Slipped in on goal by Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford could either slot beyond the on-rushing Thibaut Courtois or roll the ball across for his team-mate, Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He opted to try and bend the ball around the keeper but Courtois was able to make the save. It was a glorious chance. The media didn’t make much of it and, ordinarily, I would say that’s a good thing. The last thing we should be doing is undermining our nation’s players and making mountains out of molehills. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that for everybody.
Rashford is one of the media darlings. Ever since he broke through the ranks at Manchester United, the media have fallen in love with him and there is little he can do wrong. A fairly average performance, on Thursday night, was met with praise from many followers.
One would say that Rashford’s performance was no better than Raheem Sterling’s efforts against Panama and Tunisia. Yet, by contrast, Sterling was lambasted from many fans and media outlets. Much of Sterling’s work appeared to be off the ball, making spaces for Lingard, Alli, and Kane, to try and exploit. This didn’t fit the narrative, however, with people preferring to scapegoat Sterling for not getting directly involved in the goal-scoring.
Between the sticks
Likewise, Jordan Pickford has come in for criticism. Adnan Januzaj’s stunning finish was glossed over by punters who were quick to slam the young keeper for using his wrong hand. The technique is something that many keepers adopt when faced with a powerfully taken high shot, perhaps feeling more confident using their stronger hand to combat a powerful strike. It is far from unconventional.
Criticisms were also made of his willingness to push the ball back into the danger zone. These criticisms were fair and Pickford should look to address those issues but this is not a time to rock the boat. Calls for Pickford to be axed are ludicrous. He’s had a very good season with Everton, on the whole, and fully merits his inclusion in the team. Let our players make mistakes but let them learn from them. When Southgate was made to choose a goalkeeper there was no stand-out option. It’s not like he’s being chosen ahead of David de Gea or Manuel Neuer. Constructive criticisms are fine but let’s not make it into a witch-hunt.
Jordan Henderson has been fantastic in both the matches he’s played in although that may have gone slightly under the radar. It’s a good job he did perform so well because that certainly didn’t come from the script. So many people were lambasting him before a ball had been kicked, almost as if they wanted him to fail. He answered his critics in the right way. He has become accustomed to the flack. It would be very interesting to hear the reaction if he hadn’t been so influential.
Again, like Rashford, Jack Wilshere has a bit of a love-in with the press. He was heralded as England’s most creative midfielder, before Southgate announced his squad, so his exclusion from the World Cup was met with lots of negativity. The fact is that Wilshere was, once again, blighted with injuries over the course of the season and wasn’t wholly consistent when he did play for the Gunners. People still reminisce about the 19-year-old that shone against Barcelona and are blinded by his gradual decline. I imagine that if Wilshere had put in Henderson’s performances, he’d be getting Xavi comparisons!
Unai Emery, the new coach of Arsenal, was happy to let Wilshere leave on a free transfer. If there was ever any vindication needed for Southgate’s decision this was it.
Always look on the bright-side
I’m all for positivity and getting behind the country’s footballing talents but that shouldn’t be at the expense of others. It is frustrating to see the double standards of people in this country. Southgate has crafted a setup and brand of football that excites the fans. Let’s get behind that and keep riding that wave instead of looking to bring it down.