At Euro 2020, no semi-finalist is an island
England, with the possible exception of the early 1990s, have always produced players. Where it has always failed is in the way they are used. He has invariably arrived at a World Cup or European Championship and found himself foiled by teams using systems he did not fully understand, or foiled by teams with greater tactical flexibility, or foiled. by players with superior technique or better physical condition.
That has changed, and it has changed because the entire Southgate team, at one point or another in their young careers, has been exposed to imported ideas.
Part of it is straightforward: Kane was turned into one of the best strikers in the world by Argentine coach Mauricio Pochettino, with largely Spanish staff; Jordan Henderson has become a natural leader under the watchful eye of JÃ¼rgen Klopp; Sancho and Jude Bellingham went to the Bundesliga to complete their studies; Bielsa did for Phillips what Guardiola did for Walker, Stones, Foden and Sterling.
But the majority is indirect. Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper, was encouraged to work on his cast as that is what the elite of European football demand. Harry Maguire is comfortable scoring an area, not a player, on set pieces as this approach was popularized in England 15 years ago by European coaches.
The entire brilliant crop of promising young stars littering the Southgate squad was brought through academies where the coaches – if not always the coaches themselves – were in line with European, and especially Spanish, thinking. England’s great youth development revolution, the awkwardly titled elite player performance plan, was designed in part to mimic the furnace of talent happening in France and, once again, Spain.
Its products have been written in teams that invariably play style and use an approach tinged with internationalism. Not just in the way they play, but in the way they train, and even in what they eat: it’s only been a little over 20 years, after all, since Arsenal Wenger arrived at Arsenal and – as far as English football is concerned – invented Pasta.
Phillips has been shaped, figuratively and literally, over the past three years by Bielsa’s intense and relentless attention. This is the end result: a hole in the semi-finals of Euro 2020. His story is remarkable, but it is no exception. It is the rule.