If you ask most football fans across the world who the best young players in the world are, the answers are usually pretty unanimous.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland are often battling it out for the top spot in people’s minds, while some less popular choices including Manchester based duo Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood.
But it wasn’t that long ago that there was another name in the mix for fans to debate about for the podium in Joao Felix.
Felix had a stunning breakthrough season as a teenager with Benfica, before completing a sensational £113m transfer to Atletico Madrid in 2019 on the back of it.
He opted to join the Spanish side ahead of interested clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Man City according to reports with Diego Simeone seeing him as the ideal replacement for the Barcelona-bound Antoine Griezmann in that window.
On paper it made a lot of sense. Felix excels as one of the most creative attackers in La Liga, and has the goalscoring ability to fill in for a 20 goal per-season star like Griezmann in a team that tends to challenge on all fronts each season.
However at such a young age and with so much expectation due to the transfer fee, the deal hasn’t quite gone as planned for the now 21-year-old.
Felix is into his third season at the Wanda Metropolitano and he has scored just 19 goals so far for the club, which is less than he scored for Benfica in his one season with the first-team in Lisbon.
Injuries haven’t helped, while Felix’s love for attacking and flair football hasn’t really fitted in seamlessly to the way ‘El Cholo’ likes to set up his teams with defence also prioritised over goals. He’s had a somewhat fractious relationship with his manager and his bad form has seen him left out of the side on occasion too.
But through all that, it’s still very clear just how talented Felix is as a footballer. Against Barcelona on Sunday, Felix didn’t get a goal or assist officially but he was every bit as influential as Thomas Lemar and Luis Suarez who did.
His dribbling got him out of predicaments, his quick feet got him out of tight situations and his passing ability was on display for all to see as he carved open Ronald Koeman’s side at will. It was just a glimpse of his talent and ability but it served as a reminder to just how good he is.
With Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann both at Atletico now, the pressure is no longer on Felix to lead the line and be the primary goalscorer. Instead, he is in the side to develop and be part of a unit in attack that is looking to go back-to-back for the La Liga title and make another push in Europe.
Felix barely got on the pitch at Euro 2020 for Portugal as they suffered a disappointing Round of 16 exit to Belgium, but with the World Cup in Qatar coming up at the end of next year he has a chance to get right back to it.
Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be around forever and Bernardo Silva may be the man now but he is also creeping up on 30. Felix is the future of the Portuguese national team undoubtedly, but he could also be the future for Atletico Madrid or another top European team.
He needs to get back to his confident best to show it and he’s now in an environment where he doesn’t have added pressure. If the style of play at Atletico continues to negatively effect him then he may need to consider moving on, but it’s so easy to forget he won’t be 22 until November.
He’s got the best part of a decade ahead of him and I wouldn’t bet against him having another breakthrough season ahead of the 2022 World Cup to remind everyone that there is another name missing from that starboy conversation. Don’t sleep on Joao Felix.
It’s been a long time coming, but Jadon Sancho is finally a Manchester United player.
The 21-year-old England international has been chased by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club for the best part of two years but a £73million deal was finally agreed last month and is now complete after Euro 2020 came to an end.
Now that he is part of the squad, Solskjaer must decide on how best to use him going forward in the long-term but also short-term as he comes to terms with the fall-out of Euro 2020 and Copa America as well as other fitness and form issues in his squad for the start of the season.
How should United start the season in attack? How should it look once everyone is fit and firing? Here’s how I see it…
LEFT WING STARTER – Marcus Rashford Depth: Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial, Dan James
If anyone has made a position their own in the Manchester United attack it is the number 10, Mr. Rashford.
Pace, direct running, a killer final pass and a goal threat, Rashford has mastered the out-to-in run and is often United’s biggest threat in attacking situations. Injuries mean that he could miss the start of the season, but that wouldn’t be the biggest issue in the world.
Anthony Martial is fit again and capable of playing there, while Sancho is arguably just as good on the left as he is on the right while Solskjaer is still a fan of Dan James who can fill in if needs be too.
