After a few weeks break to physically and mentally recover from the Champions League Final I’m just about ready for some more football. So how lucky we are that the biggest festival of football is about to begin. Of course, the Premier League have tried their best to hijack the story by announcing next year’s fixtures hours before the opening game, like an annoying sibling desperate for all the attention. But who cares about Southampton v Burnley in August when we’ve got Spain v Portugal on a Friday night?
There are lots of reasons to look forward to this World Cup. Three or four games a day, loads of the world’s best players, the fact that it won’t be so hot the footballers can run and play a bit. But from an English point of view, it is also nice to have a squad that everyone seems to agree is much more likeable than past ones. Is this a truth or just a perception? I guess it doesn’t really matter. What people think is all that counts.
Putting club rivalries aside in the summer is always difficult, especially if you support one of the big clubs. How can you get behind the players you’ve been calling all sorts all season? I guess it helps that in this case you haven’t really. There are still players from Manchester United, but they are not David Beckham and Gary Neville. There may be players from Chelsea, but they are not Frank Lampard or John Terry. Fans of other clubs will say the same about Liverpool with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher and, let’s face it, no one really cares about Spurs.
So, there might be players from clubs you dislike, but not the symbols of those clubs. The ones you have seen lift trophies, score goals or wind you up. Marcus Rashford scored two against Liverpool this year, granted, but he doesn’t make a habit out of it. Unlike Andy Cole who seemed to score against Liverpool all the time. Part of what I am saying is this England team is more likeable because they aren’t as good. Which is a bit of a problem for them if they want to win anything, but at least they’ll feel they got a bit more encouragement than support than usual when they go out to the first decent team they face.
Of course, it would be wrong to say there is a complete love-in with all in this squad. Everyone had a good old laugh at Harry Kane a few months ago, but only because he was a bit of a wally, rather than a bad lad. He tried to claim his teammates goal and had a bit of a public cry about it, but, as indiscretions go, it’s more John Terry and the full kit rather than John Terry and the teammate’s girlfriend. It’s all relative really.
There are a couple of problem characters. Jamie Vardy has never been great, but he’s unlikely to start and, like any lads trip away, there is always one. He’s the fella on a stag do from Leicester that no one is quite sure who he is. Is he related to the bride or something? Did Harry Maguire bring him? Never mind, we’ll just get on with it and apologise for him when we leave.
Raheem Sterling is the player who has received most abuse from rival fans over the last few years. But the media campaign against him has become so ridiculous that even Liverpool fans are starting to feel sorry for him now. I think it was around the time he was criticised for eating breakfast that normal supporters decided they’d much rather be on his side than that of the gutter press.
I hope he scores the winning goal in the final, just to see the same hypocritical papers who’ve made him scared to leave the house calling for him to be knighted. Which they will, without shame.
Maybe it’s our tabloid newspapers rather than the players’ mediocrity that has united people behind this squad. Gareth Southgate has done a great job making the group come across as more relatable in recent weeks, turning them from out-of-touch, pampered millionaires to normal young lads trying to do a job. I think a lot of people just can’t be bothered hating them for the crimes of being young, wealthy and good at something anymore. Not if they don’t deserve it.
Will this new public goodwill help the team much in Russia? Probably not, but at least it removes a lot of the noise. Hopefully we can just enjoy watching some football without anyone becoming public enemy number one. We can all dream