After a self-enforced two-match ban, I am back with your supposed-to-be-weekly roundup of the six best/worst/funniest things of the last seven days from the world that we love to call football.
I’ll level with you. Had last night not happened, there is every chance nothing would have got written as up until the match in Seville, it was possibly the dullest international break of all time.
But, it happened. So here we go – this week’s Super Six for your enjoyment. And I use that word wholeheartedly today.
#1 The UEFA Nations League
Remind me, who came up with this genius idea? Give that man, or woman, the Nobel Peace Prize. Sure, the tournament has its knockers. But if you cannot get excited about Luxembourg playing San Marino, Kazakhstan vs Andorra or, god forbid, Gibraltar welcoming Lichenstein to the Rock then what kind of football fan are you? It’s the greatest show on Earth ladies and gents. And England have finally won a match in this historic, famous tournament meaning they are going to complete the clean sweep of Nations League, European Championships and World Cup under the ever-so-brave management of Sir Gareth Southgate.
#2 Gareth Southgate
How many England managers have we had that are actually intelligent enough to try new ideas? I can probably count four, maybe? Sir Alf Ramsey, though I am still not sure his wingless wonders would have won in 1966 had it been anywhere other than in England. Bobby Robson, after he got press-ganged into playing five at the back in Italy. El Tel, obviously, with his Christmas Tree formation that was a Gazza stud-length away from facing the Czech Republic in the Euro 96 Final. Glenn Hoddle, out Italying Italy in their backyard to get us to France 98. And, er, Steve McLaren for going three at the back in Croatia when Paul Robinson got done by a divot and Graham Taylor for his efforts at catching Norway out away from home back in the day. As I said, four.
Southgate now has two, possibly three, systems the players look comfortable with and one of them even beat a nation that are clearly better than we are. And it wasn’t in a meaningless friendly, either. Spain wanted to win that game, badly.
#3 Raheem Sterling
OK, two goals does not mean Raheem is now going to go all Cristiano Ronaldo on us but I would hope that the confidence gained from his brace in Seville means that each time he is 1v1 with the keeper in the future (wearing white, not light blue) we will have more faith in him scoring than screwing it up. The first finish was beautiful, the second looked more likely to be saved than go in but hey, after three years, who cares how they go in?
#4 Eric Dier
Regular readers will know I am not a massive fan of Eric Dier. But, anyone who puts that kind of tackle on Real Madrid‘s Sergio Ramos that far up the pitch is a friend of mine. I think Ramos was so shocked he forgot to roll around on the floor for five minutes.
#5 Jordan Pickford
If we forget that moment in the second half where, if we remove the England bias for just a small moment in time, Pickford blatantly f***ed up and gave away a penalty, I am sure we can all agree that it is quite nice to see our goalkeeper have a better passing range than most of the midfielders in the squad. That’s not knocking the likes of Winks, Barkley and Henderson (actually, I am knocking you Hendo, sorry) but the way Pickford can, more often than not, hit feet from 60 yards is pretty impressive. Now, if he can just get rid of that monumental error that is never too far around the corner, we might have someone very, very good in goal.
#6 Harry Maguire
I really don’t know what it is about Harry Maguire that I really, really like but it is definitely there. Was he that good against Spain? No, not really. Is he our best defender? Not at all. Does he look like he could pick up two yellow cards every time he plays? 100%. But Maguire is the kind of defender we need in the side, for me. Wholehearted, not too shabby on the ball and quite happy not to have the limelight. He’s a bit of a throwback for me, a reminder that not every young player has to start off as a number ten and find a new position.