RIGHT WING STARTER – Jadon Sancho Depth: Mason Greenwood, Amad, Juan Mata
I think it’s fair to say that Sancho has been signed to walk straight into the team on the right wing and anything else would be seen as a surprise.
It’s been a problem position for several years for Manchester United and over the last two seasons Solskjaer has been using Mason Greenwood in that position for his ambi-pedal abilities and goalscoring threat, but he’s a striker first and foremost.
The signing of Amad added depth but he was eased into the first-team picture last season, but some added minutes could be thrown his way this season in certain games to rotate the squad and even just add competition and help develop him more.
Juan Mata’s new deal means another option too, but the young bucks should certainly be ahead of him in the pecking order.
NUMBER 10 STARTER – Bruno Fernandes Depth: Donny Van de Beek, Juan Mata, Hannibal Mejbri
Bruno Fernandes is the second name on the team sheet for Solskjaer after Harry Maguire in defence and that will not change this season barring something crazy.
The real question about this position is who should play when he doesn’t and Solskjaer has got options, whether he opts to use them or not. Donny Van de Beek is capable of playing as a ten, although it’s a different type of way to play the role while Mata arguably made his name in the position when he was younger.
There is also the possibility of Hannibal earning some first-team minutes after being promoted to the senior team at the end of last season and if he can impress during pre-season then he could earn himself some minutes during the season too.
STRIKER STARTER – Mason Greenwood Depth: Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford
The new one-year contract for Edinson Cavani would suggest that he will be the first-choice striker going into the new season, but if there’s ever the time to try something new it is now with Greenwood as the man.
The youngster has proven that he has the ability to score goals at the highest level despite his age and his preferred position is through the middle. He holds the ball up well, can drift wide and has the pace to run in behind plus finishes with both feet.
Cavani showed last season that he can affect games coming off the bench if necessary and despite Martial’s popularity with fans and the squad, his form last season was bad enough that he now must earn his place back through performances.
Today is the day that Gareth Southgate makes half the nation absolutely ecstatic and the other half furious as he names his England squad for this summer’s European Championships.
UEFA agreed to allow an extra three places in the squad for managers to add following a full campaign of a hectic schedule owing to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 18 months or so.
That should make it a little bit easier to select a squad but there will still be some big names who miss out. While Southgate will name a provisional squad today, I wanted to see just how difficult it is to do and how different people will react, so this is my 26-man England squad for Euro 2020.
Jordan Pickford: The Everton stopper’s place as number one for the national team had come under doubt this season but Southgate has stuck by him for the most part and he will 100% be in the squad.
Dean Henderson: He’s always had great ability and has come through the youth ranks with England. Now as Manchester United’s number one, he has earned his place in the senior England team too.
Sam Johnstone: The third spot was sure to be Nick Pope’s, but the Burnley keeper needs knee surgery and is almost certain to be ruled out of the tournament. That means West Brom keeper Johnstone will get the chance to be part of the squad as the third choice.
Kyle Walker: Quite comfortably the best performing English right-back this season, Walker won the Premier League and is in the Champions League with Manchester City and deserves his spot. He also offers some flexibility if needed, having played as a centre-back at the 2018 World Cup too.
Reece James: A young right-back, James’ season started impeccably and while he didn’t keep that level throughout the season he wasn’t bad. Good going forward and excellent in a one-on-one situation with a great delivery, he deserves a chance.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: The fact his spot in the squad is so in question is bonkers to me. He had a really tough first half of the season and was rightly left out of the last England squad, but since then he has been back to his brilliant best. He’s improved defensively and has an X-factor when going forward that should make him a shoe-in.
Ben Chilwell: Southgate’s first choice left-back for the most part has had a good debut campaign with Chelsea this season and could top it off by winning the Champions League. He’s decent at both ends of the pitch and this is one of the positions where the choices are pretty clear.
Luke Shaw: Quite comfortably the best left-back in the country this season, Shaw has seen an incredible resurgence in his career this season. He’s been fantastic going forward, with a career high of assists this season but also solid defensively and can even fill in as a third centre-back in a back three too so he’s in.
