for each other. Southgate knew the majority of the players from a young age, when he was the England U-21 manager, and it has helped.

Defoe played under Southgate and witnessed the culture change. “There is a different vibe now. It is just banter all the time. It is a group of boys just messing about, but in a good way because there is no pressure on them. It is a completely different atmosphere,” he told Sky Sports.

Germany’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer sits on the ground while the video screen shows England’s Harry Kane celebrating after scoring his side’s second goal during Euro 2020 round of 16 match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium in London. (AP)

How did England break down Germany on Tuesday?

Patience was the key. The average age of the England team in this tournament is 24.8 compared to Germany’s 27. The important thing from England’s point of view was to wear down their opponents, especially Germany’s 30-plus players. Jack Grealish was brought on to up the tempo, when tired legs had started to impede the likes of Toni Kroos and Mats Hummels.

How instrumental was Luke Shaw in England’s victory?

The England left-back was immense. Two wing-backs were supposed to be Germany’s biggest strengths, especially Joshua Kimmich’s pace and precision down the right. Shaw neutralised him. He provided the assist for Sterling’s goal and played an important part in the build-up of the team’s second, scored by Kane. Shaw was picked for England on the heels of a fantastic season for United where he won the Players’ Player of the Year award. The 25-year-old bounced back from a career-threatening double leg break and has resurrected his form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

England’s manager Gareth Southgate, left, hugs with Germany’s manager Joachim Loew at the end of the Euro 2020 soccer match round of 16 between England and Germany at Wembley stadium in London, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (AP)

How will Germany react to the defeat?

The defeat at Wembley on Tuesday wasn’t Germany’s worst performance under their outgoing manager Joachim Low.

That happened at Kazan in the 2018 World Cup, when the four-time world champions lost 2-0 to South Korea to crash out of the tournament. Low became the manager after the 2006 World Cup and took the German team to the summit of world football in 2014. Along with Low, some international careers seem to have reached the twilight zone. Kroos is reportedly set to retire from international football. Question mark hangs over the future of Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer and Hummels. The new manager, Hansi Flick, will preside over the rebuild with Germany to host Euro 2024.

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