It’s been a very peculiar start to the World Cup as an England fan: no lingering sense of pain and frustration; the prospect of watching the final group game with no pressure; a striker as top goalscorer; a team that is playing attractive, progressive football and enjoying it; a manager not at war with the media. This is a feeling I have never experienced. We’ve had the golden generation, littered with champions league winning talent, but at no point whilst watching that team did I feel as relaxed and proud of a style of play as I do when watching Gareth Southgate’s side. It seems they can do no wrong.
KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid”. A principle first noted by the US navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. It is a principle that is evident in everything surrounding this England team, from the focus on set pieces to Gareth Southgate’s reaction to the failed major tournament campaigns of the past.
Southgate has taken on board all of the work and expertise flaunted by his highly paid, highly decorated predecessors and done the opposite. He has created a relaxed atmosphere where players are free to visit friends and family on their days off, a stark contrast to the lockdown imposed on the team by Fabio Capello in 2010. He is not playing players out of position or asking individuals to do roles they are not suited to. Dele Alli isn’t playing on the left wing like Paul Scholes under Sven and Harry Kane is no longer taking corners as he did under Roy Hodgson two years ago. Perhaps most crucially, Southgate has kept the media onside. Now what is portrayed on social media and in the newspapers is a harmonious England camp, as opposed to a squad fraught with cliques and tensions boiling over from the club season, the case with every other England squad of the last 20 years.
England have spent years copying the styles of other successful international teams. Be it the ‘Total Football’ of the Dutch or the ‘Tiki-taka’ of Spain. This is like copying your mate’s GCSE exam paper on results day, too late. By the time you have implemented this fashionable style of play, the game has moved on and a different brand of football is now thought to be the only way to win. This team aren’t copying anyone. We are finally playing a brand of football that mimics that of the Premier League, consistently called (by English people at least) the best in the world. By focusing on set pieces and playing a high energy, pressing style of football, we are allowing our strength in pace and dribbling to come to the fore.
Reports suggest there will be changes to both the Belgium and England teams for the last game of the group. With three Belgian players and two English players on yellow cards, and with the potential of suspension for the 2nd round, the smart money would be on these individuals being rested.
It looks likely that finishing second in the group could be beneficial as we would most likely avoid a potential quarter-final meeting with either Germany or Brazil. But Southgate and England will be going all out for the win against Belgium to secure top spot in the group. This is a group of young men with no fear, a group that will relish the prospect of playing one of the two favourites for the tournament. The positive psychological effect a win against a high-quality Belgium side would bring is undeniable. It is the sort of result that would turn this England side from plucky outsiders to genuine title contenders.
It’s coming home.