If words truly matter on days of action like this, Gareth Southgate found some stirring terms in one of his last speeches.
The England manager told his players they “now have a choice of what colour medal” they receive in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, as he admitted nothing less than victory will be enough.
Southgate has guided the country to their first men’s final in 55 years, and the chance to win a second major trophy and first-ever European Championship. It is by far English football’s greatest day since 1966, and can afford the 50-year-old a place in history alongside Sir Alf Ramsey. The final challenge is a fine Italian team, who make this a genuinely “50-50 match”.
It is the finest of lines between a good legacy and “one more piece of history”.
Southgate had one speech ready to try and push them over that line.
“I said to the players yesterday, all of these other bits, the legacy bits they have achieved, people are respecting how they’ve been and respecting that they’ve represented the country in the right way. But now they have a choice of what colour medal they get.
“That in the end is what Thursday, Friday, Saturday and matchday are all about, because their focus – their – is going to be spot on to achieve what they want.”
Southgate admitted that, after the tournament England have had, nothing less than victory will do. The England manager laughed about his exuberant celebrations after the semi-final against Denmark but was serious about what next. His players now have to seize the day.
“It was strange the other night because once I’d finished embarrassing myself on the pitch, I wasn’t pinching myself, ‘we’re in the final’. It was: ‘We’ve got to get this right now, how do we get this game right?’
“Because I know it won’t be enough for me and for the rest of the staff and the players if we don’t win it now. You get lovely messages that say ‘whatever happens now’… but that won’t be how it will be on Monday.
“I get the story but it’s been about how can we keep progressing, how do we push this team as far as we think we can. And I think we’re in a position where we deserve to be over the course of the tournament. I think we’ve got a 50-50 game against a really tough opponent.
“We’ve got to get it right. We can win it, but we’ve got to get it spot on to win it.
“We know the size of the challenge but what a brilliant challenge for us to have and what a brilliant opportunity for the players to write one more piece of history.”
Sources close to the England squad say the biggest decision could revolve around restoring Jordan Henderson to midfield – where his experience will be invaluable against Italy’s strongest era – and a potential return to a back three. The latter could see either Declan Rice or Kalvin Phillips miss out for the first time, if Southgate does indeed opt for the Liverpool captain.
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