Harry Maguire: England’s best centre-back and a leader at the back, he’s had a very good season for Manchester United. Aerially he is dominant and while he has got a lack of pace, he knows how to play without it for the most part and shines for Southgate so will start so long as he recovers from his ankle injury.
John Stones:Another player who has seen a huge resurgence in their career this season, Man City have a lot to thank Stones for. While Ruben Dias picked up much of the plaudits (and rightly so), Stones shone next to him and his passing ability from the back should see him as a starter alongside Maguire with fitness permitting.
Ezri Konsa: While I don’t expect him to go, Konsa is more than deserving of a spot in the squad after the season he has had. Alongside Tyrone Mings, he has shown a fantastic ability in all aspects of defending as well as playing out from the back and in my eyes has outshone his centre-back partner. He has great pace to cover round and is good on the ball to build from the back too, meaning he’d fit into the squad brilliantly.
Fikayo Tomori: For sure a wildcard pick, but Tomori’s form since his January loan move to AC Milan can’t be ignored. He was brilliant in Serie A and the Europa League and caught the eye of everyone who paid any sort of attention. That means if Southgate was doing his job properly he’d have spotted him too, and he deserves an inclusion based on form and ability over Wolves captain Conor Coady.
Jordan Henderson: Arguably the biggest character in the camp, Henderson is an automatic pick if he’s fit. Great energy, leadership, solid defensively and a decent passing range too, he starts never mind gets included in the squad.
Declan Rice: Potentially the most important piece of the jigsaw in Southgate’s midfield, the West Ham man’s defensive qualities are something that only he brings to the squad. A fantastic tackler with great awareness, he will be key if England get into the latter stages to take on the better teams.
Jude Bellingham: Not many people will have had him down as getting into this squad at the start of the season, but the 17-year-old has been sensational for Borussia Dortmund and earned himself senior minutes earlier in this campaign. He has the ability to fulfil every midfield role and that fearlessness he brings to his game could be huge.
Kalvin Phillips: A fantastic ball playing defensive midfielder, Phillips has been a big part of Southgate’s plans in squads over the last year and he deserves his place in the side as the insurance policy in the centre.
Mason Mount: A real breakthrough campaign this season for Mount, who made himself indispensable for Chelsea and forced his way into the England setup too. Whether it be deeper or slightly more advanced, Mount is almost certain to start and will be included.
Bukayo Saka: The Arsenal man was one of very few bright sparks in a shocking season for the Gunners and his versatility could be absolutely vital for the squad. Able to play as a full-back, wing-back, winger or even central midfielder, he should find that gets him into the squad above anything else.
Jack Grealish: One of the stand-out performers in the Premier League this season prior to his shin injury, Grealish more than deserves his place in the squad. Brilliant ball retention and manipulation, as well as a ball carrier, eye for a pass and top performances for Villa, he has to be in.
Jadon Sancho: Strangely enough there are squads that don’t have Sancho involved and that just makes zero sense to me. A dazzling winger with pace, agility, a brilliant change of direction, goals and assists, he’s performed brilliantly for Dortmund after a slow start and deserves his spot.
Raheem Sterling: After Harry Kane, Sterling is probably the first attacker on the squad list for Southgate and he’s one of them for me too. While his season for Man City was somewhat underwhelming in comparison to previous campaigns, he has goals, assists and brilliant wing play and can play on either side. His quality is high and he’s a must-pick.
Marcus Rashford: The best season of his club career was slowed somewhat by injuries towards the end, but 20+ goals and 15+ assists in all competitions make him a sure-fire pick. He has that X-factor in one on one situations, has brilliant pace and skill, can play across the entire front three and is a good impact sub if he doesn’t start too.
Harry Kane: Well, duh. England’s best player by a distance, Kane is in the squad and I reckon he’ll play every minute of the tournament too.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Since Kane will likely play in every game and play most minutes, the secondary striker role is one that likely won’t be used much. Despite that, you need someone who is a presence on the pitch if they are needed and can score a variety of different goals, so the Everton man is the best pick.
