Running a sports consultancy you would have thought articles about the World Cup (and England’s impressive run to date particularly) would provide me with enough content for almost daily blogs and posts.
And whilst that is undoubtedly true I, being the superstitious soul that I am, have been putting off writing it for fear of jinxing anything.
I have worked within sport for a very long time and there are very few sports I have not worked with to date but, and i’ve made no secret of this for those who know me well, a while ago I fell out of love with the beautiful game.
I was just fed up with it. Fed up with the money being ploughed in at top level but never at grass roots or lower leagues. Fed up with the prima donnas with the flash cars and the fancy hair cuts. Fed up with the diving and the rolling. Fed up with the losing and (what looked like from the outside) the lack of pride or passion shown by our nations team.
Four weeks ago ago people across the country were drawing teams out of a hat for sweepstakes and taking bets. Everyone knew what was going to happen. You were always looking at the likes of France, Brazil, Germany, Portugal being up there at the end. It was boring. Yes England would probably give it a good go but the likelihood was that they’d crash out in the group stages.
Then, something unusual happened.
England started playing and they started winning. And they started playing as a team. No selfish show offs going for glory and points but players listening, talking and passing to one and other for the ultimate outcome. A goal in the back of the oppositions net.
So what happened?
One word – Belief
The average age of this England team is just 26 years old with an average of just 20 caps, a fact that many pundits and experts hauled Southgate over the coals for pre-competition.
‘They’re too Young!’
‘The inexperience at this level will be too much for them’ Came the crys.
‘Maybe it’s brave to take players without a number of caps, but we have to give these guys belief,” Southgate said.
Belief – It’s a powerful word. He believes in them. He has got them to believe in themselves and now, dare I say it, the country is beginning to believe in them.
And it all started with one mans decision to change the norm. To be brave and go against what is expected.
Speaking after winning the penalty shoot out Southgate said:
“We’d spoken a lot about being an inexperienced and young team, but we grew up a lot on that pitch. There were mixed emotions, highs and lows, even in the penalty shoot-out. We were behind and wanting Pickers to save one, and he did. It showed our mentality. England haven’t done great in the past in that, but that’ll give us huge belief as a team moving forward now.”
Belief as a team.
Back in May when Southgate announced his 23 man squad he came under immediate and instant pressure for not naming more established names. But Southgate had a plan. He had belief and he had built a team who are playing for each and the badge on the front rather than the name on the back.
Southgate realises that, perhaps, if you change the perception of England then they can win.
Can they go all the way? Who knows. This is sport and nothing is ever guaranteed but what we do know if that there is belief.
And belief can take you an awfully long way.