- England’s national team has achieved nothing but abject failure in each of the six most recent FIFA World Cup tournaments.
- But this World Cup in Russia has been different. The team has self-belief and determination and has proved it can get the job done.
- England scored a 91st-minute winner against Tunisia, sent Colombia packing by winning a World Cup penalty shootout for the first time, and, in Harry Kane, has the top scorer in the whole competition.
- Yes, against my better judgement, I am now utterly convinced that England will win the World Cup.
- Read all of Business Insider’s World Cup coverage here.
Boys, girls … huddle up. I’m going to whisper something quiet, and you have to promise not to tell a soul.
Football – it’s coming home.
It marks a change, as World Cup heartbreak is all I’ve ever known. When I was 10 years old, England failed to even qualify for the 1994 tournament. And after a succession of humiliations – losing a soul-destroying shootout to Argentina in 1998, getting wiped out of the 2002 competition because of Ronaldinho’s shock lob from 35 metres, and then an agonisingly crushing defeat on penalties to Portugal in 2006, I learned to stop getting my hopes up.
England just couldn’t be relied on.
They couldn’t be relied on throughout the disastrous campaign at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and they couldn’t even be relied on to get one win in 2014. For the Three Lions, it was as if each World Cup squad were looking to outdo the other when it came to bringing shame to the nation.
But this summer, something’s different. And I don’t mind admitting to you right here, right now … I’ve fallen back in love with the England team – and I’ve fallen harder than I ever had before.
It’s the sort of gooey puppy love you get at 14 when you’re told the hottest girl at school wants to date you. So you invite her to your house while your parents are out. You make mixtapes by recording the better songs from the Top 40 on BBC radio each Sunday. You write hip-hop poetry, you learn to play a riff on the guitar, and you start lifting weights.
Then the big day arrives.
Your room is tidy for the first time in months, you’ve emptied an entire can of Lynx Atlantis all over your pits, and you’ve dumped a load of Brylcreem on your barnet so you get that slick-back look that Leonardo DiCaprio rocked when he was all suited-and-booted in “Titanic.” Today’s the day – she should be here by now, so you’re waiting and looking through the blinds in your bedroom, trying to peer all the way down the road just to see whether her dad’s car is driving around the corner to drop her off.
Only this puppy love with the 2018 England team is all about Spotify playlists rather than mixtapes. It’s picking up a WhatsApp voicemail from an old schoolmate who raps John Barnes bars from “World In Motion” down the phone. It’s England manager Gareth Southgate’s waistcoats becoming a national obsession. It’s scrolling through your Twitter timeline looking for the best “It’s Coming Home” memes. It’s Russian President Vladimir Putin playing “Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home)” on a piano.
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) July 4, 2018
Guys, girls … I’m in deep. England has gotten hot. They’re relatable, recognisable, and there’s a very human link between the team and the fans that has not seemed to exist for decades before. They’re one of us.
The fleet-footed forward Marcus Rashford was one of us when he didn’t know what to say when he met Neymar in the tunnel at Wembley Stadium, so he just mumbled awkward English small talk about “the beautiful weather.” The top scorer of this year’s World Cup, Harry Kane, is one of us as he likes a good sit-down and plays the smash-hit video game “Fortnite” whenever he’s not training or getting ready for an international game. And Jamie Vardy giving James Corden a well-trained death stare is all of us when somebody tries to claim they don’t watch “Love Island.”
Southgate’s bringing football home again
Fostering this new-look new England is Southgate, who was always “destined” to be the national team manager, according to the football CEO who employed him twice in developmental roles at the English Football Association.
The former FA boss Alex Horne told Business Insider last year that “Gareth was always brilliant at managing the under-21 squad” and that he always admired how “brave” the coach was, and is.
The players seem to resonate with Southgate, as he is a young and very modern manager. He’s meticulous in his thinking, clearly does his homework, and implements winning strategies on the training ground that the players have successfully transferred to the grandest of stages.
So far, Southgate and his Three Lions squad have already developed a hero status. They scored a 91st-minute winner in the team’s first group game, against Tunisia. They actually won a World Cup penalty shootout for the first time in the country’s history, eliminating Colombia from spot kicks on Tuesday. They were in complete control in the 2-0 quarterfinal win over Sweden. And, in Kane, England has the World Cup’s top scorer.
This team has bottle, it can hold its nerve, and it finds a way to win no matter how ugly. And these are things that past England teams have not had, as a unit, for a long, long time.
I thought I’d never do this, not after all the heartbreaks that have gone before. But this is different, surely. Against my better judgement, I’m now utterly convinced England will win the World Cup.
Earlier this week, Southgate told FIFA TV that he was “a proud Englishman” and that it was “nice that over the last few weeks we’ve been able to make people happy.”
Adding to ITV, he said: “It’s a huge privilege to be able to send everybody to work happy, to make a difference in people’s lives. Football, sport, can bring connection for a country, and it feels from what we’re told that that is the case. I’m delighted that we’re exciting people and we’re bringing enjoyment and we want to keep that going. We’re still the youngest team in the tournament and we’re the least experienced, but we’re hungry and want to go as far as we possibly can.”
Gareth, you’ve done more than make people happy – you’ve made us dream and believe that you will all achieve.
Now go and bring football home again.
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