There’s a fundamental difference between a wish and a goal. The former is a desire one longs for that is borne out of hope. The latter is a set objective one directs their entire existence towards, and is something they consider achievable by the logic that dictates their everyday living.
At the end of the day, the longing amongst silverware-starved England fans to see their side put an end to 56 years of hurt and finally lift the coveted World Cup is a mere wish.
The likes of Germany, Spain, Brazil and Argentina have been there and done that in more recent history.
Factor in the borderline nonsensical nature of knockout football as well, for a second. See: Real Madrid’s cinematic three-goal comeback within three minutes against Manchester City in Europe, and you’ll realise that one-off games are far from the ideal barometer to judge a team’s progress.
Now consider this wish of England winning it all against the more achievable goal of watching the English play champagne football in Qatar. The embarrassment of riches in the current England squad is enough to imagine this supremely gifted bunch playing a brand of football that is a victory for the beautiful game itself. Barring perhaps Didier Deschamps and Tite, is there a manager that possesses a more enviable arsenal of forwards than Gareth Southgate?
Spearheaded by Harry Kane, who is arguably the most complete striker in world football, a supporting cast of big-hitters such as Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Jarrod Bowen and Marcus Rashford is not shabby, to say the least. Names such as Emile Smith-Rowe, James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Eberechi Eze are yet to cement themselves into the aforementioned conversation, which tells you everything you need to know.
And yet the nation that birthed the most globally-frenzied sport has done things the ugly way on the pitch for decades without much avail, and continue to do so to this day. A drab approach to kicking the ball about without the promise of eventual glory is one essential factor that soured the relationship between the once-celebrated “Golden Generation” and millions of disillusioned supporters across the country.
While England’s largely fortuitous runs in the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 seemed to have mended ties, a risk-averse plan of action in the latter’s final against Italy reminded many that reverting to type is in the nation’s footballing DNA.
Look: it goes without saying that several sceptical English supporters will consider this 800+-word plea as an archetypal case of “easier said than done” with Gareth Southgate in charge. He’s a man that lives and dies by pragmaticism, which translates to pairing Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips as an uninspiring double pivot in footballing terms. However, inciting change—both in terms of his selection of personnel and tactics—is simply a matter of choice.
Ultimately, honing a signature style of play is something this England side desperately needs in their blueprint to win potential silverware going forward. Much like how Spain embraced the Pep Guardiola-inspired juego de posición brand of football, which inspired perhaps the greatest era in the history of international football from 2008 to 2019, Gareth Southgate must consider a tactical shift in the same vein to lay the groundwork for future glory.
Similarly, retreating to the safe haven of “experience” is an unimaginative take on things, unless it guarantees success. While the superstars of tomorrow such as Jude Bellingham and Marc Guéhi may be unseasoned, the ideal way to blood them in is to allow them to gain that much-needed experience in Qatar. This pair is just one example, but factoring in merit and the correct profiles, the bigger picture of better-equipped youngsters within the squad as a whole boosts England’s chances.
And to those who scoff at such suggestions, Bukayo Saka was one of the nation’s finest performers at 19 years of age. Considering the Three Lions had the second youngest squad at the European Championships, with an average age of 25.27, trusting the youth is less an idealist’s dream and more a realist’s plan of action for the future.
The World Cup is the ultimate holy grail in football, and while there are obvious favourites, going all the way is a coin toss in some senses, due to the fine margins between the contenders. As a result, holding triumph as the only valid barometer of real success is both harsh and entitled.
This is not to say that England should abandon their dream of becoming world champions. However, laying emphasis on a defined, yet intoxicating brand of football with the young lions assuming the role of protagonists is what Gareth Southgate and his troops must focus on during the lead-up to the tournament.