Mason Greenwood: A wildcard pick again, but it’s rare that as a manager you have so much quality to choose from and have to leave someone out. But Greenwood’s quality with both feet, whether through the middle or out wide means he absolutely has to be in. There’s nobody I’d rather a chance fell to when I needed a goal outside of Kane and that’s enough to sway me.
Manchester United took a step closer to securing a second placed finish in the Premier League with yet another come from behind win to beat Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named a strong team for the game despite United being scheduled to play three times in five days this week, as well as a gruelling game against Roma just 72 hours before the game.
They fell behind too in the first half as a stunning strike from Bertrand Traore found the top corner after some slack defending from Victor Lindelof when Scott McTominay lost the ball on the edge of the box.
United bounced back in the second half though when Paul Pogba was fouled by Douglas Luiz in the penalty area and Bruno Fernandes tucked home the resulting penalty. Just a few minutes later they had the lead when Aaron Wan-Bissaka found Mason Greenwood on the edge of the box, who rolled Tyrone Mings and slammed the ball into the near corner with his left foot.
Villa piled on the pressure looking to get back into the game but Marcus Rashford’s fine cross found substitute Edinson Cavani who headed beyond the keeper to round the game off. Villa were reduced to ten men when Ollie Watkins dived looking for a penalty and picked up a second yellow card.
It was the TENTH time in the Premier League this season that Manchester United have come from behind to win, a new record, and showed the incredible spirit that Solskjaer has brought to this side.
Being able to win games when playing badly and coming from behind are often traits associated with championship winning teams and while United look likely to miss out on the title this time around, it’s been a relatively impressive season.
Despite crashing out of the Champions League much earlier than they should, they have maintained a decent push at the top of the Premier League throughout the season and as well as reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup are now in the final of the Europa League.
They have lost just four times in the Premier League this season, after losing three of their first six games, and have found a way of beating teams who set up against them in a low block too.
There has been a clear evolution under Solskjaer this season and United have improved immensely, but a few too many draws have seen them unable to keep up with a relentless Manchester City side.
If they can start to work towards playing with the same intensity and quality from the beginning of games instead of when they go 1-0 down they’d be much better placed to put together a real challenge for the title.
The squad is a good mix of youth players and experience and with a few additions such as a defensive midfielder, a centre back and a right-winger (plus a striker if Cavani leaves) then they will be ready to push forward even more.
Solskjaer has made United hard to beat and capable of beating anyone on their day and there’s not much more you can ask for at this point. Now on to the next level.
The Europa League is down to its final four teams and there are some very intriguing ties to be played out to decipher who will lift the trophy come the end of the season.
Premier League side Manchester United will take on Serie A side AS Roma as the two remaining strongest teams in the competition, with Arsenal going head-to-head against their former manager when they take on Villarreal.
We’ll preview both knockout ties once again and give our predictions as we have done for every English club tie in the competition so far, starting with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side’s trip to take on the side from the Italian capital.
The Red Devils fell into the Europa League after a disappointing showing in the Champions League group stages, where they failed to get the one point they needed from their final two games and and crashed out behind PSG and RB Leipzig.
They were able to comfortably dispatch of Real Sociedad in the last 32 before beating AC Milan in the last 16 and Granada in the quarter-finals to set this tie up, all while keeping up their good performances in the Premier League to all but secure second place behind Manchester City.
They’ve lost just once since a defeat to Sheffield United in January, being eliminated by Leicester in the FA Cup quarter-finals to make it just one loss in 21 games. Since that defeat to Leicester they have won five out of six, although they were held by Leeds at the weekend to a 0-0 draw.
Roma on the other hand were in the Europa League from the start of the season, winning their group including Young Boys, CFR Cluj and CSKA Sofia. They then won home and away against Braga in the last 32 and Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 16, before a back and forth tie against Ajax in the quarter-finals saw them win in Amsterdam and then held in Rome to claim a tight win.
