We all desperately want it to come home, so who cares how football gets here? | Jack Marshall's column
It’s important to say that we all care. We all care very much.
That’s why we all collectively lose our minds every two years and get thoroughly high on our own self-generated supply of euphoria, dread, hope, and - inevitably - anguish.
The England national football team is a wonderful thing. Nothing else in the entire country has the terrifying power to simultaneously infuriate and delight millions of people with the announcement of a teamsheet sponsored by Deliveroo (other kangaroos are available).
Musings on the correct number of right-backs to take as part of a 26-man squad become matters of national importance. So does the efficacy of a double pivot when one considers the evolving role of the deep-lying number 10.
By not playing, Jack Grealish becomes the best thing to grace these shores since Beyonce’s last tour. Phil Foden is anointed the chosen one and then discarded after a quiet half against the World Cup finalists. The concept of Tyrone Mings against Kylian Mbappe causes nerves.
This is why it bears reiterating that international football is the realm of the pragmatists. Over the course of a long season scattered with in-depth training sessions and bookended by pre-season tours, free-flowing football is a tangible aim. The cream will rise to the top.
International tournaments see squads of practical strangers dragged together and given a few weeks to practice how they are going to overcome the best players in the world. That’s why playing it safe, keeping things tight, and nicking results here and there is how trophies are won.
In the 2018 World Cup, eventual winners France needed an 82nd-minute own goal from Aziz Behich to beat Australia 2-1. They only beat Peru 1-0 and drew 0-0 with Denmark. Had England done that, we would have, not to put too fine a point on it, freaked out.
At Euro 2016, Portugal came third (!) in their group after drawing all three games against Iceland, Austria, and Hungary. They then scored just five goals in their next four games (two of which went to extra time, including the final against France) and went home with the cup.
It pays to be solid. Sure, we all want to see Bukayo Saka at left-back, a midfield of Declan Rice, Mason Mount, and 17-year-old Jude Bellingham supporting Grealish, Foden, and Harry Kane. That would be a laugh. But other teams want to see that, too.
That’s the kicker. We all very much want football to come home, so let’s stop worrying about how it gets here. The Germans will probably beat us tomorrow, anyway...