The Morning After

It wasn't so much the Delta variant that hung in the air this morning, but the pain and sadness from England's Euro defeat by Italy.

With an England dream and possible bank holiday resting on a penalty shootout, it’s no surprise many are questioning the decisions of Gareth Southgate. Most were surprised that Bukaya Saka – aged just 19 - was chosen to take the last of the first five penalties ahead of more senior players.

Given the negative outcome of the penalty shootout, even some of the England players have raised questions about their manager’s choices. Although players volunteered to step up to the spot-kick, Southgate made it clear that he made the decisions; that they were based on performance in penalty training. And like a true leader, he took full responsibility for the outcome.

As the England manager, Southgate was the best person to decide who should have taken penalties and in which order. He will have used his instinct, based on his accumulated knowledge of each player’s character, skill and performance. Age does not tell you anything about a player's penalty taking ability.

Other players may have been willing and capable of stepping up to the task and, they may well have found the net, but that is something we will never know.

Southgate made some bold decisions. No matter what a player demonstrates in training, you will never know for sure how that player will act in any given moment. Unfortunately, his decisions did not pay off in the final reckoning; three England players missed penalties and the Cup went home to Italy.

For Southgate, I cannot think of a worse way to be defeated. I expect he had an awfully strong feeling of deja vu during the penalty shootout. When you hear him saying It feels like my stomach has been ripped out this morning, you want to reach out and console him.

While he will continue to feel the pain for a long time to come, Southgate must take pride in the fact that he has transformed the attitudes of the England team and there is more to come.