In Serie A their form hasn’t been as positive, as they currently sit in seventh place in the league comfortably out of the race for the Champions League places for next season. They won just twice in their last eight games in all competitions in the build up to this game and were beaten 3-2 by Cagliari at the weekend.
They’ve suffered with injury problems in recent weeks, but former Manchester United duo Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are back and should start the game.
Mkhitaryan has been one of Roma’s best players this season, with 11 goals and nine assists in all competitions. He was key when Manchester United lifted this trophy in 2017 under Jose Mourinho, scoring in the final, but this season he has struggled in Europe for the most part.
As the Reds look to win a trophy for the first time since that success under Mourinho, Solskjaer looks to prioritise this tournament and will likely go with a strong team. Anthony Martial is injured and Marcus Rashford is battling through the pain barrier constantly, but other than that the club have a clean bill of health to choose from.
It’s hard to see how Manchester United could fail to progress into the next round without criminally under-performing. They are comfortably the best team left in the competition and Solskjaer absolutely must break the semi-final hoodoo that he has had since taking over two-and-a-half years ago.
Defensively they’re better, going forward they’re better and they have the better individual players too to create a moment of magic if necessary. Considering the way they have been able to perform in recent months, I’d be very surprised if they weren’t able to get through to the final.
With the first leg at home this time, United will need to ensure a positive result at Old Trafford to take with them to Italy to make sure there is as little pressure on the second leg as possible. A home win will allow for them to be able to play on the counter attack in the Stadio Olimpico, which suits the team’s strengths far more than having to break them down.
Man Utd 2-0 Roma Roma 1-2 Man Utd (Manchester United to progress 4-1 on aggregate)
Mason Greenwood has staked his claim to become the long-term number nine for Manchester United after scoring a late winner against Brighton at Old Trafford.
The Seagulls took the lead in the first half when former academy star Danny Welbeck lost Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the penalty area and was able to head past Dean Henderson at the second attempt. United struggled to create anything of note for a while, although Greenwood did hit the post early on and it wasn’t until the hour mark where they’d get back into the game.
Bruno Fernandes latched on to a loose ball and fed Marcus Rashford, who slotted past the goalkeeper as United pulled it back before Fernandes crossed for Paul Pogba to volley back across goal and Greenwood latched on to a header to grab all three points.
It was exactly the type of goal that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been trying to coach Anthony Martial and Rashford to score over the last two years and exactly the type of goal that Edinson Cavani was brought in to score when he signed last summer.
It was a great sign of progress in his development, with the England international grabbing only his sixth goal in a campaign where he has mostly been shunted out to the right wing.
But with news that Anthony Martial is likely to miss the rest of the season after picking up a knee injury on international duty, it means the 19-year-old could get himself a run as the central striker between now and the end of the season.
The obvious option is Cavani to take the leading role, but the Uruguayan is an interesting case right now. He himself has only scored seven goals this season and has performed better coming off the bench than when he’s started games. His physical attributes aren’t as sharp as they were during his prime, obviously, but his movement is also not as great as it once was.
Add to that his all-round game is iffy at best, with his link up play absolutely appalling and his passing is often very wayward, United struggle to sustain attacks when he needs to play with his back to goal.
Greenwood has a better overall game than Cavani does right now and since bulking up physically, he is much more comfortable now than he was last season when it comes to duels against defenders. He is more mobile, able to go both ways and ultimately is just a much better option right now.
He came through the academy as a number nine who scored goals relentlessly, even as he went through the age groups and it’s clear that he is more comfortable in central areas than out wide where his space is marginalised.
He’s never going to be able to learn how to play as a striker in the first-team without playing there and there seems to be no better time than now. With Cavani unlikely to stay beyond this season now after claims that he wants to return to South America, there is no point shoehorning him into the side.
It’s the perfect opportunity to give Greenwood a run in the side in his best position, with United now 11 points clear of fifth place and with a favourable draw in the Europa League quarter-finals against Granada.
Put the future of the club in the spotlight now and if Greenwood can perform then it could change the club’s transfer plans for the better.
