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Opinion: European postponement a blessing for Southgate and England

Wearing your best England shirt, with the Euros on the big screen, three lions ringing out in unison, whilst standing shoulder to shoulder with the hundreds of other hopefuls in one of the nation’s pubs, bars and beer gardens… that was how summer 2020 was supposed to play out.

Now, the world seems almost unrecognisable.  Government lockdowns, social distancing and sports cancellations across the globe have become the norm. Many of us are now having to adjust to life at home for the foreseeable future while the heroes of the NHS lead the fight against the coronavirus pandemic which has turned the world upside down.

Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Euros are just a few of the major sporting tournaments which have been cancelled or postponed this summer. Whilst the postponement of these tournaments was in no doubt necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19, the decisions to do so were done with heavy hearts. When fans across the country despaired knowing they would have to wait another year for the eagerly anticipated Euros, for Gareth Southgate and his side, the postponement could be a blessing in disguise.

Injuries and poor form

After a successful qualifying campaign, England fans were hopeful of a strong showing at the tournament, with some hoping for the first silverware since 1966 after making it to the semi-finals of the World Cup. But those hopes were soon dashed after long-term injuries to strikers Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and the continuation of poor form for Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling. Worryingly for Southgate, these were the three players who have scored the most goals for the national team since 2018.

The World Cup Golden Boot winner, Kane was faced with a race against time to recover to full fitness after suffering a hamstring injury sidelining him since New Year’s Day. Despite reports claiming that he would be fit for the summer’s tournament, whether he would be at the top of his game was another question. The extra year means Kane does not have to rush his recovery and can put to bed those injury problems. The striker can ensure he is at the top of his game for next summer and hopefully lead England to glory.

Harry Kane celebrates scoring for England

Manchester United talisman Marcus Rashford was another name who was a big doubt for the tournament. The 22-year-old has been out since January after suffering a double stress fracture in his back, casting doubt on his availability for Gareth Southgate. Like Kane, the postponement of the Euros enables Rashford to find his feet again and recapture his goal-scoring form.

Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling hasn’t been able to replicate the goalscoring form he started the season with. The winger has failed to find the net in his past 12 appearances, with his last goal coming in an away defeat to Wolves. A hamstring injury sidelined him momentarily, but this run of bad form was a cause for concern. As a key player in Southgate’s set up, the extra year off will take the pressure off Sterling and allow him a full season to re-find his goal-scoring form. After coming under scrutiny for his performances in Russia, this extra time could play right into Sterling’s hands.

Player development

Southgate is blessed in regard to the ages of those in his squad. Whilst the core of the England group shouldn’t change too drastically between now and next summer, the oldest, Jordan Henderson, will only be 30. This means that it is unlikely that Southgate should lose many players between now and then, while the opportunity for many to develop and mature is huge.

The postponement offers a great opportunity for Dean Henderson or even Nick Pope to take over as England’s number one. Jordan Pickford has been in unconvincing form this season, making a number of high-profile errors. Whereas Henderson and Pope have come on in leaps and bounds this season, with some even tipping Henderson to take over David De Gea at Manchester United. While Pickford would likely have kept the shirt this summer, next year a different picture could be painted.

Midfielders James Maddison, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish have also impressed this year with the latter being a standout in a struggling Aston Villa side. The delay offers the chance for these three to firmly put their name in the hat and prove to Southgate that they are part of the new ‘breed’ of players coming through the ranks.  Southgate also remains a huge fan of Manchester City’s Phil Foden.

While this summer would have proved too early to justify his inclusion, his quality is clear and could make it next time around. Leeds United’s Kalvin Philips also impressed in the Championship this season, and if his side is promoted, his development could offer something different from the midfield. Selection will be difficult for Southgate next year, but it could be worse having so much strength in depth.

Upfront, Tammy Abraham will be entering his second full season in the Premier League so will gain far more experience on both international and club level. Manchester United starlet Mason Greenwood may also force his way into Southgate’s plans if he continues to rise as he is. He looks a natural goal scorer and they don’t come about all that often.

Other Nations

Unlike England, a number of countries will be entering the tournament with their key players entering the twilight years of their careers. Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne will be 30 with centre-back pairing Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen 32 and 34 respectively.

For Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo will be 36 next year, and while the man is a machine, it remains to be seen whether he will be hitting the same heights as he did at the World Cup in 2018. Luka Modric could be another name who struggles to be as effective in 2021.

The midfielder was named the player of the tournament during the World Cup but will be 35 by the time the Euros come about. Olivier Giroud is another name who will be 34 at the next tournament, although the French squad is generally quite young, the towering forward was key in their World Cup win.

While the sadness of this summer’s postponement is fresh in our minds, it could well have been the best outcome for Southgate and his side. The team will be in an incredibly strong position next summer and injuries permitting it could be the best chance to end the drought for the long-waited international trophy.

Article title: Opinion: European postponement a blessing for Southgate and England

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