Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher believes that the current England squad is a team to be supported by the whole nation, unlike the divided squad he previously played with in international service.
In the last two majors this group has stirred up feelings in me that I cannot remember for any other England team. It’s not patriotism, but something else – the feeling of being able to identify with the values and character of Southgate and her team. These players have an ability to unify the nation like no other in my life.
When I was playing, we were a thorny and divided group. We tended to be straightforward about club business. The Manchester United and Everton fans didn’t like me, and I understood that because I would never resist a dig into their squad in interviews. No fan other than Manchester United loved Gary Neville!
Everyone has seen players from Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in English shirts. Now they see English players playing for Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. Players are more polite and knowledgeable in the way they are portrayed and behave. Sometimes this can make it seem like there are fewer characters than in previous eras. As a harmonizing force, it helped them.
In their subtle but determined ways, players like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson have tackled issues that match those who previously thought the England squad was for someone else, not for them. Sterling confronted the racists. Rashford will be applauded when he plays at Anfield for his work on food poverty. Henderson has been praised across the country for his campaign on behalf of the NHS.
They are modern, accessible and friendly professionals. It’s impossible for me to see Harry Maguire leading the defense, Kalvin Phillips making a name for himself in midfield and Harry Kane’s rise to superstar status and not being excited about their stories. Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham took risks by moving abroad early in their careers – unthinkable for English teenagers 20 years ago.
Southgate and his players have built up a new idea of what the England national team is, so much so that politicians who have criticized them for highlighting various social issues are now desperately trying to partner with this winning team. Fans across the country can see through this hypocrisy.