As Manchester United fall away from the top of the Premier League and into a race for top four rather than the title, they’re being lamented for not having a top striker among their ranks.
Edinson Cavani has done relatively well since joining the club in the summer on a free transfer but recently turned 34 years old, while Anthony Martial’s performance levels have dropped considerably from the career-high he had last year as the central striker.
This has led to several links with attacking players, including the top young striker in the world in Erling Haaland once again as well as the likes of Danny Ings and Andre Silva.
United also recently secured the long-term future of Mason Greenwood, with the young forward signing a new deal to keep him at Old Trafford until 2025. While he’s predominantly played on the right wing since coming up to the first-team, he made his name as a striker.
He scored a bucket load of goals for the youth teams and even hit an unprecedented 17 goals in his debut first-team season last year, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer describing him as the best finisher at the club. Whether it’s his left foot or right foot, inside or outside the box, Greenwood knows how to find the back of the net.
So with a talent that good that is only 19-years-old already at the club, why waste money on a stop-gap signing?
As bad as Martial has been this season, he has showed previously that he is good enough to be a 20+ goal striker and links up well with the rest of the team. Cavani has been good for the most part and showed the poaching instincts that has seen him score over 200 times for Paris Saint-Germain during his time there.
Signing someone like Ings or Silva, without being disrespectful to them, doesn’t improve Manchester United. It gets them a new name on the team sheet and means they can probably move one of the other two options on if they wanted to, but they’re unlikely to see the level of their performances raise because of it.
Someone like a Haaland, or any other top level striker would make that difference. But if the Reds aren’t willing to make the investment just now, which would be fair enough considering the current state of the world, then why would they waste their time with another name.
Greenwood is there and ready to explode. We saw players like Harry Kane get to the level they’re currently at from playing week in and week out, so signing someone that isn’t world class already is only going to hinder the team and the best young talent to come out of the academy in years.
If the investment isn’t plausible this summer, use Greenwood as a striker. He will get better and his ceiling is already so much higher than the current options, that you have nothing to lose. If he struggles, your current options are still there to help carry the load as they’ve done this year – nobody has scored more league goals than Manchester United this season.
Solskjaer and United need to make a decision. They have two options; sign a world class striker or make Mason Greenwood the first choice number nine. Nothing else makes sense.
England manager Gareth Southgate revealed the reason behind his absence was a phone conversation with Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær. It’s said that during the conversation, Solskjær revealed that he believed it best for Greenwood to remain the with Red Devils for the break to get back to basics.
It’s well known that Manchester United were very unhappy with England for putting Greenwood forward for a press conference prior to his debut, with the club having made a huge effort to keep him out of the limelight since his breakthrough.
Greenwood hasn’t done any press for the Red Devils unless it was in-house and that’s not a coincidence. The club want to protect him from the media and fans who are looking for a new scapegoat.
They were obviously disappointed following his rule-break in Iceland and they admitted they needed to have conversations with him. But the witch-hunt that has seemingly followed is exactly what the club were trying to avoid.
He’s since been accused of turning up late to training sessions, something the club has publicly denied, while rumours have also swirled of him breaking lockdown rules again. He has also missed fixtures through ‘injury’ while these rumours have swirled.
His performances haven’t helped stem the tide either. His only two goal so far this season wer the opener in the 5-0 win over RB Leipzig and an added time goal in the League Cup as a substitute against Brighton.
He’s struggled to create, struggled to assert himself in games and struggled to make any sort of impact at all in all honesty. It could be the pressure, it could just be a blip in form. Whatever it is though, the last thing he needed was to go back to the international scene to be scapegoated and chastised no matter what he does.
The decision to keep him at United during the break is the club’s way of protecting him. They want to get him back to ground zero and start fresh. Get him back to doing what made him so successful at the back end of last season, without all the eyes watching his every move.
His talent is undeniable and it’s been proven he can perform at the highest level. He will get back into the squad at the earliest convenience but the Reds are absolutely doing the right thing and it’s something we don’t see enough in football.
They’re looking after Greenwood, the person. They’re putting the human over the football right now and it’s admirable.
England’s latest international break was once again marred by the bad behaviour of some players off the pitch.
Following the 1-0 win over Iceland, reports emerged that youngsters Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood broke the ‘social bubble’ by inviting two local girls back to their hotel room, breaking COVID-19 regulations.
Since that result though, Southgate has blamed the team selection on the discipline problems claiming that defeat or defensive frailities would have just drawn more attention to the squad. He’s also spoken publicly about ‘punishing’ both players by not considering them for selection for the next squad too.
This reeks of England mismanaging young talent once again and making the senior side a place where top players can’t prosper. Much like they did with David Beckham and Wayne Rooney before him, Raheem Sterling was a victim of something similar in the past. As young players, all these guys made mistakes and were punished for them but they were then made part of a witch hunt in the press.
They were actively scapegoated for bad team performances, off-field life became everyday news for them and they were constantly spoken about in a negative way.
With Southgate, he had seemingly rid the squad of that negativity. The squad was in unison for off-field issues such as racism and social justice and had become a very likeable group for the fans and media.
The introduction of these new members of the squad was bound to bring in some changes, simply because they’re new. New footballers, new mentalities but also – they’re kids.
Mason Greenwood is barely 18 and Phil Foden is 20. They’re still growing up. They made a mistake, everyone knows that. They’ve apologised to the squad, to the manager and publicly to the fans and public. They are sorry.
They’ve been punished already, they were sent home. They missed the game vs Denmark and missed the chance to make a positive mark on the squad. Their first time with the senior team is forever stained, that is punishment enough. By leaving them out of the next squad is essentially a double punishment, but also effectively a four-game ban. It’s unnecessary.
Bring them back into the fold and move on. They’re so talented, it’s quite clear they are the future of this country in football. They are your next Wayne Rooney and David Beckham in terms of profile. They are the golden ducks in this generation. The longer Southgate and the media make it a thing, the longer it carries on for.
It’s time to start backing the national team and their players, instead of building them up just to tear them down at the first sign of trouble.
With Euro 2020 delayed until the summer of 2021, England manager Gareth Southgate may be the man to prosper from it the most across Europe’s top nations.
Top youngsters looked likely to miss out on the tournament, with breakthrough seasons not quite enough to push them through into the senior squad so quickly for a major tournament. Players like Mason Greenwood, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka were all among the better performers following the resumption of the league post-lockdown, with key players Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford able to return from injury too.
Had Euro 2020 taken place when it was supposed to, the likelihood is none of those players would have been involved. Danny Ings would have been battling with Tammy Abraham to lead the line up front, while depth would have been an issue as options wore thin. But now, Southgate has another full year of football to watch to be able to pick through his selections and team.
The likes of those mentioned above will enjoy, but also an extra season of regular football for established squad members like Jadon Sancho and Trent Alexander-Arnold who are still young, can do them no harm either.
Southgate will have the opportunity to continue experimenting with tactics and systems to suit these young players, while others such as Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips will have the chance to continue impressing the manager following their first call-ups to the senior squad this time around.
Jordan Pickford will probably lose his spot as England No.1, Trent Alexander-Arnold will cement his place as the starting right-back while Joe Gomez should be able to break in as a regular alongside Harry Maguire. In midfield Declan Rice is likely to be a regular starter alongside Jordan Henderson, with players like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Harry Winks competing for the spots also. In attack England are stacked and no longer need to look for over-performing talents like Ings and Abraham when they can use young talent like Greenwood as an alternative for Kane. Callum Hudson-Odoi could have a breakthrough season this year to compete on the wings with Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho.
The options England have now are the best they’ve had since their last ‘golden generation’ that had the likes of Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and co. all in the same line-up.
Southgate now must prove to the fans and the FA that he is right man for the job. After “successfully” managing the Under-21’s he was promoted for his willingness to create a pathway. He’s so far kept to that, but now needs continue to do so and bring results with it.
A successful Nations League tournament could be the boost this young England side needs to be able to breed success for next summer’s Euro 2020 tournament.